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Ryan Versus Obama – Why India Should Be Watching

Posted on May 2, 2011 in GlobeScope

By Anirudh Nimmagadda:

American economic policy and the problems afflicting it have made the news so often; one would have to be living under a rock to not have heard about them. The largest economy in the world may have just about recovered from the Great Recession, but must still man up to face a multitude of problems, not the least of which is a national debt no less than $10 trillion, a humongous 65% of its GDP.

The result of several decades of government borrowing cannot be magicked away via the adoption of the right policy: change must, and will be gradual. Americans (a small section of them, at least) are thankfully opening their eyes to the problems government handouts can cause over the long run, as shown by the, albeit limited, support received by Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget and the apprehension that greeted President Obama’s draft.

While both proposals acknowledge the pressing need to cut the American budget deficit and recommend reduced government spending at some level, Ryan’s is far more incisive and encompassing. It’s advocating a smaller government running fewer social schemes and the privatization of popular welfare programmes such as social security and Medicare. Obama, however, proposes what may be the economic equivalent of scratching the surface of a wall that must be broken down.

It is a foregone conclusion that the budget that finally makes its way through American congress will be based on Obama’s rather inferior set of proposals (inferior because they promise lesser, even when based on over-optimistic assumptions); all the debates the presenting of these opposing views has sparked will eventually come to nothing. Why? Because knocking social security and Medicare from their respective perches would lose the Democrat government millions of votes.

Now, the question on your minds is probably: Why should we be more than marginally interested in what’s happening on the American stage? We‘re from India!

I believe there are two things to take away from what’s just been described. One, no matter how grave a crisis a nation may be facing, politicians will always consider making the right decisions subordinate to their need/greed for votes. Two, if this happens in America, where every citizen is, if little else literate, it is definitely happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future, in developing countries like India.

It is hard enough for an American blue-collar worker to digest minor facets to economic theory and appreciate the difference a good budget will make to his life and those of his countrymen. For the Indian farmer, it is impossible; they are horribly duped with promises of electricity and water come election time, and so their votes go where the money is.

Is it possible we were mistaken in believing the road to progress in our country could lie in democracy? Maybe that is a system tailored for educated citizens able to do more than just eke out their day-to-day existence in great poverty. Perhaps an authoritarian system, like that of the Chinese government, would’ve led to better results over time in India as well (whether we should choose it even if it did, considering the gross violations of human rights that are sure to accompany a switch to it, deserves a debate of its own). For the moment, we citizens of India seem to have no recourse. Literacy drives may bring results, but these results are always slow to appear — taking decades.

Who knows what burden a few ignorant politicians of today may create to pass on to our future generations in that time? Who cares? Certainly not the average Indian citizen; caught up by the intricacies of his private life, too busy or too apathetic to work at fomenting general social concern, he watches… a silent spectator reacting to events he chooses to place beyond control.