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Shifting paradigms

While the ‘Make in India’ initiative seems to top Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda, poverty remains the primary epidemic in India. It all started with us as subjects to the then British Empire and still as subjects today to liberalization and the growing world economy. However, that might not be positive at all times says the recent Nobel Prize winner in Economics, Professor Angus Deaton. The economist from the prestigious Princeton College won the award for his contribution to his diverse study in consumer spending and poverty.  The standard definition of consumer spending—the amount households spend in an economy—might just be concluded as incomplete as far as Professor Deaton’s study is concerned. The study goes on to explore how people; particularly the lower middle class and poverty stricken behave regarding their decisions on consumption, spending, and savings. With that in mind, geographies such as India and South Africa were perfectly suited for the survey. In 2002, Professor Deaton joined hands with economist Jean Dreze of Ranchi University for a special series on Poverty in India. These studies looked at creating a framework for discussion on discovering the most accurate methods to measure poverty within the country. 

Back in 1993-94, with the advent of liberalisation in the country, the Government in power led by then Prime Minister P.V Narasimha Rao had in their first speech addressed issues like poverty and malnutrition. Though the speech created ripples back in the day, these issues are yet to find their way to the grave. These happen to be a few of the primary areas that Deaton’s research focussed. Deaton and Dreze ridicule all reports suggesting an improvement in nutrition post-liberalisation in India during the 90’s. They further add that while there were a significant number who managed to cross the poverty line with the rise of jobs and private media; there were still many who remained below the poverty line. Moreover, the numbers officially released by the government for rural India, according to Deaton, was overstated. The division of India’s geography too helped them study the growth and simultaneous fall in the economy. They recorded a steady growth in the standards of living within the Western and Southern halves of the country whereas the North and East suffered from inequalities. This inequality also leads to social imbalances where some benefitted with accelerated progress in some fields whereas others had to largely slow down or even start from scratch. Deaton’s contributions to economics find resonance within India. His study opens up a perspective for social thinkers from the anti-Marxist wave. These thinkers have hogged the limelight in a country where the rich seem to get richer, and the poor still struggle to find their lone loaf of bread. To add to that, questions have arisen over Prime Minister Modi’s approach to the economic growth of the economy, similar to that of China. The subject under debate is whether India is prepared for such socio-economic changes?
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