INDIA: Growth of Inequality, as of 2015

by Sachin Kumar Jain

Whenever clichés like development, economic progress, growth rates, and their ilk begin swirling in the air, it can, rather, it should, be safely assumed that there is something terribly amiss; the most important social issues are getting brushed under a (red?) carpet (for whom?). The day’s vegetable prices become the handle to brush off real issues. The whole (petty) politics is played around such trivia. Nevertheless, in these hungry (in every sense of the word) times, at least once a year a grand ritual is played out. We learn that three-fourth of the total wealth is concentrated in a few hands. But, what are the implications of such a wealthy concentration? Mostly, answers of this question are expected from the outside; actually, we all have to find the answer within ourselves. This crucial question is never examined or explored. The Twenty-First Century can be considered a century of economic development, with this yawning inequality embedded therein as its necessary condition. (Who knows, one day it may be proclaimed as THE sufficient condition as well?)

Photo by Partha Sarathi Sahana
Photo by Partha Sarathi Sahana

Pollution of air & contamination of water seem to have become the parameters of progress. Forests & mountains are being sacrificed at the altar of growth. Illnesses have become good omen as they make the business of medical treatment & drugs flourish. Our rich have caught hold of the talisman of resource control; in the modern world, whosoever controls the resources controls the fate of the earth & its other not-so-lucky residents. Inequitable and unjust development that started in the latter half of the twentieth century is at its peak.

We, the people, are getting deprived of our choice – freedom to question the policies & processes of capital-augmentation, industrialization, employment generation, skill development, urbanization, health & education (or the lack of it), safety & wellbeing of our children, land-acquisition, and commodification of water. We are not called to ride on the so-called bullet train of development wherein we can at least try to make the government accountable. This mounting inequality will inevitably push us into the abyss of colonialism again, which this time will be even more dangerous and deadly.

Facts of Inequality

Let us grapple with some facts: Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Databook 2014 warns us that the economic development is fast pushing the world to the brink of inequality.

Let us go point by point:

At the start of this century, in the year 2000, 36.8%, i.e. $ USD 428 Billion, of the total Indian National Wealth (INW), i.e. $ USD 1163 Billion, was in the hands of 1% individuals, i.e. 57.11 lakh people. On this basis, this richest club of Indians enjoyed a whopping $ USD 74,935 per capita of wealth. On the other extreme were the remaining 99% Indians, with a petty $ USD 1300 per capita of wealth. Now let us expand our ambit to talk of the richest 10% people. The richest 10% adult Indians, numbering 5.7 crore, have grabbed control over 66% of the wealth of India. In all, they enjoyed per capita wealth amounting to $ USD 13,419. The remaining 90% population had per capita wealth of $ USD 772.

In the year 2000, the richest top 1% people enjoyed 58 times the wealth of other 99% populace. In the year 2014, this proportion, or the gap between the richest & the common folks, had widened to 95 times. In the year 2000, the disparity between the top 10% was 17 times, while by 2014 it had widened to become 26 times.

The Bitter Truth of Invisibles

1% wealthy, versus 10% poorest

The invisible people are those who get expended in raising the foundations of the building of our new development. The 10% economically poorest Indians possess a measly 0.2% of the national wealth. In the year 2000, their per capita wealth was a “royal” $ USD 41 that could rise to $ USD 93 in the next 14 years. The gap between the wealthiest 1% Indians & the poorest 10% was 1840 times, which became 2150 times in 2005, 2430 times in 2010, and 2450 in the year 2014. What kind of development is it?

70% Indians versus 1% Indians

The brute & bitter truth of inequality can never be properly captured in figures. In the year 2014, 70% adult Indians possessed a mere 9.1% of wealth. In the year 2000, about 42 crore Indians had per capita wealth of $ USD 265. In the same year, the gap between the wealth of the top 1% was 283 times that of 70%, which grew to 328 times. Perhaps this is growth, as we call it?

What About Other Countries?

Is this occurrence of inequality confined to India alone? The answer is negative. Nevertheless, there are variations in their cases. In the year 2000, the richest 1% Americans were 62 times wealthier when compared to the remaining 99% Americans. In Brazil, this “wealth gap” was 62 times, in Egypt it was 49, and in Switzerland it stood at 53. In the nowadays much talked about China & Japan, this gap was comparatively low, 23 & 25 respectively, whereas the gap between the richest 10% and the remaining 90% was a mere 9 times.

The above statistics show the discriminatory nature of capital, which comes to the fore through power. In the year 2000, the per capita wealth of an Indian was $ USD 2036; in Brazil it was 7887; in China it was 5672. In the same year an average Japanese possessed $ USD 1.92 lakh, in Sweden this figure was $ USD 1.26 lakh, in Switzerland it stood at $ USD 2.33 lakh, and in the land of prosperity, the US, it was $ USD 2.1 lakh. Clearly, an average US citizen was unerringly 100 times wealthier than an average Indian.

The Ratio of population & wealth

Now mull over the fact that 15.5% of the world’s adults live in India, while India’s share in the global wealth is a poor 1% percent. As much as 22.3% of the world’s adults live in China, but China’s share in global wealth is also a low 4%. In contrast, Japan has only 2.7% of the population but its share in global wealth is 16.5%. Only 5.6% of global adults are US citizens but the US commands a towering 37% share of the total global wealth.

Twenty First Century, Economic Development, and Inequality

Economic liberalization and globalization have been trumpeted in the whole world as a sure cure for poverty & inequality for the last two & half decades. The underlying presumption of such a thought is that economic development is possible only through maximum exploitation of resources. What happened to human values in this entire pursuit of development is a separate discussion. Presently our focus is on the vacuity of the rationale of the much-flaunted economic policies of economic liberalization & globalization; the rationale was that this is the only way to wipe the scourge of inequality from the face of Mother Earth.

Inequality in India is Growing, just Growing

In the year 2000, India’s 37% wealth was in the hands of 1% Indian adults. By 2005, it went up to be 43%. By 2010, it rose to 48.6%, and by the year just gone by, 2014, it became 49%.

Similarly, in the year 2000, 10% Indian citizens were in possession of 66% wealth. In 2005, it rose to 70.1%, in 2010, 73.8%, and by 2014 it became 74%. In absolute figures, the wealth of the richest 1% rose from 75,000 USD to a whopping $ USD 2.28 lakh, while the wealth of remaining majority of 99% rose with a tiny amount from $ USD 772 to $ USD 1300. Let us not stick with growth argument in percentages or rate; it is nothing other than a deceptive approach of justifying inequality.

The most telling aspect of this economic development is the ever-increasing inequality between the haves & the have-nots. In the last 14 years, the chronic gap between the richest minority of 1% and the majority of 99% has yawned wider, from 58 times in the year 2000 to 75 times in 2005, to 94 times in 2010. And, now in the year 2014, it has widened further to 95 times. Similarly, the wealth disparity between the 10% rich adults versus 90% poor adults has worsened (not grown) from 17 times to 26 times, in this span of 14 years.

In the world context, the wealth disparity between the top 1% and the remaining 99% (majority, mind you well) grew from being 65 times to 83 times. In China too, this disparity grew further from 23 times in the year 2000 to be 59 times by 2014.

Now ponder over these figures: the per capita wealth in India increased by $ USD 2609 during the period 2000-2014, while in US the same increment is $ USD 1.39 lakh. In fact, the development model we as a nation are aspiring to ape is vacuous in its foundation. Indeed, a powerful nation like the US is exploiting our very greed of earning a fast buck. Powerful nations like US are able to exploit our natural & human resources to the hilt, as poor nations like India let them do so under the illusion that it increases the value of our resources, and in turn we are getting rich. The bitter truth is during the last decade & a half, our national wealth has increased by $ USD 2,441 Billion, while the same for the US has increased by $ USD 40,767.

Actually, India is being intoxicated by this grand fabrication of “world’s fastest growing economy”. We need to reckon that the reasons of wealthy people becoming wealthier are far too many (more opportunities, better valuations of their wealth, stringent & stricter control on resources, and wielding of influence on polity & policy). Whereas, on the other hand, the wealth of poor people grow at a much slower pace as they remain rooted in the defensive mode as far as survival is concerned. We need to understand that the approach of handling inequality with economic growth policies is a blemished and stained approach from all corners. In the end, it may also munch and chew whole the class that is is enjoying inequality.

As our growth loving state regimes are fast relinquishing their constitutional duty of welfare States, yawning economic disparity is going to widen further, and farther, and our 90% brethren will be getting pushed further to the brink in the basic pursuit of their survival.

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About The Author: Mr. Sachin Kumar Jain is a development journalist and researcher who is associated with the Right to Food Campaign in India and works with Vikas Samvad, AHRC’s partner organisation in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The author can be contacted at Telephone: +91 755 4252789.

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