Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Machines Vs Labour

When i was a child, say some 10-15 years ago, metaling the road was a big time affairs.. there used to be some 20-30 labours on even a small stretch of road. Growing up in a royal city like Mysore, more so right across the palace, i always saw roads in good condition. Metaling the roads were a routine affair.. i used to scared of those big bull-dozers and of course the steaming tar boiler.
I remember mostly women used to carry the real hot tar and crushed stone mixture from the tar boiler to the stretch where the work would be on, in small metal pans. They used to wear rubber glove, rubber boot kind of a thing thing. of course it was really dangerous to be doing something like that, but there used to be plenty of women and a few men around the place. Then of course on person would be flattening hot tar mixture using a heavy block of wood/metal..followed by the bull dozer. An activity like this would have provided work for a large number of people. Technically speaking it was a labour intensive activity and for every rupee spent by the government on such activity generated a hundreds of man-day work. Needless to say, a large number of people used to get their bread and butter from such activities. They were basically unskilled labours coming from far off places mostly villages.

Now in my university, they are metaling the roads. And all i see are huge machines, a tar boiler which runs on gas rather than on coal unlike earlier days (that's a welcome change, gas is Eco-friendly than coal, any day, any time) Then there is a huge machine, i know not what they call it. But it was there. It actually lays the road, i.e. collects the tar mixture, deposits it on the road and spreads it in minutes. Followed by the usual bull dozer. There were a handful of people around these machines. This is basically a capital intensive activity. It will not create large man-days of work because the machine will probably do ten times as faster than the labour intensive technique would. Fine.. the roads are blocked for fewer days, the work is faster, and of course must be cheaper too.. But where did all the labours disappear? where are they? what is feeding them these days? Did their live style improve so much that they no longer have to do meddle with the hazardously hot tar mixture? The same is the case of digging.. there is a machine to dig earth too..Did they all manage to find better jobs that they don't have to scorch themselves in summer sun and the molten bitumen? Good India has developed so much that these kind of jobs no longer has takers!! this is the typical conclusion of "times of India" and "economic times". The opposite is true with "the Hindu".
I don't know where they all disappeared. But i would believe if i m told that such jobs has no takers. Even with just 26% under the poverty line, there are more than 200 million poverty stricken people in India.. during bad times like drought and floods they are ready to do any thing..even the most hazardous of labour. and why would not they? after it is a question of survival.
If Keynes were to see this kind of extravagance.. he would have hanged himself to death. He said in times of depression, governments should make sure every one has a job even if it means just digging pits and filling it up. And in a country like India, we have so many things to do... build tanks, conserve watersheds, constructing roads, drainage, digging community wells and underground water recharge structures, planting trees, conservation of trees, forests ....the list goes on and on... and employing labour intensive techniques will provide so many people the barest minimum to keep themselves alive. But what the hell are we doing? how many people are we employing for every unit of capital spent? for a person who believes that neo-liberal policies are farce, this development seems so absurd....and it is. How can a developing country like ours forget Keynes so easily?with a massive population of poor people, the definition of which will not even keep a pet dog alive these day..(An annual income of Rs 5000 per head per person is defined as the poverty line in rural areas, I m sure annual supply of pet foods will exceed Rs 5000) Where are we heading? is anyone even listening? our ministers are always thinking about software exports, complete convertibility, stock markets and foreign investment...none of which is going to affect me and you immediately.. nor the man on the street. It is gonna affect those who call themselves upper-middle class but are actually the rich class....why don't they give a thought towards the less privileged? It is so disgraceful that our government chooses to ignore its own under privileged just because some fool thought that markets worked better without government intervention. Surprisingly even after a strong stream of thought supporting the role of government by eminent economists like Amarthya Sen, J.E.Stiglitz, and empirical evidence by tons and tons of authors.. (including me) there has been no significant change in the direction of government policy. A change in the government too did not affect the policy. There is hardly any difference between the left-centre coalition and the right-confused coalition. It just goes on to prove that in politics every thing else becomes secondary, hanging to power being primary.
Shame on us...Shame on all of us.

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