Swati pointed me to this blogpost about P. Sainath. The author takes Sainath to task for what are apparently grave errors of basic economics, basic maths, basic common sense. Or so the author of the blogpost would have you think. The blogpost goes on at length about how dumb Sainath is and condescends to point out several “Basic Econ101 lessons” that Sainath has obviously failed to learn.
I know very little economics. I haven’t been formally educated in economics, or studied economics on my own. Nevertheless, there are some very obvious things that are wrong with the blogpost. First, Atanu Dey, the author, is an idiot. Now that the ad hominem is out of the way, you won’t see me mention the author again.
“We shifted millions. . .” Who are the we? Are farmers stupid and passive? Do they have any choice in what they do? This automatic categorization of them as victims is what I call the manufacturing discontent industry. I will come back to this matter later on.
Incentives don’t count? If the government sets support prices for cash crops but none for food crops, will farmers grow cash crops or food crops? Is this not “we” shifting millions of farmers from one form of agriculture to another?
But in the same breath that he talks about food prices, he also talks about the poor farmers. I don’t suppose he understands that buying and selling are two sides of the same coin. If food prices are kept low by decree, it is the same as decreeing that farmers starve. By putting an artificial lid on food prices, it discourages food producers from producing food. That restricts supply, and that increases the price of food.
Unless — radical thought! — you ensure that everybody has the right to enough food.
His pet hobby horse is farmer suicides. He rattles off numbers–so many farmers killed in so many years. Again the context is missing. Yes, we understand that 250,000 farmers killing themselves is serious business. But why are they killing themselves? Because food prices are too high or too low?
“Pet hobby horse”? Insensitive much, dude? Here’s a Sainath article from 2009. I quote a bit of the article; a bit called, you know, the first paragraph:
The number of farmers who have committed suicide in India between 1997 and 2007 now stands at a staggering 182,936. Close to two-thirds of these suicides have occurred in five states (India has 28 states and seven union territories). The Big 5 – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh– account for just about a third of the country’s population but two-thirds of farmers’ suicides. The rate at which farmers are killing themselves in these states is far higher than suicide rates among non-farmers. Farm suicides have also been rising in some other states of the country.
Basic Econ101 lesson: Prices in undistorted markets reflect the supply and demand of goods. They convey essential information to producers and consumers. If prices rise, it could be due to demand increases or supply shocks, or both. Producers increase production when prices rise; consumers reduce consumption. Suppressing price information leads to foreseeable but unintended adverse outcomes.
Bitch, please. You don’t live in an “undistorted market”.
Anybody remember this, from House M.D.? —
Foreman: First year of med-school; if you hear hooves, think horses not zebras.
House: Are you in first year med-school? No.