Friday, May 22, 2009

Indian mythology

From "Stuffed & Starved : The Hidden Battle for the World Food System" by Raj Patel
Economist Utsa Patnaik has followed the statistical sleight of hand that have enabled India's poor to vanish since the 1970s, and she has calibrated her observations by going back to one of the central features we associate with poverty - hunger.

At the beginning of the 1970s, over half the population was classed as poor. Two decades later, in 1993-94, the number of poor people had fallen to just over one-third. This progress was achieved in no small part because the official threshold for poverty had been lowered. In the 1970s, being on the poverty line afforded you 2,400 calories per day — in the early 1990s, you were afforded only 1,970 calories per day. By 1999-2000, just over one quarter were poor — an impressive reduction. But the threshold for poverty meant consuming fewer than 1,890 calories per day. Says Patnaik, 'by the 60th Round, 2004-05 [the poverty line] is likely to be below 1,800 calories and correspond to less than one-fifth of the rural population.

Today, when the official figure for poverty in India is around 27 per cent, a more accurate calculation based on the implied calorie norm of 2,400 per day puts three-quarters of the population under the poverty line. To put it slightly differently, around half a billion people have been written out of poverty, by the simple expedient of shifting the goal-posts and the diligent advertising of present and future prosperity. This is how the story of 'Shining India' is told - with an official narrative about poverty that directly contradicts the facts. Jobs have been created for the educated middle class, but for those without access to education, the story has been rather different.


Anonymous said...

Yup. Many commentators ask how poverty can be said to be decreasing if calorific intake is also reducing, but no one bothers to answer because chattering clas and media attention is fixated on GDP growth.

Anonymous said...

And check out this story on 'surplus' grain stocks which could be exported:

Is export the only way to manage overflowing granaries? ......
Lola Nayar

Arun said...

GDP growth is preferable to no GDP growth. The lot of 300 million people greatly improving is preferable to everyone stagnating.

That having been said, it is clear that India needs a massive and efficient program of poverty alleviation.

Maybe India can distribute food through foodstamps or food for work programs? A Marshall Plan for India's country side, or a New Deal?
It can be done, if attention is paid to integrity, transparency and accountability in such programs.