Human Development and Public Policy: An Assessment of Marxist Ideologies in India

By Saha, Santosh | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Human Development and Public Policy: An Assessment of Marxist Ideologies in India


Saha, Santosh, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introducing the Issues

Amiya Bagchi, a former Professor of the renowned Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, has recently become the Director of the Institute of Development Studies in Calcutta. A winner of the prestigious Indian government's "Padma Shri" national award, he theorizes in his significant works, including about 300 scholarly articles, about the dismal role of the Indian state, where capital constantly tries to expand the free market in order to realize "surplus value" harming the human development of the majority of Indians. He claims that the driving force in human underdevelopment in India is conscious will of capital (1) that is reinforced with the inroads of the multinational corporations, unhindered flow external capital through commerce, and foreign direct investments. Karl Marx (Das Kapital) shows how commerce by stages transforms a non-capitalist production process into a capitalist production process, fully integrating it into markets so that all inputs and outputs become marketed goods or services. In the debate about India's human underdevelopment, especially sustained poverty of the majority, Bagchi introduces the concept of class conflict, rather than a Marxist "class struggle." However, consciousness of class is a European concept that involves an "outsider" imputing a politically appropriate, logically consistent and historically necessary set of universalistic beliefs to particular socio-economic agents. (2) Bagchi ignores that capital itself may become more abstract than concrete. It is questionable whether corporations should be treated as private individuals with rights like free speech. Since the state cannot effectively control the corporations, then new forms of political entity must evolve to gain more democratic participation in economic decisions. (3) Amartya Sen asks whether there is "anything other than exchange of equal values in the market, (4) indirectly disagreeing with Bagchi's economic calculation in surplus value. Ludwig von Moses (1929) holds that the "surplus value" is purely subjective, and cannot be derived from other factors, because summary statements are about the average tendency, not about the entire complexity.

In 2006, about 40 percent of Indians did not have access to regular and adequate quantities of food. The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), drawn largely on the work of Amartya Sen, is a composite of three dimensions of human development: longevity, prolonged education, and a decent standard of living. The index does not measure human "capabilities" per se, although it informs us about the impact of state priorities for various expenditures. (5) Our current concern is to examine the means to realize the potential spelled out by HDI, and to evaluate Bagchi's preconditions for the ability of the Indians to reduce poverty. As an indicator of extreme poverty, the poverty rate is also a yardstick for the goals of the Millennium Development (MDGs). (6) The nature of the socioeconomic environment is a particularly salient determinant of the effectiveness of transforming economic growth to human development and poverty reduction. Two pioneers in human capital development, Theodore Schultz and Gary Becker, take specific issues such as development in education as a catalyst, prompting the skeptics to argue that the expansion in education does not cause growth but rather is a result of economic prosperity. Some Indian scholars argue that the existence of strong synergies among different components of human development means that integrated and simultaneous action on all dimensions of human capital, infant mortality, nutrition, and schooling, may be very cost-effective. A common theme in the existing literature in India is that the administrative capacity of the state to reach down to major segments of the population is crucial to widespread social provisioning. As Ramachandran observes, the Communist Party-led Kerala state government assimilated the most progressive features of diverse socio-political movements and gave the people a new equitable philosophical and political direction. …

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