Despite 66 years of democracy, India remains a strong plutocracy

  • Manas Chakravarty, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Nov 09, 2013 21:49 IST

How much do you spend in a month? What is your family’s total expenditure on food, rent, entertainment, school fees, travel, electricity, EMIs et al in one month?

Here’s the good news: if you are a family of four living in a town or city and if you spend more than Rs 18,440 per month, then congratulations, you’re among the top 10% of urban consumers in the country.

The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) says that monthly per capita expenditure above Rs 4,610 in the year 2011-12 puts you in the top 10% bracket of urban consumers.

So a family of four would need to spend more than Rs 18,440 per month to be part of the nation’s elite.

If that family spent more than Rs 13,560 per month, they would be in the top 20%.

True, these are numbers for 2011-12, but let’s not quibble. What matters is that there you were, thinking you were a harried middle-class sod and suddenly they tell you that, far from being anywhere near the middle, you are actually a proud member of the country’s urban elite.

And spending more than Rs 6,383 per head per month, or the grand sum of Rs 25,532 for a family of four, would place you in the crème de la crème of Indian society, rubbing shoulders with the top 5% of urban Indian consumers.

But if we’re not the middle class, who is? A family of four right in the middle of the Indian consumer hierarchy would be spending a mere Rs 8,076 per month, or RS 67.30 per head per day. What about our rural brethren? If a family of four lived in a village, all they would have to spend is more than Rs 11,544 per month to put them among the very top 5% of rural consumers.

On second thoughts, though, being in the top 5% of urban Indian consumers isn’t all that great. Their average expenditure per month is only 14 times the monthly consumption of the lowest 5%. That really isn’t enough incentive for all the hard work we do.

But before we start ranting about socialist leeches bleeding us dry, let’s look at some cheerier data. Credit Suisse, the multinational Swiss bank and not some left-wing rag-tag NGO, has come out with numbers about the distribution of wealth within countries.

They find that in India, the top 5% of the population has almost two-thirds of the country’s wealth and that’s not counting the black money. The top 10% has 73.8%, almost three-quarters. The bottom half has 4.5%.

That is such an enormous relief. It means that in spite of 66 years of populist democracy, after innumerable elections where the will of the people has supposedly prevailed, despite all the socialist rhetoric, in spite of all that hot air about inclusive growth, India remains a strong and stable plutocracy. Thankfully, our politicians haven’t let us down.

Sure, there are some side-effects, such as poverty and malnutrition and misery for the masses, but that’s the price they have to pay for our growth.

Best of all, the top 1% of the country’s population has 48.7%, or almost half, of its wealth. That’s one of the highest shares among all nations, but then everyone knows we’re a poor country and the top guys need all that wealth as incentives to save and invest.

How else will the economy grow?

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