Tag: Book Review

Book Review of Capital

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”.

Migrants returning to their home walking hundreds of km due to lock down declared by the government due to corona virus crisis.

The present migrant crisis in India is a stark reminder of the economic inequities existing in our society. When rich and middle-class people are spending their time in the comfort of their homes doing various activities, poor and marginalized migrants are walking for a hundred thousand kilometres to reach their homes. Some also died on the way because of hunger and exhaustion. In this context, I thought to write a short review of the book, “The Capital” by Thomas Piketty. How income inequalities are going to hurt us in the longer-term unless some concrete steps are not taken by the State and its people.

I never read the whole book but managed to give a paper presentation on it in my final year of public policy course. Whatever critics say, this book has brought the issue of income inequality at the forefront. Income inequality is not only an issue based on some statistics but also it’s a moral issue that will always pinch the conscience of the people. This book became popular since it got published. Piketty also hailed as “the Modern Marx” by “The Economist” magazine. He is a French economist who also taught at MIT for two years. His major work is a compilation of historical data about economic inequality. He is critical of economics discipline.

“To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation at the expense of historical research and collaboration with the other social sciences.”

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

The core concern of the book is to put the issue of inequality in its broader historical context. The author’s main argument is that in an economy where the rate of return on capital outstrips the rate of growth, inherited wealth will always grow faster than earned wealth. He also adds that the concentration of wealth at one level is incompatible to democracy and social justice.

The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms.

Thomas Piketty-The Capital in 21st Century

He rejects the Simon Kuznets hypothesis which says that though societies become more unequal in the first stages of industrialization, inequality reduces as they achieve maturity. However, Piketty does not think like that. According to him, demography, low taxation and weak labor organizations will fundamentally lead to greater inequality.

The author feels that unless we do something, ‘free-market economy’ will become a ‘patrimonial system’ with an entrenched hereditary upper class and the rest of the population. He is highly critical of higher compensation paid to senior executives of MNCs that is responsible for extreme inequality in the wake of 2008 financial crisis. To save the world from this ‘doomsday scenario’, the author proposes various measures namely a global tax on inherited wealth, changes in income taxes, use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards and also enforced transparency of banks.

His paper -,“Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj”? co-authored with Lucas Chancel argues that income inequality was highest in India in 2014 since the creation of Indian Income -tax in 1922. They concluded that the top 1 percent earners in 2014 earned 22% of India’s national income. Though there are various counter- arguments to it. Jagdish Bhagwati & Arvind Pangariya refuted this argument in their book, ‘Why growth matters’. Swaminath Aiyar also disapproved of his idea of stark inequality in India in one of his articles on the grounds of statistics and his failure to distinguish between different kinds of inequality.

Thomas Piketty’s hypothesis criticized by many economists. According to them, his approach to economics is anti-mathematical. As per the paper, “Income Inequality, Catastrophe Predictions, Thomas Piketty, How income and economic unit are defined can create significant differences in the data produced and in the interpretation of the data? For instance, Stephen Rose and Thomas Piketty reached different conclusions about the status of the middle class based on the definition of income and economic unit. Generally, there is no correlation between increasing income inequality and general welfare. His use of tax records to approximate income is convenient and allows easy comparison across different countries and at different times and he also not considered the social security payments as part of his data.

Though income inequality is a complicated issue, Piketty’s biggest contribution is to elevate the income inequality issue to the forefront of both public and scholarly attention. Whatever is the reason behind stark inequality existing in society, the issue of inequality will always be debated as a moral issue.

Be fluid and follow your passion

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Be formless, shapeless like water. When you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now the water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend-

BRUCE LEE, The Lost Interview, 1971

This is the season of results. I am not talking about election results but the results of high school and intermediate students in the country. On one side marks of the students are skyrocketing touching 90 to 99 percent and on the other side, around 22 students of Telangana Board of Intermediate Education (TBIE) has committed suicide because they were failed or did not get expected marks due to some goof-ups in giving marks by the board. Recently, one Delhi woman’s Facebook post became viral as she was feeling proud when her son scored 60% marks in high school examination of CBSE board. Not only this, as per the recent ASER report 2018, 75% of the Std III students of the government schools across the country can not read and perform basic calculations. It shows the grim picture of the Indian education system. In fact, this is the key idea of this book written by Ashish Jaiswal, a scholar from the University of Oxford. He is a humble and down to earth human being.

The title of the book is so intriguing that I had not thought in my wildest dream that the author is going to discuss the education system of India. How the Indian education system is creating rote learners, unemployable and unskilled graduates? There is one more peculiarity how the so-called best education system provided by IIT-IIM and foreign degrees creating money minting machines. These people have no concern and responsibility for the “Lok Kalyan” means public welfare the term used by the author to answer the question- ‘what should be the ultimate purpose of our life’? The sad example of this rat race is suicide of Sarveshresthra Gupta, graduate from one of the Ivy League colleges. He ended his life due to stress and work pressure.

Why India despite being the oldest civilization in the world is still behind its counterparts at various fronts? Why no Indian university has achieved the feat of the best rankings in the world ? Why there is a massive “brain drain” from India to western countries? Why we are still talking about poverty elimination in our country even after seven decades of Independence? Why our education system are not able to produce more number of people like Amartya Sen, Rabindranath Tagore & E Sreedharan and producing mediocre engineers, doctors and social scientists. Why do we Indians still feel inferior to western people in culture, language and heritage of our country?  There might be a number of reasons behind these questions. But I am confident that the way Indian education system evolved over the years is one of the most important reasons which drags India behind. Why this is so?

This book tries to answers these questions. Being fluid means be more than what you are taught to be. As per the author, you become fluid specialist when you explore the universe in integrative form, learn from your surroundings and take the inter-disciplinary approach to create knowledge and wisdom. Anti-fluidity in terms of compartmentalization of the streams in different subjects taught in the school has made us unimaginative. We are told to choose our specialization after our high school exam when we are hardly aware of the world around us. Everyone hear this conversation. Choose science and mathematics and your life will be set. Go for engineering or medical or commerce, you will earn good money. Go abroad and earn in US dollars. Nobody tells us, “follow your passion and do something for the greater good”. Not only this, when you want to explore the world or you want to take a gap in your studies, this decision is looked down upon by the society in general and family in particular. The author mentioned about Rene Descartes, father of modern Western philosophy who once left his education for the sake of travel. He is the one who wrote- ‘I think, therefore I am’.

In fact, the author has shown how the whole theory of right-brain and left-brain is complete non-sense. The author quoted Neil deGrasse Tyson, american astrophysicist who completely rejected this theory saying that these fake divisions between science and art is taking our civilization away from true learning. Charles Percy Snow, British scientist and novelist in his book, ” The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution” highlighted the huge gap between those studying sciences and arts and concluded that lack of exposure to other academic circles led to hostile and distorted image of each other.The sheer categorization of subjects into STEM and non-STEM shows the stereotype mindset towards social sciences subjects.

This book tells us to be fluid in our approach towards the process of learning. Spontaneous learning is the most beautiful thing. It not only makes you a better person but also gives you various perspectives to understand the world. The author of the book mentioned many learned people like Charles Darwin, Aristotle, Leonardo Da Vinci, Goethe, Amartya Sen, C V Raman, Peter Geddes, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edwin Land, Steve Jobs, etc who did not follow a set path and explored the universe.They exposed themselves to diverse fields of education. The fluid approach which was depicted in the form of charkha(wheel) by the author appreciates the ‘integrative nature of the universe’. In the era of digital technology and artificial intelligence, when there will be more monotony and job losses, the people who are fluid in their approach will have more chances to survive because of their exploratory nature and never-ending desire to challenge the defined boundaries.

One of the most important findings of Jaiswal is that India should get credit for Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. The undiscovered Hans Purush from Vishnudharmottaram Puranam mentioned by Rishi Markendeya was one of the perfect men discussed in the Purana. In fact, the author wants to stress the point that human knowledge is circulatory. The world has been benefited not by one single country or race but by the combined intelligence of all spread over the thousands of years. For instance- architectures around the world are the best example of combined intelligence and cultures of humanity. The best example mentioned by the author is our India Gate which not only incorporated western architectural influences but also the elements of Indian architecture in terms of the dome on the top and canopy structure in front. Indians should not feel inferior of their history, culture, language, etc because we have a lot more to offer to the world not only with respect to new knowledge but also we gave the idea of spiritualism and simplicity to the world.

This book is a culmination of out-of-the-box thinking. The author tried to challenge the stereotypes and boundaries built by society. He wants readers to be a learner who explores the universe, gets inspired by the surroundings and creates a melting pot of intelligence to work for the public welfare. Most importantly, as a public policy student, I always look for solutions keeping in mind that world is full of complex problems. I agree with the author that there are many issues plaguing the Indian education system but what are the solutions. How can we inspire everyone to be fluid in their approach?

Please find the author’s Comment on this review:

Dear Ritambhara, The review reads absolutely fantastic. It does summarises ‘fluid’ brilliantly. I also do understand the importance of your last line – the question. Our mind is an amazing construct. My learning journey has taught me that every dimension of knowledge for mind is locked inside a web just held together by a loose knot. A idea/thought/reflection/event/experience , if powerful enough, causes that knot to open. This is the beginning but most crucial step in acquiring any wisdom. Fluid is that first step in acquiring wisdom over multi-dimensionality. Once, you realise there is something like fluidity in specialisation , you will never go back to walking on a uni-dimensional path 🙂