My most unpopular blog ever


I write my blog in WordPress, and I can check out how many reads I get for every blog.   Sometimes you get surprising insights  –  there is someone in Canada who binge reads my blog every few months for eample. 

Breezy businessy blogs written from a vaguely leftish perspective are popular, some subjects less so.  The most unpopular blog I have ever written had a long section on female participation in the Indian Labour Market

I won’t tell you how many people read this blog, but it’s not many.  I don’t know whether it was Modi, Thatcher, Reagan or Morrissey which put people off.

For those those who didn’t read it India is one of the few countries in the world where female participation in the workplace has fallen over recent years.  As India has become more prosperous woman have left the workforce and gone back to more traditional roles in the home. This is a pretty unusual phenomenon  – in most other developed or fast growing economies female participation in the workplace has increased greatly. 

This isn’t the case in big cities like Delhi or Mumbai, where economic growth has created job opportunities for large numbers of women.  It is largely a phenomena in rural areas where women were engaged in marginal roles often doing little more than carrying heavy loads, and where Conservative social attitudes still prevail in many households. 

In general I believe that measures that raise incomes encourage Labour Market participation and I am puzzled and a bit fascinated that India is going in the opposite direction.

There was plenty of debate a few weeks ago when I wrote  about Universal Basic Income.  UBI remains the pet project of lots of Liberal and left wing politicians.

One of the least popular politicians among Western Liberals is Nahendra Modi.  Most Western lefties who have an opinion regard him as an arch Conservative, and a reactionary.  I have written about Modi before, and it is worth reminding ourselves that as well as promoting some socially conservative ideas under his Premiership the Indian Supreme Court has passed 2 notable Liberal judgements, on divorce and gay rights:

India is currently considering introducing UBI across the whole country -the proposals are contained in the Indian Finance Ministries last annual report – a cracking read for people who like really long books full of numbers and graphs.   

India also has a large number of anti-poverty programmes which are not well regarded, as well as a complex series of subsidies which distort prices.  India currently spends 2.07% of GDP on subsidies, mainly in food, fertiliser and petrol, and another 1.38% of GDP on social welfare and anti-poverty measures.   

The Indian Finance Ministry proposes replacing these subsidies and anti-poverty programmes with a single UBI payment to the 75% poorest of Indians, paid electronically into bank accounts. The Modi government last year embarked on a radical programme of demoneterisation – taking large amounts of paper currency out of circulation, ostensibly to tackle corruption, but also to increase the use of bank accounts, and electronic direct cash transfers.   

This would raise the incomes of all but the very poorest of Indians above the Tendulkar Poverty Line. 

This is a very different ambition to the plans for UBI in the West, which would cost a much greater percentage of GDP.  It is also worth noting that while the UK economy grows at 1.5%pa India is once again the Worlds fastest growing major economy – over 7.5%pa.   

One of the criticisms of UBI schemes like the one the FinMin are contemplating is that they encourage people to drop out of the Labour Market.  Given that the people leaving the Labour Market over recent years have been women in rural areas it is hard to see why a socially Conservative Government would object to this. 

There is a final element to Modi’s policy mix that is worth mentioning. The Indian Government is introducing the Aadhar system – the world largest biometrical ID scheme.  Over 1bn Indians are already registered with it, and it has widespread, but not universal support.   This goes way beyond the ID card proposals that were developed by the last Labour Government.  The controversy was such that David Cameron was able to scrap the project on what he claimed were civil liberties grounds., in particular the way the project brought together data from different Government Departments.  That most Government Departments went ahead with these databases anyway, but contracted them out to companies like Experian wasn’t made clear to the public.

I really do hope that India goes ahead with a large scale UBI experiment before they think about national implementation.   This would potentially be a transformative programme for many Indians, and the economics of it would be very different to trying the same programme in the UK.   I just don’t think that people should assume that this is a Liberal or left wing project, it is the work of a socially Conservative and at times Authoritarian administration.

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