The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest in New York and its various manifestations across the globe have barely made an impact in India or Asia. To me this symbolises a structural change happening across developed economies and Asia’s emerging economies.
The OWS is supposed to have been inspired by the Arab Spring which saw the toppling of dictatorships across Egypt and Tunisia. I find this ironic since political protests are a new acquired skill set in the Arab world, while US has always been a free democracy. In India we protest often, sometimes on trivial matters. So an OWS kind of protest does not even have a novelty factor in India.
The OWS began as a protest against corporate greed against the size of bonuses of bankers who were bailed out by the American taxpayers. The protests, have since taken a more counter-culture hue and are in ways akin to the anti-establishment protests in the sixties.
But at its core OWS is about the American middle class suddenly realising that the lifestyle that they have enjoyed so far is no longer sustainable and the likelihood of status quo being restored is bleak. The challenge in Asia, on the other hand, is not about economic stagnation or job losses but about how to take economic growth to the next orbit in a more inclusive manner.
The Obama government is worrying about how to kickstart the economy and do it in a manner where the richest 1% are seen to contribute their bit by way of taxes. The challenge before the Indian government is to spur the economy from a 7-8% growth to a 10-11% growth cycle and do it in a manner that doesn’t result in overheating of the economy, inflation and the attendant pain.
We’ve come a long way since the launch of economic reforms. The challenge now is to take this growth to the next level, to benefit those sections of the population, especially tribals and poor farmers, who have not gained as much. We need to focus on issues of healthcare, sanitation, roads and infrastructure, social security and most of all, education reforms that will make our graduates more employable.
As Charles Dickens once said, “Economics is a mere skeleton unless it has a little human covering and filling out, a little human bloom upon it and a little human warmth in it.” Keeping this mind while formulating economic policy would help curbing protests and uprising — whether peaceful like the Occupy Wall Street one or more lethal like the Maoist one.
— The author is chairman and CEO, Edelweiss Financial Services Limited