Step foot (carefully) on the streets of the Delhi megalopolis and you’ll find an explosion of colour and a cacophony of all sorts of weird and wonderful noises. In some ways, it’s the archetypal developing city, with disorganised shops lying around in wide, bending alleyways that look almost as if they’re the fruits of a child’s imagination. In others, however, Delhi has its own unique aura, the quintessential, all-encompassing Indian tinge that has had foreigners from the Mughals to the British flocking like flies to its soil throughout history. Despite this, however, there is an elephant in the room, lying wearily beneath the glitz and glamour of a hugely unequal and somewhat segregated Indian society. You probably already know what it is: poverty. 2012 Indian government projections suggest that 21.9% of the Indian population are below its official poverty limit – to put that into context, it means that almost 1 in 4 Indians are affected by the scourge of poverty. Despite substantial amounts of aid being given to the Asian country to help solve the problem, it’s not even remotely close to going away at all. This is because of deep and wide-ranging problems in the framework of poverty alleviation projects in India, one of which is information failure in the microfinance sector leading to excessively high interest rate loans.
Primarily in Indian rural communities, a large problem with regards to supplying loans to low-income households is that loans are advertised at lower interest rates than they are in reality. Given the relative lack of education in these areas, exploitative moneylenders can easily demand money unlawfully from families, citing a higher interest rate than the borrowing family had initially thought. Hence, this asymmetric information between lenders and borrowers, combined with the high operational costs of face-to-face lending to these communities in the first place, results in interest rates that frequently reach levels above 50%. To combat this, it’s logical that the government could introduce subsidies for microfinance institutions to reduce overall costs, thereby resulting in the pushing down of interest rates through the competition of the free market mechanism (the sheer numbers of microfinance institutions involved makes this method viable for application). Furthermore, the Indian government could make efforts to introduce a database of sorts for each rural community, spearheaded by a government-appointed official, detailing each microfinance institution and the details of the loans that they are providing to people in these communities, decreasing the potential for exploitation of borrowers. Given that corruption is such a prevalent problem within almost every Indian institution that exists, deterrents such as substantial jail sentences should be given to anyone exploiting the system, along with many avenues for which people to complain about unjustly high interest rates without fear. Obviously, this wouldn’t solve the problem entirely, but it would go a long way to decrease interest rates and therefore provide a more sustainable alternative revenue stream for families starting businesses on the back of this loan.
Moreover, while children going to school and sitting in classes matters, the end goal of all of this is for them to have an education, gaining transferable skills which they can take to work, boosting the standard of living for themselves, their families, and the wider community. In India, however, while the number of children going to school has been increasing, the number of people getting an education is a greatly different story. In 2009, India ranked 73rd out of 74 countries sampled with regards to the extent of the children’s knowledge regarding various subject matters, indicating that although children are going to school, they are actually not learning very much at all. This is in part because teachers believe that they can get away with not working as hard as possible to educate their students, due to no system of rewards or punishments being in place to provide either positive or negative incentives to teach. Therefore, what I propose is as follows: establish a more rigorous, practical system of testing for Indian children by an independent organisation to each class in schools, with positive incentives in the form of bonuses being paid to teachers whose class performs significantly well. Due to negative incentives promoting negativity and eventual apathy in the school environment, it would be unnecessary to include them with the same frequency as positive incentives, however if a teacher’s class has been doing badly for a sustained period of time, they should take a compulsory training class and be forced to accept a decrease in wages, or leave the school entirely. To make the whole system fair, classes should be allocated based on a test conducted to determine each student’s aptitude when they enter the school, making sure that the aptitude levels of each class are relatively similar. Whilst there is no suggestion here regarding how to make more children go to school, this is because it is already happening in India on a large scale, and so therefore we now must focus on how to maximise learning from going to school itself, in order to pull more and more families out of poverty.
Infrastructure has developed hugely in India since the pro-market reforms of 1991; nowadays in India, people have more opportunities than ever before due to more alternative routes to success. However, despite this, the lack of aspiration shown by some of the poorest people in India has continued on from previous years; they feel that high profile, white collar jobs that can pull their family out of poverty are out of their reach. This is because if the poor’s attempts to find a source of income do not work out, the loss that they could have faced both in time and monetary value could cripple them further than they already have been. While there is no silver bullet to fix this problem, the only way in which it could be somewhat ameliorated is through exposing the poor in these communities to people who have succeeded in the past. There is the potential that the effects of supplying information through media to these communities could have little to no effect, as the potential consequences of failing are so crippling. Hence, it is important to focus on other reforms so that people are more and more exposed to others who have succeeded, and the idea is that the allure of success would eventually drive some people to take risks, catapulting them out of the poverty trap. The most difficult thing about this process is the start; once we have a start, there will be a virtuous cycle, hence the burning need to focus on other ways in which to overcome the Indian obstacles to growth.
While growth continues in India at a breakneck pace, the most important thing now for the country is to increase the quality of living of the poorest within society. That can only be done through overcoming inherent obstacles; maybe, just maybe, once we’ve beaten these, growth and prosperity will increase like never before.
What do you think? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts, whether you’ve been attracted or repulsed by my propositions.