One criticism of neoliberal capitalism is its famed ‘trickle down effect’. Trickle-down economics is a theory that states that benefits for the wealthy should trickle down to everyone else. These benefits are usually tax cuts on businesses, high-income earners, capital gains, and dividends. This article explains the theory briefly. The economic inequality in India has continued to rise post liberalisation. The wealthy are accumulating more and more wealth. According to an Oxfam report, India’s top 1% pocketed 73% of the total wealth generated in 2017.
During our intense classes as part of Young India Fellowship at Ashoka University, Dr Mihir Shah used to severely criticise trickle down theory. This was followed by some intense discussions with my classmates about top to bottom approach in policy-making – how India is run from Delhi and other cities, how policies are made without ever visiting a village, with the hope that things will eventually ‘trickle down’. This approach, clearly, has not worked and sadly, things have not changed much. Policy and Development sector is pretty much still a top-to-bottom game, with funds and policies trickling down from the top, and taking their own time to reach a poor woman in a remote village.
The first thing I realised after graduating was that what I learnt in classes will only help me 10% of the times, rest is all on the job. Post graduation, over the last two years, the dissonance I felt was huge. It was very easy to sit in AC classrooms and discuss why farmers are committing suicides, why we need feminism, or what is the future of Indian democracy. But when I went and experienced the reality, I realised that our classrooms live in their own different reality, what in Ashoka we famously called, ‘a bubble’. I have realised India’s social, economic, and political issues discussed in India’s universities are only partly true. The knowledge is in shackles and it needs to break out. The talks on gender, caste, and class sound good in cities but are seldom heard in villages. Things will take their own time to trickle down, hopefully.
People romanticise our villages, films like “Swades” are responsible for that. Things are not so rosy. I am always conscious of looking at our villages through an urban lens. But even from a rural perspective, the situation is grim. Our villages face issues of caste, gender and class on a daily basis. Therefore, I feel it as my responsibility to correct people when they say that caste doesn’t exist or women now have a lot of freedom in our country, etc.
I care a lot about gender as an issue, but I feel helpless sometimes in villages. I see villages with a woman Sarpanch but being run by that woman’s husband or her son. I see women getting married before they even turn 18, I see Dalits and other marginalised communities still living landless and labouring hard to earn their ₹200 daily wage. I often wonder what more can I do, but then end up firefighting lazy bureaucrats and people full of apathy.
Two years since graduating, I have worked with a political party, with a Member of Parliament, and now I’m working in an NGO. The learnings have been different in all these cases. Till recently, I thought I had a good knowledge of India’s problems until I visited our villages, spoke with farmers, saw the rural politics.
Farmers are growing sugarcane in drought-prone areas, despite knowing well that it is very harmful. After all, it is kind of easy money and requires less effort. No academic article I came across pointed to this fact. I always wondered why are they growing sugarcane, only to find a treacherous cycle that exists designed by the sugar lobby. Farmers resort to chemical fertilisers, the way we consume junk food. It’s easy and avoids the effort of making a compost. Our government is gladly giving subsidies worth of ₹70,000 crore to the fertiliser industry! Farm loan waivers are promised by our politicians for every elections, which end up benefiting the rich farmers, never the poor or the landless. Every time there is some crop loss due to the weather, farmer bodies are fast to take it up with the government. Since farmers are a huge vote bank, the government duly obliges.
We have one of the best Constitutions in the world, and we have been successful in bringing democracy to our villages. A lot of our policies are good in theory, but really shoddy in implementation. Policies get lost and bruised by the time they trickle down. Pratap Bhanu Mehta in this moving article has called India, ‘the too-late nation’.
We suddenly realise that the government has done nothing when 22 people died in a stampede in a Mumbai station, yet we elect MPs who don’t attend the Parliament, or only go there to protest and walk out.
We realise our healthcare is shoddy when kids die in a government hospital in Gorakhpur, yet we continue to elect people who only care about identity politics. The only time we hold our Government accountable is once in five years; the rest of the time, we live in our own bubbles, divorced from the reality. We are proud to be ‘apolitical’, which, in my opinion, is a way of saying ‘I don’t care’. We are indeed a ‘too-late’ nation, we only wake up when we realise things have not trickled down. Only if the taxpayers were as angry about their taxes going to potholes as they were about their taxes going to JNU, India would have been a different nation.
We wait and wait for the rich to realise that they need to help trickle down what they earned, and wait for the government to trickle down the development.