Malignant Growth

Growth of What and for Whom?

Anirban Biswas

*Malignant Growth
by Amit Bhaduri, Aakar Books, Delhi-110091, 151 Pages, Price-Rs 295

To Indian students of the subject of economics, Professor Amit Bhaduri's name is a much familiar one. He, during the early days of his career, was engaged in debates with the 'mainstream' economists on issues like measurement of capital, introduction of the concept of class in macroeconomic analysis and so on. It is heartening that he has of late employed his intellectual insights into analysis of Indian economic problems and, unlike the apologists of the dominant school, has persisted in mercilessly laying bare the hypocrisy of the dominant notions of growth and development, and in devising and elaborating alternative ways of development in a concrete fashion and in a language intelligible to lay readers as well as economists. He has also openly taken the side of the people in opposing state repression through his writings and activities.

This collection of eleven *essays represents a continuation of this relentless fight, earlier manifested in his books Development with Dignity, The Face You Were Afraid to See and Essays in the Reconstruction of Political Economy. All the essays—use of some simple mathematics in two of them notwithstanding—are immensely readable and a study of them suggests the author's profound maturity, both in thought and style, in dealing with the issues discussed.

The first essay (Malignant Growth: The Solution is the Problem)—originally published on-line by Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Berlin—is a sharp indictment of the process of growth pursued in India by the ruling powers and advocated by their apologists. The author has pointed out how the horrible phenomenon of dehumanizing hunger coexists in India with the rise in the number of dollar billionaires and the phenomenal amount of black money held in foreign banks. He also points out how small-scale agriculture is facing destruction owing to deliberate state policies. The author is severe on the media and he is not less severe on the political class which, being the product of the process of corporate-led growth, actively aids this process. On the role of the politicians, it is tempting to quote a few lines from the author, "Many among India's politicians are beneficiaries, not victims of this malignant growth. India may be a poor country, but in the last two decades it has produced more dollar billionaires than China, Russia or most OECD countries. Despite overwhelming number of poor, India today has over sixty percent multi-millionaire parliamentarians to represent the poor! A good part of these millions is made in land and other resource deals between governments and various corporations. To secure this process from popular anger, representations through elections in the parliament has been made prohibitively expensive ruling out participation of ordinary citizens". (p-24) This is an apt observation.

The author sharply suggests that there is enough scope of an alternative course of development with participation by the broad masses, a point he had developed in an earlier essay 'Alternatives in Industrialization', within the present constitutional framework. He here argues that this course cannot be followed unless the dominant ideology, pampered by the media as well as by the corporate groups and the IMF- World Bank combine, is abandoned completely. Here lies the significance of the title of the essay.

The third essay (The Ceaseless Hunt) describes the evolution of the process of hunt for natural resources by mankind, particularly how the process has been continuously transformed after the appearance of classes and class divisions in human society. On the ruthless 'conquest' of nature as the integral part of modern civilization, he directly poses the question, 'who is civilizing whom and for what purpose?' He has outlined the evolution of modern imperialism as a consequence of this ceaseless hunt. What is particularly noteworthy is the author's observation on the role of collaborators of colonial and post-colonial societies. On the colonial societies he aptly remarks: "Instead of voluntary cooperation in enlightened self-interest, the crucial deviation that often occurs is collaboration of the players of equal power. Sections of the colonized collaborate with the colonized resulting in various forms of patron-client ( or principal agent) relationships. ...Almost invariably imperialism creates and relies on a subset of the colonized population by privileging them as dependent clients in various ways. As its counterpart, imperialism also creates the underbelly of a vast mass of the exploited, oppressed and underprivileged, the real victims of imperialism". (p. 43) On post-colonial societies like India, he observes, "A 'civilized' class consisting of corporate leaders, sleek media persons and the wheeler-dealer politicians with a pliant class of bureaucrats, join hands to 'civilize' and 'develop' the uncivilized."(p-46) This statement, made with reference to the dispossession of the land and other resources of dalits and adivasis by corporate-media-politician nexus, is strong indeed, but nevertheless fully apposite. He further points out the hypocrisy associated with the notion of India as an emergent global power by mentioning how the growth in the number of billionaires goes hand in hand with dehumanizing poverty and cowardly surrender to international corporations in important matters. "However, the audience is made to realize that sending wrong signals would vitiate international investment climate essential for high growth". (p. 49) His final remark on India’s middle class is interesting, "Our middle class is a part of the caste, and of audience. It is dazzled by this performance, its own image of glamour. It has yet to realise it might turn out to be a crude farce ultimately on themselves, a cruel joke of insidious intent which will continue to delude them until overcome by a violent turn of history". (ibid, anon) Another extremely interesting and thoughtful essay of the volume is its seventh chapter, "Climatic Change of Another Kind". Here he analyses the changing climate of economic policy-making in capitalist democracies since the Great Depression, and shows how the Keynesian theory of demand management, developed independently by Michael Kalecki, came to lose its acceptance owing to the onslaught of private capital and its apologists in the name of 'sound finance', and how the traditional theory of demand management has been held hostage to the interests of the capitalist class. He also points out the essential difference between Kyeynes and Kalecki. While Keynes wanted to save capitalism from collapse by advocating even-handed economic policies embodied in larger public investment and maintenance by the state of a high aggregate demand in the economy, "Kalecki foresaw the political fragility of a neutral state pursuing even-handed economic policies to nurture class cooperation. As early as in 1943, he claimed that the theory of demand management would falter, not on its logic, but on its politics". Observing the failures of the bail-outs to financial institutions to initiate a recovery, Professor Bhaduri makes a wholly agreeable comment, "So long as the supremacy of Finance remains the over-riding objective of economic policy, intelligent demand management policies along Keynesian lines would have no place in the political scheme. ....Elevating Finance to a commanding height by neglecting the underlying base of the real economy opens up new fault lines in capitalist democracies". (pp 101-2) He argues in the same vein, after a good degree of elaboration, in the following essay (What Remains of the Theory of Demand Management in a Globalizing World?)

The essay, "When Democracy Devours its Own Children"( pp. 51-60) is a telling description of the phenomenon of 'encounter deaths'. He has pointed out that the so-called peace offers are often a ploy to trap opponents and kill them in fake encounters. He has laid bare the facts about the deaths of Azad, Kishenji and others. The author's two comments may be cited here : "Crooked are the times. Crooked, because peace turns out to be more dangerous than war for those who seek peaceful".

Crooked, because enforcement of law in the name of peace turns out to be more frightening than the lawlessness of war. Crooked, because lies given out as facts by those very politicians who pretended until yesterday that they share the anxiety of the people but possess conveniently crooked memories to do exactly the opposite when in power". (p. 56)

"Undemocratic 'them' have to be slaughtered by democratic 'us' if they seek peace. They have to be killed if they do not seek peace. They have to be killed and, that is the bottom line. Bottom line of our democracy and also, the bottom line of corporations that wish to control the land, water, forest, mountains, mineral resources of the country. If necessary slaughter them extra-legally and declare them outlaws because they are the ones who really threaten corporations and therefore, our democracy kills them in defense of democracy which is the imperative of this democracy". (p. 60)

The essay, Effective Demand under Financialization (pp 115-132) may seem a bit complicated to non-economists. But for students of economics, it is extremely illuminating for two reasons. First it points out the difference between the so-called 'neo-Keynesians' and the real economics of Keynes, which rests on the profoundly realistic notion that quantity rather than price is the central adjusting variable in the economic system. The author's argument against boosting demand by providing banks and other financial institutions with money or making them more liquid is highly perceptive, and the events in the USA have borne out the truth of it accurately. The essay 'Nationalism and Economic Development' (pp. 132-141) lays bare the hypocrisy of the present majoritarian nationalism and of the clamour for higher industrial growth through a forward-looking policy, arguing cogently that at least for India, openness to trade, investment and finance can provide no immediate solution to its massive unemployment and sub-human poverty' because such a growth process destroys more employment than it creates and also because the ecological cost is enormous. The author advocates emphasis on the expansion of internal rather than external market and outlines an alternative employment development strategy. Readers of Frontier should be informed that there are altogether thirteen essays in this collection, of which only seven have been reviewed. Other essays are, however, not less interesting, although the contents sometimes overlap.

This book should be read by all those interested in India's economic problems. One question, however, comes readily to the reviewer’s mind. No doubt economists like Jagdish Bhagwati and Ashok Sanjay Guha will not like this exposure of the class character of their prescriptions. But how will junior economists like Kaushik Basu, Sugata Marjit, Abhirup Sarkar etc treat these essays produced by the old fogey? Will they maintain a silence or come out with a distinct opinion?

Vol. 49, No.30, Jan 29 - Feb 4, 2017