Recently millionaires from different countries signed a petition under the name “Millionaire for Humanity” demanding their respective governments to raise taxes on them to help with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 80 individuals have signed the letter, and most signatories belong to the developed nations like the US, UK, and Germany. One of the key aspects of the petition is that taxes can only create a huge impact against charitable contributions, no matter how generous these contributions are. It might be a rare and historic moment to witness wealthy individuals quoting “Tax us, Tax us, Tax us” to fund the social sector like health, education, and security. The phrase “rebalance our world through wealth tax” seems like a unique moment of truth for the wealthy to play their part towards humanity.
But is the voluntary action enough to counter the state’s inaction to tax the wealthy? A few individuals’ voluntary actions are a drop in the ocean that might not even make a dent to make all wealthy accountable?Wealthy do indeed pay proportionate taxes according to their state laws in many parts of the world. But the bitter truth is that there are also increased tax avoidance cases by the wealthy, which the Paradise Papers, Panama Papers, and other evidence show. That is why there is a rigorous debate on taxing the rich even more.
According to Oxfam’s 2020 report world’s 2,153 dollar billionaires had more wealth than 4.6 billion people or 60% of the world population in 2019. Even in the aftermath of COVID-19 there has been no change in the millionaire’s status quo who actually saw their wealth grow exponentially. According to Forbes magazine report, 10 billionaires gained $51.3 billion or Rs 3.9 lakh crore (at exchange rate of Rs 76) in just a week between April 2 and 9 when the global economy was almost shut (except for a few essentials) and millions were losing their incomes and jobs.They did this through the stock market. These billionaires included Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mukesh Ambani.
Thus the paper analyses two main issues in relation to the petition. Firstly, why similar actions were not taken by the wealthy in the developing nations, with focus on India? Secondly, will a voluntary compliance mechanism via a petition resolve the ongoing issue of tax evasion by the wealthy?
- Why there is no similar petition in developing countries?
The petition seems to appear as a global movement, but in reality, it is a mere representative of the few wealthy individuals residing in developed economies. The less participation and debate amongst the developing countries on taxing the rich can be understood in terms of their societal and cultural background. In India, it is easier to project it as a home to the poorest, but it is also a home for some of the world’s wealthiest people. In this context, it is essential to understand how the wealthier population’s nature changed significantly since Independence and how a favourable tax system helped them to grow.
1.1. From Inherited wealth to private enterprise:
When the British left, a handful of business families and dynastic royalties were in charge of key economic industries. These dynastic royalties had amassed and inherited great fortunes over time due to their close ties to the colonial administration. Although there was poverty amongst the general population, the most lavish lifestyles were only enjoyed by the princely classes, some business houses and large zamindars (landlords).
Primarily the inherited wealth was the primary source of wealth amongst the wealthier population.
However, between 1961 and 1986, India’s notorious macroeconomic plight undermined a progressive effort to reduce the incumbent rich’s size and importance. Low economic growth was accompanied by a sharp reduction of the real value of wealth held by the top 0.1%. The backdrop for this decline was itself rooted in the integration of India when the government quickly took steps to abolish inherited wealth amongst the super-rich royalty. Hence inflation, progressive taxation, and nationalization that characterized the late 1960s and 1970s punished the outdated rentier class and expropriated much-existing wealth.
In the 1990s, domestic and external liberalization happened in India, resulting in the deregulation of taxation and private investment. This led to a rapid increase in stock market capitalization relative to GDP. In fact, given the tremendous rise in stock market capitalization, it seems possible that wealth concentration in India may have surpassed its pre-1970 levels in recent decades. This transformative wealth dynamics of the 1960s and 1970s are crucial to understanding how the elite class, once populated by inherited wealth, is now made up of private enterprises.
However, the rise of the new private enterprise did not address income inequality, only to make the rich richer and the poor more miserable. According to Oxfam’s January 2020 report ‘Time to Care‘ said, in 2019, the wealth of top 1% Indians went up by 46% while that of the bottom 50% by 3%. In 2019, the top 1% Indians held 42.5% of national wealth, which is, more than 4 times the wealth of 953 million people constituting the bottom 70%. The bottom 50% held just 2.5% of national wealth. According to the Credit Suisse’s ‘Global Wealth Report of 2019‘, there were 7,59,000 dollar millionaires in India 2019, up from 725,000 in 2018 and 34,000 in 2010. This shows that even as a developing economy we do not have a dearth of wealthy people who are unable to participate in the petition.
1.2. How the tax system works favourably for the wealthy?
In developing countries, the governments’ primary focus is on resource mobilization, which dictates their tax system. This is due to the unequal income distribution. However, the tax system is also designed in such a way that makes it harder to tax the rich. This is because wealthy taxpayers’ political and economic power often prevents the government from developing fiscal reforms to increase their tax burdens.
Moreover, there are high personal exemptions and the plethora of other exemptions and deductions that benefit those with high incomes (for example, the exemption of capital gains from tax, generous deductions for medical and educational expenses, the low taxation of financial income). India has been an active recipient of FDI for decades. As a result, it results in lower effective tax rates for MNCs.
Simultaneously, the government keeps on slashing the corporate income tax rate during every budget, providing strong incentives for taxpayers to choose the corporate form of doing business for purely tax reasons. For instance, the Indian government slashed corporate tax to 22% (without exemptions) for domestic companies in September 2019, bringing the effective rate to 25.17% (with surcharge and cess). Such a move happened when the economy had nose-dived for several consecutive quarters.
According to the IMF, the combination of tax incentives and low corporate tax rates leads to the following:
- Increased incidences of tax evasion due to the ease with which multinationals seem able to avoid tax, combined with the three-decade-long decline in corporate tax rates, undermines both tax revenue and faith in the fairness of the overall tax system and
- the current situation is especially harmful to low-income countries, depriving them of much-needed revenue to help them achieve higher economic growth, reduce poverty and meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Hence, it can be observed that wealthy individuals are provided with a plethora of tax incentives in a developing economy to prevent capital flight. However, this does not translate into high tax morale for these individuals due to increased tax evasion incidences. Now is the time for the wealthy to take part in the petition to share responsibility in rebuilding the economy.
- Will the Petition be effective in achieving fair taxation by the wealthy?
2.1. Assessing the problem of tax evasion by the wealthy
Empirical data has shown (e.g., E. Hofmann, Voracek, Bock,& Kirchler, 2017b), that the motivation to engage in tax avoidance and evasion increases with wealth. Recent studies indicate that tax evasion is directly proportional to wealth, with the top 0.01% of the wealth distribution (i.e., households with more than $40 million in net wealth) evades almost 30% of their wealth and income tax versus 3% by taxpayers overall (Altstaeder, Johannesen, & Zucman, 2017). With the aim to minimize their taxes, it is easier for the wealthy to hire tax agents who are skilled in devising ways to achieve that(Sakurai & Braithwaite, 2001).
Tax avoidance is a huge issue that amounts to $240 billion every year (Rs 18.24 lakh crore), according to OECD-G20’s anti-tax avoidance initiative, ‘Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting’ (BEPS). Recent data by Fair Tax Mark shows that Facebook, Google and four other US tech giants, described as the Silicon Six (others being Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple) had avoided paying $100 billion tax (Rs 760,000 crore) between 2010 and 2019. Due to tax evasion, according to 2019 IMF study, the non-OECD countries are losing 1.3% of their GDP or $200 billion of revenue every year while the OECD countries about 1% of GDP or close to $450 billion.
Nonetheless, the blame cannot be squarely put on the wealthy for causing tax evasion. It is the legal, political, and economic context of national tax loopholes which not only give the wealthy many more opportunities to avoid taxes than the average citizen but might also create an ideal environment that legitimises aggressive tax avoidance behaviour.
2.2. How the petition will help in combating massive tax evasion problem?
It can be said that the petition is an example of committed motivation by the wealthy which drives them to pay taxes because of a felt moral duty(Gangl et al., 2015) or due to emotional stress, caused by anticipated guilt or shame (Blaufus, Bob, Otto, & Wolf, 2017). However before delving into the question whether such an initiative will be effective to combat tax evasion in the long run, it is important to understand the social psychological process that motivates the wealthy to either pay or evade taxes.
The wealthy can easily identify and compare themselves with other wealthy individuals as a result of pychological process in relation to belonging to a particular group. As a result they imitate not only lifestyles but also tax behviours out of comparison and competition, because one does not want to fall behind in the financial race (Mols & Jetten, 2017).For instance, if all wealthy friends move money to offshore tax havens, then the individual will also more likely do that.
Also, wealthy individuals do acquire a heightened sense of self-esteem, freedom, and perceived control, which increases the willingness to resist anything that hinders freedom (Brehm, 1966). Taxes on the wealthy is a classical case where the rich find it as an attack on their personal freedom for which they look for ways to fight against it. In fact, experimental research shows that coercive fines and audits increase taxpayer reactance more than less coercive attempts by the tax authorities (Gangl, Pfabigan, Lamm, Kirchler, & Hofmann, 2017). Thus, when faced with coercive form of taxation wealthier individuals will be motivated to employ more resources (compared to the average taxpayers) to escape this situation. This might make the classical coercive attempts to increase the tax honesty less effective.
In such a scenario, the voluntary form of tax compliance might appear as the ultimate solution to fight against reactance. Such a form of compliance comes with trust in the tax system, and thus, people accept their tax obligations without threatening audits and fines. However, state measures like suspending fines and audits or tax amnesties, which gives leeway to rich taxpayers to repatriate their money from tax havens without being fined, also show no long‐term positive effect (Alm & Beck, 1993; Toro, Story, Hartnett, Russell, & Van‐Driessche, 2017). Thus, it is important to combine voluntary and coercive tax measures to ensure fair taxation with a sense of tax honesty on the part of the wealthy individuals.
In view of the COVID-19 it is apparent that the petition by the few wealthy individuals brings in a wave of hope towards achieving fair taxation for the sake of humanity. However, the outreach is still not global, with a participation of a fraction of wealthy individuals from a few developed economies.Thus, there is a need to ensure the huge participation of wealthy people, not only from developing economies but those involved in tax evasion.
As discussed in the article, tax-related decisions of the wealthy are different from average taxpayers due to social psychological differences of belonging to a particular community. So a unique approach must be followed to motivate the wealthier population to pay their share of taxes.
3.1. Possible solutions:
There are many ways to motivate the wealthy, either in developed or in developing countries, to contribute more taxes to the benefit of society. It is true that mere public plea to join the campaign will not attract the attention of majority of wealthy individuals. On the other hand, coercive audit or fines to ensure fair taxation also does not help much towards the cause. For example, a fine of 18.8 million Euros imposed on Portugal’s football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo did not diminish the fame and positive image associated with the player.
One possible solution to influence the tax decisions of the wealthy is to combine coercive and voluntary state measures by publicly naming and shaming the wealthy individuals who resist to be part of the global campaign or pay their fair share of taxes. Thus, if such accusations on famous wealthy individuals like Chief Executive Officers or politicians violate ordinary citizens’ tax morale, these latter might start questioning the reasons for their tax honesty. For instance, after Greece published a blacklist of over 4,000 citizens who owed tax money to the state (Aswestopoulos, 2012), it experienced a decline in the shadow economy’s size from 25.4% in 2010 to 22.0% in 2016 (Schneider, 2016). This way, identifying evaders publicly may act as punishment and a deterrent from engaging in aggressive tax avoidance. However, it is equally true that shaming needs active public support and media coverage, without which the debate towards fair taxation will lose its grip. So the time is ripe for citizens to join their hands in the global movement towards fair tax and compel the wealthy to be accountable.
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Altstaeder, A., Johannesen, N., & Zucman, G. (2017). Tax evasion and inequality . Retrieved from http://www.nielsjohannesen.net/wp-content/uploads/AJZ2017.pdf
Sakurai, Y., & Braithwaite, V. (2001). Taxpayers’ perceptions of the ideal tax adviser: Playing safe or saving dollars ? Working Paper No 5, The Australian National University, Centre of Tax System Integrity.
Gangl, K., Hofmann, E., & Kirchler, E. (2015). Tax authorities’ interaction with taxpayers: A conception of compliance in social dilemmas by power and trust. New Ideas in Psychology, 37, 13–23. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2014.12
Blaufus, K., Bob, J., Otto, P. E., & Wolf, N. (2017). The effect of tax privacy on tax compliance – An experimental investigation. European Accounting Review, 26(3), 561–580.
Mols, F., & Jetten, J. (2017). The wealth paradox. Economic prosperity and the hardening of attitudes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Brehm, J. W. (1966). A theory of psychological reactance. Oxford, UK: Academic Press.
Alm, J., & Beck, W. (1993). Tax amnesties and compliance in the long run: A time series analysis. National Tax Journal, 46(1), 53–60.
Toro, J., Story, T., Hartnett, D., Russell, B., & Van‐Driessche, F. (2017). Italy. Enhancing governance and effectiveness of the fiscal agencies. Interantional Monetary Fund. Fiscal Affairs Department . Retrieved from http://www.mef.gov.it/inevidenza/documenti/Rapporto_FMI_Eng.pdf
Aswestopoulos, W. (2012, January). Finanzamt stellt “Liste der Schande” ins Netz. Focus Online . Retrieved from http://www.focus.de/finanzen/news/staatsverschuldung/liste-der-schande-viele-deutsche-unter-griechischen-steuersuendern_aid_706059.html
Schneider, F. (2016). Estimating the size of the shadow economies of highly‐developed countries: Selected results. CESifo Dice Report, 14(4), 44–53.
Iran has an integral role to play in Russian-South Asian connectivity
Iran is geostrategically positioned to play an integral role in Russian-South Asian connectivity. President Putin told the Valdai Club during its annual meeting in October 2019 that “there is one more prospective route, the Arctic – Siberia – Asia.
The idea is to connect ports along the Northern Sea Route with ports of the Pacific and Indian oceans via roads in East Siberia and central Eurasia.” This vision, which forms a crucial part of his country’s “Greater Eurasian Partnership”, can be achieved through the official North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) and tentative W-CPEC+ projects that transit through the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The first one refers to the creation of a new trade route from Russia to India through Azerbaijan and Iran, while the second concerns the likely expansion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC, the flagship project of China’s Belt & Road Initiative [BRI]) westward through Iran and largely parallel to the NSTC. W-CPEC+ can also continue towards Turkey and onward to the EU, but that branch is beyond the scope of the present analysis. The NSTC’s terminal port is the Indian-backed Chabahar, but delays in fully developing its infrastructure might lead to Bandar Abbas being used as a backup in the interim.
CPEC’s Chinese-backed terminal port of Gwadar is in close proximity to Chabahar, thus presenting the opportunity of eventually pairing the two as sister cities, especially in the event that rumored negotiations between China and Iran result in upwards of several hundred billion dollars worth of investments like some have previously reported. The combination of Russian, Indian, and Chinese infrastructure investments in Iran would greatly improve the country’s regional economic competitiveness and enable it to fulfill its geostrategic destiny of facilitating connectivity between Russia and South Asia.
What’s most intriguing about this ambitious vision is that Iran is proving to the rest of the world that it isn’t “isolated” like the U.S. and its closest allies thought that it would be as a result of their policy of so-called “maximum pressure” against it in recent years. While it’s true that India has somewhat stepped away from its previously strategic cooperation with Iran out of fear that it’ll be punished by “secondary sanctions” if it continued its pragmatic partnership with the Islamic Republic, it’s worthwhile mentioning that Chabahar curiously secured a U.S. sanctions waiver.
While the American intent behind that decision is unclear, it might have been predicated on the belief that the Iranian-facilitated expansion of Indian influence into Central Asia via Chabahar might help to “balance” Chinese influence in the region. It could also have simply been a small but symbolic “concession” to India in order not to scare it away from supporting the U.S. anti-Chinese containment strategy. It’s difficult to tell what the real motive was since American-Indian relations are currently complicated by Washington’s latest sanctions threats against New Delhi in response to its decision to purchase Russia’s S-400 air defense systems.
Nevertheless, even in the worst-case scenario that Indian investment and infrastructural support for Iran can’t be taken for granted in the coming future, that still doesn’t offset the country’s geostrategic plans. Russia could still use the NSTC to connect with W-CPEC and ultimately the over 200+ million Pakistani marketplaces. In theory, Russian companies in Pakistan could also re-export their home country’s NSTC-imported goods to neighboring India, thereby representing a pragmatic workaround to New Delhi’s potential self-interested distancing from that project which could also provide additional much-needed tax revenue for Islamabad.
Iran must therefore do its utmost to ensure Russia’s continued interest in the NSTC regardless of India’s approach to the project. Reconceptualizing the NSTC from its original Russian-Indian connectivity purpose to the much broader one of Russian-South Asian connectivity could help guarantee Moscow’s support. In parallel with that, Tehran would do well to court Beijing’s investments along W-CPEC+’s two branch corridors to Azerbaijan/Russia and Turkey/EU. Any success on any of these fronts, let alone three of them, would advance Iran’s regional interests by solidifying its integral geo-economic role in 21st-century Eurasia.
From our partner Tehran Times
The phenomenon of land grabbing by multinationals
Since 2012 the United Nations has adopted voluntary guidelines for land and forest management to combat land grabbing. But only a few people know about the guidelines, which aim to protect small farmers particularly in Third World countries.
When multinational investors buy up fields for their huge plantations, the residents lose their livelihood and means of support and will soon only be sleeping in their villages. If they are lucky, they might find work with relatives in another village. Many also try their luck in the city, but poverty and unemployment are high. What remains are depopulated villages and the huge palm oil plantations that have devoured farmland. People can no longer go there to hunt and grow plants or get firewood. The land no longer belongs to them!
Land grabbingis the process whereby mostly foreign investors deprive local farmers or fishermen of their fields, lakes and rivers. Although it has been widely used throughout history, land grabbing – as used in the 21st century – mainly refers to large-scale land acquisitions following the global food price crisis of 2007-2008.
From 2000 until 2019 one hundred million hectares of land have been sold or leased to foreign investors and the list of the most affected countries can be found here below:
Such investment may also make sense for the development of a country, but it must not deprive people of their rights: local people are starving while food is being produced and turned into biofuels for export right before their eyes.
In 2012, after three years of discussion, the UN created an instrument to prevent such land grabbing: the VGGTs (Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security:
Detailed minimum standards for investment are established, e.g. the participation of affected people or how to safeguard the rights of indigenous peoples and prevent corruption. Formally, the document provides a significant contribution to all people fighting for their rights.
The document, however, is quite cryptic. The guidelines should be simplified and explained. Only in this way can activists, but also farmers and fishermen, become aware of their rights.
Others doubt that much can be achieved through these guidelines because they are voluntary. After all, the UN has little or no say in the matter and can do no more than that. If governments implemented them, they would apply them as they will.
In Bolivia, for example, there are already laws that are supposed to prevent land grabbing. In the Amazon, however, Brazilian and Argentinian companies are buying up forests to grow soya and sugar cane, often with the approval and agreement of corrupt government officials. Further guidelines would probably be of little use.
At most, activists already use the guidelines to lobby their governments. Together with other environmental and human rights activists, they set up networks: through local radio stations and village meetings, they inform people of the fact that they right to their land.
Nevertheless, in many countries in Africa and elsewhere, there is a lack of documentation proving land ownership. Originally, tribal leaders vocally distributed rights of use. But today’s leaders are manipulated to pressure villagers to sell their land.
The biggest investors are Indians and Europeans: they are buying up the land to grow sugar cane and palm oil plantations. This phenomenon has been going on since 2008: at that time – as noted above – the world food crisis drove up food prices and foreign investors, but also governments, started to invest in food and biofuels.
Investment inland, which has been regarded as safe since the well-known financial crisis, must also be taken into account. Recently Chinese companies have also been buying up thousands of hectares of land.
In some parts of Africa, only about 6% of land is cultivated for food purposes, while on the remaining areas there are palm oil plantations. Once the plantations grow two or three metres high, they have a devastating effect on monocultures that rely on biodiversity, because of the huge areas they occupy. There is also environmental pollution due to fertilisers: in a village, near a plantation run by a Luxembourg company, many people have suffered from diarrhoea and some elderly villagers even died.
Consequently, the implementation of the VGGTs must be made binding as soon as possible. But with an organisation like the United Nations, how could this happen?
It is not only the indigenous peoples or the local groups of small farmers that are being deprived of everything. The common land used is also being lost, as well as many ecosystems that are still intact: wetlands are being drained, forests cleared and savannas turned into agricultural deserts. New landowners fence off their areas and deny access to the original owners. In practice, this is the 21st century equivalent of the containment of monastery land in Europe that began in the Middle Ages.
The vast majority of contracts are concentrated in poorer countries with weak institutions and land rights, where many people are starving. There, investors compete with local farmers. The argument to which the advocates of land grabbing hold -i.e. that it is mainly uncultivated land that needs to be reclaimed – is refuted. On the contrary, investors prefer well-developed and cultivated areas that promise high returns. However, they do not improve the supply of local population.
Foreign agricultural enterprises prefer to develop the so-called flexible crops, i.e. plants such as the aforementioned oil palm, soya and sugar cane, which, depending on the market situation, can be sold as biofuel or food.
But there is more! If company X of State Y buys food/fuel producing areas, it is the company that sells to its State Y and not the host State Z that, instead, assigns its future profits derived from international State-to-State trade to the aforementioned multinational or state-owned company of State Y.
Furthermore, there is almost no evidence of land investment creating jobs, as most projects were export-oriented. The British aid organisation Oxfam confirms that many land acquisitions took place in areas where food was being grown for the local population. Since local smallholders are generally weak and poorly educated, they can hardly defend themselves against the grabbing of the land they use. Government officials sell or lease it, often without even paying compensation.
Land grabbing is also present in ‘passive’ Europe. Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Lithuania and Bulgaria are affected, but also the territories of Eastern Germany. Funds and agricultural enterprises from “active” and democratic Europe, i.e. the West, and the Arab Gulf States are the main investors.
We might think that the governments of the affected countries would have the duty to protect their own people from such expropriations. Quite the reverse. They often support land grabbing. Obviously, corruption is often involved. In many countries, however, the agricultural sector has been criminally neglected in the past and multinationals are taking advantage of this under the pretext of remedying this situation.
No let-up in Indian farmers’ protest due to subconscious fear of “crony capitalism”
The writer has analysed why the farmers `now or never’ protest has persisted despite heavy odds. He is of the view that the farmers have the subconscious fear that the “crony capitalism” would eliminate traditional markets, abolish market support price and grab their landholdings. Already the farmers have been committing suicides owing to debt burden, poor monthly income (Rs. 1666 a month) and so on.”Crony capitalism” implies nexus between government and businesses that thrives on sweetheart deals, licences and permits eked through tweaking rules and regulations.
Stalemate between the government and the farmers’ unions is unchanged despite 11 rounds of talks. The farmers view the new farm laws as a ploy to dispossess them of their land holdings and give a free hand to tycoons to grab farmers’ holdings, though small.
Protesters allege the new laws were framed in secret understanding with tycoons. The farmers have a reason to abhor the rich businesses. According to an a January 2020 Oxfam India’s richest one per cent hold over four times the wealth of 953 million people who make up the poorest 70 per cent of the country’s population. India’s top nine billionaires’ Inc one is equivalent to wealth of the bottom 50 per cent of the population. The opposition has accused the government of “crony capitalism’.
Government has tried every tactic in its tool- kit to becloud the movement (sponsored y separatist Sikhs, desecrated Republic Day by hoisting religious flags at the Red ford, and so on). The government even shrugged off the protest by calling it miniscule and unrepresentative of 16.6 million farmers and 131,000 traders registered until May 2020. The government claims that it has planned to build 22,000 additional mandis (markets) 2021-22 in addition to already-available over 1,000 mandis.
Unruffled by government’s arguments, the opposition continues to accuse the government of being “suit-boot ki sarkar” and an ardent supporter of “crony capitalism” (Ambani and Adani). Modi did many favours to the duo. For instance they were facilitated to join hands with foreign companies to set up defence-equipment projects in India. BJP-ruled state governments facilitated the operation of mines in collaboration with the Ambani group just years after the Supreme Court had cancelled the allotment of 214 coal blocks for captive mining (MS Nileema, `Coalgate 2.0’, The Caravan March 1, 2018). Modi used Adani’s aircraft in March, April and May 2014 for election campaigning across the country.
“Crony capitalism” is well defined in the English oxford Living Dictionaries, Cambridge and Merriam –Webster. Merriam-Webster defines “crony capitalism” as “an economic system in which individuals and businesses with political connections and influence are favored (as through tax breaks, grants, and other forms of government assistance) in ways seen as suppressing open competition in a free market
If there’s one”.
Cambridge dictionary defines the term as “ an economic system in which family members and friends of government officials and business leaders are given unfair advantages in the form of jobs, loans, etc.:government-owned firms engaged in crony capitalism”.
A common point in all the definitions is undue favours (sweetheart contracts, licences, etc) to select businesses. It is worse than nepotism as the nepotism has a limited scope and life cycle. But, “crony capitalism” becomes institutionalized.
Modi earned the title “suit-boot ki sarkar” when a non-resident Indian, Rameshkumar Bhikabhai virani gifted him a Rs. 10 lac suit. To save his face, Modi later auctioned the suit on February 20, 2015. The suit fetched price of Rs, 4, 31, 31311 or nearly four hundred times the original price. Modi donated the proceeds of auction to a fund meant for cleaning the River Ganges. `It was subsequently alleged that the Surat-based trader Laljibhai Patel who bought the suit had been favoured by being allotted government land for building a private sports club (BJP returns ‘favour’, Modi suit buyer to get back land, Tribune June21, 2015).
Miffed by opposition’s vitriolic opposition, Ambani’s $174 billion conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Categorically denied collusion with Modi’s government earlier this month. Reliance clarified that it had never done any contract farming or acquired farm land, and harboured no plans to do so in future. It also vowed to ensure its suppliers will pay government-mandated minimum prices to farmers. The Adani Group also had clarified last month that it did not buy food grains from farmers or influence their prices.
Like Modi, both Adani and Ambani hail from the western Indian state of Gujarat, just, who served as the state’s chief for over a decade. Both the tycoons are reputed to be Modi’s henchmen. Their industry quickly aligns its business strategies to Modi’s nation-building initiatives. For instance, Adani created a rival regional industry lobby and helped kick off a biannual global investment summit in Gujarat in 2003 that boosted Modi’s pro-business credentials. During 2020, Ambani raised record US$27 billion in equity investments for his technology and retail businesses from investors including Google and Face book Inc. He wants to convert these units into a powerful local e-commerce rival to Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Inc. The Adani group, which humbly started off as a commodities trader in 1988, has grown rapidly to become India’s top private-sector port operator and power generator.
Parallel with the USA
Ambani and Adani are like America’s Rockefellers and Vanderbilt’s in the USA’s Gilded Age in the second half of the 19th century (James Crabtree, The Billionaire Raj: a Journey through India’s New Gilded Age).
Modi government’s tutelage of Ambanis and Adanis is an open secret. Kerala challenged Adani’s bid for an airport lease is. A state minister said last year that Adani winning the bid was “an act of brazen cronyism.”
Threat of elimination of traditional markets
Farmers who could earlier sell grains and other products only at neighbouring government-regulated wholesale markets can now sell them across the country, including the big food processing companies and retailers such as WalMart.
The farmers fear the government will eventually abolish the wholesale markets, where growers were assured of a minimum support price for staples like wheat and rice, leaving small farmers at the mercy of corporate agri-businesses.
Is farmers’ fear genuine?
The farmers have a logical point. Agriculture yield less profit than industry. As such, even the USA heavily subsidies its agriculture. US farmers got more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019, the highest level of farm subsidies in the last 14 years, and the corporate sector paid for it. The Indian government is reluctant to give a permanent legal guarantee for the MSP. In contrast, the US and Western Europe buy directly from the farmers and build their butter and cheese mountains. Even the prices of farm products at the retail and wholesale levels are controlled by the capitalist government. In short, not the principles of capitalization but well-worked-out welfare measures are adopted to sustain the farm sector in the advanced West.
Threat of monopsonic exploitation
The farmers would suffer double exploitation under a monopsony (more sellers less buyers) at the hands of corporate sharks. They would pay less than the minimum support price to the producers. Likewise, consumers will have to pay more because the public distribution system is likely to be undermined as mandi (regulated wholesale market) procurement is would eventually cease to exist.
Plight of the Indian farmer
The heavily indebted Indian farmer has average income of only about Rs. 20000 a year (about Rs. 1666 a month). Thousands of farmers commit suicide by eating pesticides to get rid of their financial difficulties.
A study by India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development found that more than half of farmers in India are in debt. More than 20,000 people involved in the farming sector died by suicide from 2018-2019, with several studies suggesting that being in debt was a key factor.
More than 86 per cent of India’s cultivated farmland is owned by small farmers who own less than two hectares of land each (about two sports fields). These farmers lack acumen to bargain with bigger companies. Farmers fear the Market Support Price will disappear as corporations start buying their produce.
Modi sarkar is unwilling to yield to the farmers’ demand for fear of losing his strongman image and Domino Effect’. If he yields on say, the matter of the farm laws, he may have to give in on the Citizenship Amendment Act also. Fund collection in some foreign countries has started to sustain the movement. As such, the movement may not end anytime soon. Unless Modi yields early, he would suffer voter backlash in coming elections. The farm sector contributes only about 15 per cent of India’s $2.9 trillion economy. But, it employs around half its 1.3 billion people.
Equality in engineering crucial to achieving sustainable development
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