There's quite a bit of indignation going around these days about the ministering angel who suggested that we can all manage on two thousand five hundred rupees each a month. The web is abuzz with the moaning of homemakers and housewives in immemorial elms and mews. And there is the murmuring of innumerable wannabes about the price of bread, beer, and big onions.
Our ministering angel (MA) with a brazen attitude (BA) in (to?) economics calmly and complacently contemplates that a family of three can get by on Rs. 7,500 per mensem. That, Mr. Minister, is eighty three rupees and thirty three cents per person per diem. But what's a few cents between friends? (A Good Man was once betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.) Let's say eighty three bucks apiece, and let's give the government the benefit of our thirty three 'tax cents'. Not that anyone in that tax bracket is filing their returns with due courtesy and punctiliousness! But as long as it is all part of the pointless charade I'm not going to sweat the details. Nor should you, dear…
Point is that's eighty three bucks for two bus or train trips up and down, a cup of tea at work or play or study, and three meals a day - at the very least. Add utility bills (water, light, phone) and the equation gets a little more algebraic - even for an ex-"economics sir". Hope that health does not become an issue. Or that the kids don't need new clothes, schoolbooks, equipment for games and sports. If there's a death in the family, an emergency or a sudden unseen need, or if an act of god or nature intervenes to make all creation groan in consternation, then the average citizen may be down to a miserly meal a day - and forget that restorative midday cuppa. In Geneva when resolutions pass and US-backed sanctions may someday transpire, to beg or borrow or steal begins to look increasingly like the working classes' best bet. But even if not, working for a living remains the curse of the drinking classes - while ministers make hay, merry, etc, while their sun shines (although rain has stopped play in the rest of the country save the pavilion, er, upper echelon). Duckworth-Lewis, anyone, to compute the COL or CCPI?
Problem is that this picture of pain and poverty does not square with all that propaganda - sorry, we mean the worldview of the powers that be! To all intents and purposes, we're living in a virtual paradise. Our balance of payments is positively brilliant. Our liquid currency is so much afloat that it is almost lambent in the air (not dead in the water, as the pessimists would have us believe). The cost of living is more than manageable because there is no war. The quality of life is impressing players at home and institutional stakeholders far and wide. Growth, Development, and Progress (the all-new GDP) are taking the nation by storm. Inflation is down, business confidence is up and sovereign ratings are soaring into the stratosphere.
So, dear econ boffins and sundry pundits, how do we square the circle (i.e. reconcile the rumours of peace and prosperity with the reality of deprivation and hardship and a war being waged on poverty)?
For starters, stop massaging the figures and the egos of your political masters. In the end, they will end up looking and sounding only slightly less ridiculous than you do now.
Then again, practise what you preach and tighten the belt of austerity that you so lightly strap the people down with. This means fewer junkets, getting rid of those noisy costly convoys, and white elephants of waste and mismanagement lurking in the room which everyone ignores. No more needless tamashas at which business, professionals, and academics pander to obese political egos. You get the picture, dears.
In the meantime, cease and desist from making silly asses of yourselves and the government you represent by making a nonsense of ministerial and parliamentary statements. Its caviar only to the general and we'd rather have bread than circuses any day now.
As we go along, let's try and get rid of our sublime socio-economic paternalism and none-too-subtle patrimonialism that has all but blurred the boundary between private and public sectors.
Therefore, the bottom line is that we not only can - but must - get by on eighty three rupees a day. But so must the powers that be! Judgment begins in the household of our domestic gods! There is such a thing as the vengeance of the people! We see it in police stations being stoned, houses of influential psychopath politicos being burnt, and protest marches that have still to reach the presidential palace.
There is a comeuppance for economic criminals, the crooked and the corrupt, the twisters of statistics and the purveyors of feel-good spiels that does not bear having its name spoken - yet. So fear the day when justice will be done, ye gods and fishy tutors of the masses. 'Tis not a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Lastly, dears, a small favour? If you can spare a moment from making facile comments on COL, try and have the items that go into the basket of goods to calculate the CCPI streamlined to include luxuries like airfare to Singapore for shopping, fact-finding missions to the Caribbean, and jumbo cabinets that swell with pride. As a mandarin of an austerity-thumping state, it's the least you can do.