Development Cooperation Handbook/Interviews/Jean Drèze
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Allahabad, India 23 February 2011
Related development cooperation stories:
⇒ Employment as a Right - Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
Jean Drèze (born Belgium, 1959) is a development economist. He is a naturalized Indian. His work in India include issues like hunger, famine, gender inequality, child health and education,. With Amartya Sen India: Development and Participation and with Nicholas Stern Policy reform, shadow prices, and market prices. At the time of the interview he was an honorary Professor at the Delhi School of Economics, and Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Allahabad University.
Means and Ends of Development[edit | edit source]
Growth is a means, is not an end in itself or thought sometimes there is the tendency to start to treat it as an ends in itself. And people and the human development is the ends, even though there is a tendency, as you said, sometimes to treating it also as a mean, rather than as ends. Now it is true that human resources can also be a means and...we learned a lot of useful things in development economics about the importance of human resources for growth, and not just for growth for development in generally, and in particular about the role of education, whether you talk of growth, whether you talk of improvement of health or public participation in democracy, for all these things education is very important, so these human resources have an important instrumental role.
But I think, what is more important than that is to think of them as ends of development and to think of them as wellbeing of people and also as rights of people. You know, in India we have very clear road map, in the form of the Constitution, which is very progressive in many aspects and clarifies, without any doubt, that every citizen has basic rights to education, to health, even to employment, to living with dignity, and we have to, I think, keeping view these are as the ends of development. That is not to deny that growth can be important, and you pointed out that growth generates (?)also can be used, in particular trough welfare functioning public services, to improve people's health, education and nutrition and so on. So growth can be important, but it is a means and the ultimate objective is people wellbeing and people's rights, as (spelt) out in this case, I would say, to a large extent in the Constitution.
I would also say growth, as I said, it is an important means, but it can also be quite problematic, particularly in environment's consequences, I think it has to be looked out. In India this is now a very big issue, because the past 10/20 years have been extremely destructive, in terms of environmental consequences. Very rapid growth of inequality and creation of life style (for humanity) of the population, which I think are becoming increasing difficult to replicate for everyone else, without further pressure on the environment and all the public resources. So, you know, there are a lot of questions that have to be addressed, without denying that growth can be an important instrument for transforming the life of people. So I think these priority have to be clear and there is a very serious confusion, at this time, about the growth being an important thing in itself, and you know, if you ask why is the Indian elite so obsessed with growth, why, as you said, it is becoming a kind of overriding object in itself and there is the tendency to view anything that stand in the way of growth as an irritation that has to be done away (within) something or the other, whether is the environment, whether is equity or anything. I think the obsession with growth is not so much this believe in the trickle down, what you has describe as the idea that people will follow. It is not so much the trickle down theory, part of the trickle down theory, but I think it is also a last (four) power in the world and for becoming a big power on the world stage. And I think that is where growth become very important in the mind set of the Indian...and rightly so, if you really aspire to become a so-called civil power on the world stage, than obviously you will have to become a much richer Country and it will take a lot of economic growth.
Growth will not take Care of Social Welfare[edit | edit source]
Q: The general perception of media people about India is that India is growing and they expect this growth of the economy to gradually pull the people out of the poverty. And this is a good thing, because it is a natural growth, and if we interfere with that growth, if we take away the resources from this growing business and we give directly to the poorer, that means we involve the State. And the State is very famous for corruption, inefficiency. So, if we let the spontaneous growth where the business is driving, it will percolate down to everybody. If instead we divert the resources to assist the poor person, it will drag the growth. What do you think about it?
A: I think your .... of the mean stream .....of lead ... of what is happening is quite correct. There is a doing well in growing and things will take care themselves. But I thing it is really disconnected from reality and if you look at the progress of social indicators and the space of poverty reduction in the last twenty years when India has being enjoying... growth, it is being really dismal for them, (for the nutrition) indicators and barely improved over twenty years of rapid growth. Is not that things are not improving at all, they are improving, I mean after all even in war time people's living condition sometimes improves. So the fact that they are improving is not a vindication of the current (economic) policy. The policy is how fast are improving and what is the living condition of the people still today. And I think if you look at the experience, when you look at the (competitive) experience of (the States) in India, you look around in South Asia, you compare India with China or you look even at the historical experiences of the rich Country, of the so-called capitalist Country of today, the message comes again and again, that if you want rapid improvement in people's living condition, in education, heath, nutrition and so on, than there has to be a huge amount of State involvement and a fair politic intervention.
That comes out even in the history of the rich Countries, look at the health care systems: all of the so-called capitalist Countries of western Europe and North America, with the partial exception of the United States, have hugely develop health care system with virtually universal accesses and the share of public health expenditure in total is very large, usually more than fifty percent going up to eighty or ninety percent, in some Countries, where in India the share of the public sector in health expenditure is only about fifteen to twenty percent. Even in the ... Socialist Countries. So whether you look at those historical principles or you compare India with China or even with the South Asian neighbors, whether you look at the comparative experiences within India, for example with the State of Kerala, which was, not so long ago, as poor as most of the States in India, but vastly better social indicators, in terms of life expectancy, of child mortality, of education, of nutrition and so on, or the States like Himachal Pradesh in the north of India which now has good indicators as Kerala, in spite of being very poor, not so long ago, you look at these comparative experiences is the same issue again, that public intervention is fundamental if you want to achieve rapid improvement in living conditions and development in the full sense of the term. And I think today there is a great danger of forgetting that historical lesson, and of having this illusion which you are describe very well, that growth has to solve all the problems.
And if we count on growth alone, I think we are going to see the continuation of these really small patterns, where the minority of the population is enjoying transformation of living conditions they would not dreamed of twenty or thirty years ago, while, for the large majority of the people, things will continue much as before. We called it the welfare state and it has a kind of paternalistic (ring). Don't call it welfare state, call it social solidarity, call it we will bring every one at least to have unconditional access to the basics, to health, to education, to social security, some form of nutrition support. These thing has to be provided through some kind of political intervention. There is no alternative to that.
See also[edit | edit source]
On Wikipedia ⇒ Jean Drèze
On YouTube ⇒ Employment as a Right - Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act - playlist
On YouTube ⇒ Jean Drèze playlist
In the documentary story ⇒ Adding more stories in India