Location: Sarfuddinpur, Bihar
In June this year, I was in Sarfuddinpur, a village in Muzaffarpur district in north-central Bihar. This was my tenth round of qualitative data collection in this village and I wanted to document the stories of a few Self-Help Group, or SHG, leaders; Shakuntala Devi was one of them. I first observed her presiding over an SHG meeting under the village peepal tree in July 2013. She was expertly facilitating a discussion with other SHG members around loans, but also around child health issues and the challenges faced by women in the marketplace. She disciplined free riders and rewarded contributors with a respected leader’s ease. Since then, I have seen her conduct many other meetings.
Landing at Paro in Bhutan involves making a question-mark shaped maneuver while dropping altitude rapidly to avoid making wing-contact with the Himalayan mountains surrounding the Paro valley where Thimphu, the capital, is also situated. A fellow passenger informs me that there are only 9 pilots in the world who are trained to make this landing. I use up one of my rare prayers to request that it be one of those flying us now. It is, I think, the infrequency of prayers that makes them so effective; our plane descends smoothly and tiptoes on to the tarmac.
Do migrants respond to differences in access to public goods and services in addition to income prospects of potential destinations? This issue is important in developing countries where provision of basic public goods affects not only income prospects but also quality of life. And in these countries, provision of public goods tends to vary widely across areas. In a Tiebout (1956) sorting model, such disparity in the provision of public goods such as roads, electricity, schools, hospitals, etc. should induce people to "vote with their feet" and to migrate to areas with better access to these infrastructures and services.
Revised excerpts from the 16th JRD Tata lecture, delivered in New Delhi, 19 August 2013.
This is a difficult time for the Indian economy. Growth has slowed, with industry shrinking over the last two successive months, wholesale price inflation has risen to 5.8%, and the rupee has been losing value sharply. There is reason to be upset about this and to demand more from policy makers. Yet, as I argue in this lecture, this is not India's biggest problem. The nation's biggest challenge at this critical juncture is a moral and an ethical one. This, for India, is a moment of moral churning. Skullduggery and corruption, cutting across party lines, have been rampant, eating into the moral fabric of the nation, leaving ordinary people befuddled and in despair. This is breeding a corrosive cynicism, leading people to believe that maybe this is the only way to be, that petty corruption and harassment is simply the new normal, whereby we should complain when we are left out of the gravy train and merrily join in if and when we get a foothold on that train. Yes, the economy has not done well over the last year or two. But once we look beyond the proximate causes we will realize that one important factor for the economy not doing well is the corrosion of values like trust and trustworthiness and their concomitant, poor governance.
In the last five years, higher food prices have provoked government interventions in agricultural markets across the globe, often in the name of protecting the poor. But do higher food prices actually hurt the rural poor?
The economic liberalization during the last couple of decades led to impressive economic growth and poverty reduction in many developing countries. This period has also witnessed worsening of income inequality and widening of spatial disparity (World Development Report (2009); Kanbur and Venables (2005); Kim (2008)). There is considerable worry among policy makers about the extent to which this rise in spatial inequality is due to increasing disparity in opportunities in terms of provision of basic infrastructure and services. The recent growth and poverty reduction experience places Bangladesh as an exception to this trend of increasing spatial inequality. Bangladesh made significant strides in poverty reduction between 2000 and 2010 with incidence of poverty falling from 48.9 percent to 31.5 percent. During the same period, the incidence of poverty declined more than proportionately in traditionally poorer regions, reducing welfare gaps across regions. There is also no evidence of significant change in overall inequality over the same period. What made spatial disparity in Bangladesh to decline while its economic growth accelerated substantially? What were the sources of decline in spatial disparity in welfare?
In the policy discussions related to hunger, malnutrition, poverty and wellbeing, calorie intake is often the focus. Increasingly, however, micronutrient malnutrition appears to be a critical problem in many developing countries. Women and children are most vulnerable to micronutrient malnutrition due to their elevated micronutrient requirements for reproduction and growth. According to some estimates, nearly three billion people (including 56% of the pregnant and 44% of the nonpregnant women) suffer from iron deficiency anemia (IDA), and one-third of the world's population suffer from zinc deficiency. Twenty percent of the maternal deaths in Africa and Asia are due to IDA. One in every three preschool-aged children in the developing countries is malnourished. Undernutrition, coupled with infectious diseases, accounts for an estimated 3.5 million deaths annually. At levels of malnutrition found in South Asia, approximately 5% of GNP is lost each year due to debilitating effects of iron, vitamin A, and iodine deficiencies alone.