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|EDITORIAL: The Myth of GDP Growth
Economics is not the strongest suit for many of us who don’t actually dabble in that dense subject that Alfred Marshall once dubbed the “dismal science.” (Given the fact that the world came within a whisker of a global economic meltdown, the description has a nasty ring of truth to it.)
Yet economics — and more particularly economic policies — affect the life of every one of us so profoundly that we run away from it at our own peril. The global financial crisis has brought this fact home with terrifying clarity as we are obliged to grapple — often with frustratingly little success — with such esoteric terms as mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps.
Now to something more basic. Economic growth — generally measured as a growth of Gross Domestic Product — has been the holy grail of policymakers for decades. GDP is the sum of goods and services produced by a nation in a year. In traditional economics, GDP is the single key economic indicator by which progress is measured.
But how valid is this?
Two economists with formidable credentials have cast a critical eye on GDP.
“In a provocative new study, a pair of Nobel prize-winning economists, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, urge the adoption of new assessment tools that incorporate a broader concern for human welfare than just economic growth,” The New York Times reports. “By their reckoning, much of the contemporary economic disaster owes to the misbegotten assumption that policy makers simply had to focus on nurturing growth, trusting that this would maximize prosperity for all.”
Our cover story has a detailed report.
For all its pride in the legislative safeguards to promote the emancipation of women — and India’s legislative record is admirable — the reality is less heartening. A variety of indicators make clear the unfortunate de facto second-class status of women in India — female feticide and the the pernicious custom of dowry, for instance.
The situation tends to get worse the further one goes from the larger metropolitan cities of India.
One can only imagine what the plight of underprivileged Dalit women must be in the turbulent Bundelkhand region of India’s sprawling state of Uttar Pradesh. The women there, though, have decided that enough is enough. Under the leadership of health worker Sampat Devi Pal, a 55-year-old mother of five, the Gulabi Gang has mushroomed into a group of about 10,000 female members who refuse to take any nonsense from their men folk and corrupt cops. All members wear pink saris and brandish lathis and show up at homes where a woman is harassed for dowry or a husband beats his wife. First they try to talk some sense, but if that fails . . .
This sounds like a cheesy Bollywood masala potboiler, but if happens to be true. To be sure, this is not an ideal state of affairs, but until the authorities get their act together, the grassroots effort of these feisty women deserve credit for a courageous refusal to take oppression lying down. Our India correspondent Priyanka Bhardwaj gives more details in this month’s issue.
Satyajit Ray’s stratospheric reputation as a filmmaker has in a way been a handicap. Rather like the way the dazzling luminescence of the sun obscures all other heavenly bodies during the daytime, Ray’s supreme mastery of filmmaking has tended to obscure the fact that he was truly a renaissance man with skills in an astonishing variety of areas — he composed music, was a skilled graphic artist and illustrator, and was a wildly popular author of juvenile fiction. He also was a superb essayist in both Bengali and English (check out an anthology of his essays on film Their Films; Our Films).
Bengalis have delighted in his fiction for almost half a century — his popularity transcended political boundaries as Bangladesh became independent in 1971 and his following in Bangladesh became as massive as it was in West Bengal. Later, Penguin India translated his fiction into English and his stories were made into films for Hindi television.
Bay Area theatre group Naatak has brought its considerable expertise to bear on Satyajit Ray’s juvenile fiction and presents a series of plays based on his stories. Patol Babu Filmstar and Other Plays promises to be a delightful treat — because Ray’s stories run the gamut — thrill, suspense, whimsy, science fiction, and delightful twists, it has it all.
Kamala Subramaniam, who is directing the Naatak production, writes in this month’s issue about her own love affair with Satyajit Ray’s fiction as she grew up.