Vantage point

Monday, October 03, 2005

Good One, Jug

Every week, one glances over Jug Suraiya's attempts to dish out articles soaked in wit and sarcasm. Most of the times, the result is a damp squib. But there are these rare flashes of brilliance when he outdoes himself.

This Sunday's Times of India carried one such gem of an article by Jug Suraiya. It talks about the Employment Guarantee Scheme that the UPA government is gung-ho about pushing through.

He starts off

The government’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme has caused much comment. But in fact the sarkar has for many years — indeed almost since its inception — operated a hugely successful national employment scheme, except that it has modestly hidden its light under a bushel.

That's right. The government, by converting several industries into unnatural monopolies run by its own grubby inefficient arms, has in effect created twice the number of jobs.

Naresh is the most recent in a long line of mechanics who have found gainful employment servicing and repairing the generator I use at home when the power goes on the blink. Isn’t it a waste of money considering we’ve been promised that Haryana will be a power cut-free zone by the end of this year? asked Bunny when I bought the genset. I don’t think so, I assured her. That was eight years ago. And since then, the generator has more than earned its keep. For of course Haryana did not become a power cut-free zone by the end of that year. Nor will it become so at the end of the next eight years, or 20, or ever. For if it ever did become a power cut-free zone, my generator would become redundant. And so would Naresh. And all those hundreds or thousands of Nareshs in Haryana and elsewhere who keep in working order the millions of private gensets in use all over the country.

So you see, there are two, maybe even three or four or more jobs, created in place of one. The first, that of a State Electricity Board employee, who pretends to supply you all the power you need. And the genset salesman, genset mechanic, the workers in the genset factory...etc etc.

By the simple expedient of ensuring that the supply of power falls far short of the demand, the sarkar has guaranteed employment for Naresh and his co-workers. Thriftily, the sarkar has created all this guaranteed employment at not just minimal but negative cost to itself. By not installing sufficient power capacity, the sarkar has actually saved much-needed public funds for essentials like paying itself its own salary. While getting genset owners like me — and, for all I know, you — to pay not just the self-employed mechanics who keep all these devices operational but also keep in business the entrepreneurs who make these things in the first place. Why doesn’t the sarkar allow private parties to set up power plants so that there won’t be power shortages? What a dumb question. If there were enough power for everyone, who’d employ Naresh? The sarkar? No bloody fear. It’s got its hands full employing itself. What it can do is facilitate you — and me — to employ Naresh and others like him by thinking up various wheezes which guarantee employment.

Good stuff. Hitting the nail right on the head. It is stuff like this which keeps me loyal to the Times of India, despite a drop in their standards. Editorially, their hearts are in the right place, i.e, in favour of the market. The Hindu is downright leftist. HT is bang in the centre, swinging both ways. DNA is confused and trying to ascertain its identity.

Indian Express is free market, and at least its metro editions maintain a higher standard of reporting and journalism. So if you are a marketwallah, stick to TOI and IE, unless you want to puke all over your newspaper's editorial page.