Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Women's Bank?

The Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced in his union budget address, a public sector bank exclusively for women. I could see women in the parliament applauding the move, even from the opposition party who most of the time are happy to irrationally oppose anything the government might have to say. The applause was worth it. Why not? The intention really is good. A woman's bank would uplift the gender situation in India that we have. Women will take time out of their household chores to participate in the economic affairs of the state, not to mention the many employment opportunities for women that this bank with an initial capital of 1000 crores would generate. 

Intentions may not give the desired results however. Following up on the women's bank, there is news that India Inc sees the women's bank as mere symbolism. However, my article and concern here is not about the economic implications of the proposal, but the kind of message that the women's bank conveys to me. In the wake of the Delhi rape case, while it can be argued that an all-women environment would be friendlier and safer for women coming out of their houses, it fails to make sense out of what I think women want. From all the protests that I saw on television and comments I read in the newspaper, I gathered that the women did not want a man-free environment, but more respect from and parity with men. When you create special ladies' compartment in trains or in this case an all-women bank, in a way you convey a message that you are helpless against a patriarchal society that has no respect for its women; for the safety of women, it is better to separate them from the men.

I do realize that inculcation of gender sensitivity cannot come about overnight, but I fail to see how a women's bank can bring about gender equality. The need of the hour is to provide women with appropriate security in public places, maybe recruiting more women in banks or the police (alongside men) would help. Sensitizing men to the presence of women in the public sphere through public campaigns and stress on the same in education at school and college level is a must. A  society that segregates can never foster respect for different groups. A social framework that has more gender integration will promote security and respect for individuals, irrespective of their gender. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Chasing Equality

Nothing more do I find more misleading than "we all are born equal". It is a scientifically proven fact that that we are born with different natural talents. Some of us are "left-brained", while some us are "right-brained". Those who realize this sooner than later make good of their lives given the right opportunities while others just try to fit into a sphere which seems to have more space than it actually does. 

As a result of different natural talents, what we see is division of labour where the production process does not take place as a whole but in parts, each part being processed by somebody who has the natural talent or acquired skill for it. With different processes adding different value, the remunerations for different jobs are bound to be different. While this creates inequality of income and the scope for what was called "class-wars" by Marx, it must also be remembered that this is also a necessary condition for dynamism in the market system. Like in any other system, there will always be people in the market who are successful in gauging people's wants & desires and taking risks in that direction thereby making profits (sometimes humongous amounts of that). Sometimes they fail and end up miserably. The important thing is to see how resources (and money) change hands in the economic system as per our, the consumers', needs and preferences.

The problem begins when we are disillusioned by the ideal of equality. It is indeed very easy to dream about a world where nobody owns anything and everybody can afford everything. The tragedy of the commons, however, will always haunt that ideal as it did in the socialist USSR. Greed is an inherent trait in human beings, not to say that it is immoral. If capitalism is run by greedy men, any form government is no different. While it is necessary to have a system of law which guarantees the right to property and to any form livelihood, the government mechanism - regulations & licensing has been a major failure. And to cover up this mess, we hear of things such as the "welfare state" that is built on the socialist model. A welfare state would take money from the rich by taxing them and distribute it amongst the poor, much the same way we donate to the poor out of pity. However, it should be noted that the wealth of nations does not follow a zero-sum rule. It is not distribution but creation of value and wealth which would help in the long run. This is only fostered by free market capitalism which is not just about making profits but also about beneficial voluntary exchange. When people are allowed to exchange commodities & services voluntarily, it results in increase in overall welfare. Sure there are inequalities, but no misery. To leave you with a thought, consider this:

A freeway with cars running at different speeds. Everything's fine. Put a barrier, all vehicles slow down to a constant speed. Congestion. Remove the barrier, the vehicles in the front speed away at different speeds. The jam clears up.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Liberty Locked-up

It was a disappointing day for the hope of liberty when a 21-year-old girl and her friend were arrested for voicing their opinion, in a private domain, her facebook account. The girl was charged under the IT Act and for hurting 'religious' sentiments. A girl somewhere under the Taliban must have giggled on hearing this, "lucky for her, she only got arrested; had she been here, she would have been shot dead." All she did was to put up a forwarded message she received that said that the 'bandh' observed in the city due to natural demise of a political personality. 

What is important is not the power or the stature of the dead but the miserable state of the freedom of expression that we have in our country. Although the state guarantees freedom of expression, but when it comes to practice, my personal observation is that we have a system of double standards. Consider on one hand, politicians who keep hurling abuses at each other on national television, and on the other, the case of this commoner who voiced a simple protest, without even naming the person concerned. Never ever have I heard of a case being filed against any powerful politician who dared to mock even the prime minister but within hours of the facebook status update the girl got arrested.

The reactions: The arrest obviously sent a bad message and a sense of fear spread among the people, especially the youth, most of whom refrained from updating any status in the context, or showing any kind of support via 'likes' or comments until a ray of hope came from the judiciary which took suo motto cognizance of the matter, declaring it absurd and ordering an immediate enquiry. Facebook again was abuzz with status updates showing support for the girl. 

Interestingly, a few people suggested amendments in the IT Act so that such a thing does not happen in the future. Maybe the IT Act has certain flaws and loopholes but the law aside, was this incident not something to ponder on. The police is a state machinery that acts ideally only when there's disorder in the society. When sentiments are running high, is it not unfair on part of the people to be intolerant to others' opinions? When nobody cares when politicians hurl abuses at one another in public, what could be so toxic about an individual's opinion on a private domain? The answers to these questions comes not from the state or the government but from the individuals, the people. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Welcome To The Liberty Mill

I live in a democratic country. While I am quite happy with this kind of political set-up, I cannot be sure that I am happier than somebody, say, in Cuba which is an authoritarian regime. Freedom is the most quintessential thing, I believe, we would associate with happiness; wealth would follow. Living in a free country doesn't make you free for freedom can be more than what meets the eye. In his novel Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts talks about his character being free to hate or forgive the men who tortured him while he was helplessly chained in a prison in Australia. Clearly for him, freedom was a state of mind.  "Man is born free but he is in chains everywhere", said Rousseau when he wrote about the social contract. Do we love these chains? Does it bother me? Have we had enough of these? These are questions we do not reflect upon in the ordinary course of our lives. Good for us, a lot of men have given it serious consideration and the matter continues to be discussed and debated. This blog too would serve the same purpose. 

Why liberty? Because there has been too much of hue and cry over poverty and what socialism has done is try to distribute it equally, failing even at that. Because I feel capitalism has not been given its due credit for raising the standard of living of millions of people, globally. Because the government regulates my life so much that I have to get a license to become a barber/hair-stylist if tomorrow I find that hair-cutting is my gifted talent. And finally, because at no point of time in history, unlike socialism in USSR, has laissez faire capitalism been allowed to flourish. While we continue to count on the government to provide for most of our needs, alleviate poverty and "build roads", should we not remember that a government which is big enough to provide for all these is big enough to take away everything we have got? 

While as a libertarian I can never answer these questions for you, The Liberty Mill will manufacture (and share) ideas and questions open for public debate and discussion. I hope that your own answers to these questions applied in your own lives for your own self interest would serve the greater good.