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Posts Tagged ‘poverty line

Poverty is a new market for management firms

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The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household nor provide any 'empowerment'.

The Rs 1,336 proposed by McKinsey will neither help run this household in rural Karnataka nor provide any ’empowerment’. The family’s entrepreneurship, running a cooked food stall in a part of the house, keeps it comfortably above the poverty line.

There is a new contributor to an old subject in India. The subject is poverty, and the newcomer is a management consulting company. This sort of company has no experience with such a subject, however the McKinsey Global Institute – which works as “the research arm of consulting company McKinsey” – has not been short of advisers on the matter.

What does this consulting company say and why should we keep an eye on their activity in this subject? This institute has issued a report called ‘From poverty to empowerment: India’s imperative for jobs, growth and effective basic services’. The proposal, unabashedly touted as new thinking, is that India should focus not on a poverty line but on a “more comprehensive measure of what it would take to satisfy a person’s basic needs for food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, schooling and social security”.

This new thinking – presented as a startling innovation in the same way that a new brand of running shoes or some such frippery is launched – is called an “empowerment line”. This ‘line’ has been placed at Rs 1,336 rupees a month – which McKinsey points out is about 50% higher than the national official poverty line.

McKinsey_India_poverty_coverWhat is sought to be fixed at the bidding of the current government of India and at what cost? This new report by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that Rs 330,000 crore should be spent over the next 10 years to “empower 680 million Indians who are only marginally better than those under the poverty line”. And moreover that this spending be increased to reach 1.08 million crore by 2022 because “the government’s spending on various development schemes” does not “effectively reach much of the public”. At current rates of exchange, that is US$ 173 billion and what handsome percentage of that will be marked (or unmarked) as consultants’ fees?

Likewise, we must also examine those who have provided, as McKinsey has said, “insights and guidance” for this work. Among those listed are Subir Gokarn, director of research of Brookings India and former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India; Vijay Kelkar, chairman of the India Development Foundation, former chairman of India’s Finance Commission, and former finance secretary, Government of India; Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the Planning Commission of India; Arun Maira and B K Chaturvedi, members of the Planning Commission of India; Rakesh Mohan, India’s executive director at the International Monetary Fund; Nandan Nilekani, chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India; S Ramadorai, adviser to the Prime Minister, National Council on Skill Development; and Soli Sorabjee, former attorney-general of India.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

Disconnected entirely from the dynamics of district livelihoods and factors that influence income and well-being, consulting companies such as McKinsey must not continue to be engaged by central and state governments in any capacity.

These people are votaries of the thesis that GDP growth is good, and that all policy must conform to such a doctrine. Hence it becomes easier to see the connection between the direction that the UPA 1 and UPA 2 governments have taken till here, and the firm grip finance and industry have on the country’s journey into ‘development’, aided by the outpourings of management consulting companies such as McKinsey. This ‘empowerment index’ is nothing but a repetition of the desire that over the period 2010-20, urban India must create 70% of all new jobs in India and these urban jobs will be twice as productive as equivalent jobs in the rural sector, as stated in ‘India’s Urban Awakening: Building Inclusive Cities, Sustaining Economic Growth’, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute issued in early 2010.

The expectation is that as India’s cities expand, India’s economic profile will also change. In 1995, India’s GDP was divided almost evenly between its urban and rural economies. In 2008, urban GDP accounted for 58% of overall GDP. By 2030, according to the McKinsey report’s calculations, urban India will generate nearly 70% of India’s GDP. Such a transformation, if it comes to pass, is expected to deliver a steep increase in India’s per capita income between now and 2030 wherein the number of middle class households (earning between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 10 lakh a year) will increase from 32 million to 147 million. And it is against the drawing of that alarming line of minimum urbanisation drawn four years earlier, that this new line must be viewed, together with the injunction that “India can bring more than 90 percent of its people above the Empowerment Line in just a decade by implementing inclusive reforms”.


Of an India behind the new poverty ratio

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Mural titled 'In the name of development', at Jawaharlal Nahru University, New Delhi

Mural titled ‘In the name of development’, at Jawaharlal Nahru University, New Delhi

New poverty claims from the government of India are being interpreted as (a) proof that the economic liberalisation is working, (b) that the ruling coalition has begun its preparation for the 2014 general election by claiming the largest percentage reduction of poverty ever, (c) that the ruling coalition by lowering the poverty line (and therefore the number of Indians identified as poor) will slash its social subsidies outlay, (d) that the way India measures poverty is desperately in need of repair, if not altogether in need of renewal.

The new state poverty lines table (see below for xls link)

The new state poverty lines table (see below for xls link)

India’s English-language media (in particular the financial and business press) has either repeated what the Planning Commission has released, or has reported reactions to the latest claim from opposition parties. Here is a selection:

“The proportion of people living below poverty line (BPL) has came down from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 21.9 per cent in 2011-12 — a decline of 15.3 percentage points in a period that roughly coincides with the first eight years of the United Progressive Alliance.”
“The sharp drop was attributed to the high real growth in recent years, which raised the consumption capacity. The number of India’s poor fell to less than a quarter of its population in 2011-12, giving the government a reason to cheer amid the recent raft of disappointing macro economic data.”
“Over the last decade, poverty has witnessed a consistent decline with the levels dropping from 37.2% in 2004-05 to 29.8% in 2009-10. The number of poor is now estimated at 269.3 million, of which 216.5 million reside in rural India.”
“One theory is that this is the outcome of the trickle-down impact of the record growth witnessed in the first decade of the new millennium.”
“The BJP slammed the figures as a ‘political gimmick’ and a ‘conspiracy’ of the Congress to deprive the poor of the benefits of government schemes while CPI(M) said it amounted to ‘adding salt to the wounds of the poor’.”

It was only last year, in 2012 June, that the Planning Commission constituted an ‘expert group’ chaired by a former head of the Reserve Bank of India to “review the methodology for the measurement of poverty”. In the hoary tradition of Indian bureaucratese, this expert group is now “deliberating on this issue” (said the Planning Commission) and is expected to submit its report by the middle of 2014.

What is the main substance of the new claim? The note from the Planning Commission (titled ‘Press Note on Poverty Estimates, 2011-12’ and dated July 2013) has stated that the “percentage of persons below the poverty line in 2011-12 has been estimated as 25.7% in rural areas, 13.7% in urban areas and 21.9% for the country as a whole”. [A spreadsheet with the new statewise rural and urban poverty lines is available here.]

Government-friendly infographics from a financial newspaper

Government-friendly infographics from a financial newspaper

Thereafter the myth of the descending poverty line is outlined: that in 2004-05 the respective poverty ratios for the rural and urban areas were 41.8% and 25.7% and 37.2% for the country; that in 1993-94 the ratios were 50.1% in rural areas, 31.8% in urban areas and 45.3% for the country. And, in triumphant tones, that hence the 407 million Indians below the poverty line in 2004-05 had by 2011-12 dwindled dramatically to 270 million – a reduction of 137 million persons over a short seven years! And that indeed, it is all the more significant that for the last eight years it is the UPA (that is, the Congress) that has ruled India. So flows the polemic.

In the eagerness to find ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ and a ‘national’ poverty line, the tales of the deciles of the NSS surveys, referred to only fleetingly, are of importance (for the 43rd, 50th, 55th, 61st, 66th and 68th rounds, all of which we hope are being studied by the Rangarajan expert group). The deciles in the 68th round tell us that in rural India, the average monthly expenditure per person of Rs 153 on cereals would buy 7.3 kg of rice or 8.5 kg of wheat, and that the Rs 40 spent per person on pulses would buy 0.85 kg of pulses, both monthly measures (outside the fair price shop) being well under (13.8 kg and 1.2 kg respectively) the recommended dietary allowances.

India’s 681 million hungry rural citizens

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RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic1What do and what can rural residents spend on food and the essentials of living in India? This chart gives us an indication. It is based on new data contained in the latest revelation (my word, not theirs) from the National Sample Survey Office and is titled ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India’ (the 68th Round of sampling, for those who follow the extraordinary programme of this sterling statistical organisation).

There is data enough in the volume to inform us, clearly and starkly, that the cumulative impact of several years of food price inflation is hurting households more with every passing quarter. Consider what this new data release tells us:

RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic3* That the average rural monthly expenditure per person was lowest in the states of Odisha and Jharkhand (around Rs 1,000) and also in Chhattisgarh (Rs 1,027).
* In Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the rural monthly expenditure per person was about Rs 1,125 to Rs 1,160.
* In urban India (not shown in this chart, but I will add to this posting with an expanded update) Bihar had the lowest monthly expenditure per person (called monthly per capita expenditure by the NSSO and abbreviated to MPCE) of Rs 1,507.
* In Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, urban MPCE was between Rs 1,865 and Rs 2,060. These six were the six major states with the lowest MPCEs for both rural and urban citizens.

But those are averages, and in this data release, the NSSO has divided its usual ten deciles even further for the lowest and highest deciles. (The decile is the surveyed population divided into tenths, with these being classified by expenditure level.) Doing so gives us a better view of the elastic expense trends in the top ten per cent of the population, the class which is so pampered by the central government. For rural India then, the 5th percentile of the MPCE distribution was estimated as Rs 616 and the 10th percentile as Rs 710 – and these are all-India averages.

[The spreadsheet with the table and chart is here. You can find the highlights of the NSSO study here.]

RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic4About half the total rural population is thus estimated to have a MPCE below Rs 1,198. Only about 10% of the rural population reported household MPCE above Rs 2,296 and only 5% reported MPCE above Rs 2,886 (this is using what is called the ‘modified mixed reference period’ or MMRP, in which the person interviewed is asked to recall purchases made over two different lengths of time, for different sorts of goods). The bottom-line is that food accounted for about 53% of the value of the average rural Indian’s household consumption during 2011-12.

This included 11% for cereals and cereal substitutes, 8% for milk and milk products, another 8% on beverages and processed food, and 6.5% on vegetables. Among non-food item categories, fuel for cooking and lighting accounted for about 8%, clothing and footwear for 7%, medical expenses for about 6.5%, education for 3.5%, conveyance for 4%, other consumer services for 4%, and consumer durables for 4.5%.

This ought to be a ringing alarm about access to food for the country’s planners, who are otherwise obsessed with GDP growth and whether India is cosmetically dolled up enough to attract global finance capital. It hasn’t sounded even a muted gong, and even if it had, one stunning inference from this table has been ignored – that this is an indicator of food and multi-dimensional poverty and that millions of rural residents are unable to afford food and basic services.

How so? Look at the chart again. Imagine, at just above the line marking 2,000 rupees, a dotted red line at a level of around 2,070 rupees. That is the equivalent (before the recent fall in the rupee’s value against the US dollar) of USD 1.25 a day, which has (ill-advisedly) been cemented in development wisdom as a poverty line that can be applied in countries like India. Let’s accept that in order to focus on what the new NSSO data tells us.

RG_NSSO_68_MPCE_pic5At the Rs 2,070 level we see that for a relatively prosperous state like Haryana (a former Green Revolution state) about 50% of the rural population cannot spend, per person per month, this amount. The percentage of the rural population below and above this line is similar, more or less, for Punjab (also a former Green Revolution state) and for Kerala (which is not, but has income from economic migrants abroad).

But the entire rural populations of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha cannot spend this amount, because they do not earn it. How many is that? Using the 2001-2011 population growth rates (for rural populations of states) this means 98.96 million in rural Bihar, 20.65 million in rural Chhattisgarh, 26.52 million in rural Jharkhand and 36.19 million in rural Odisha are below this line. What of other states with large rural populations?

In Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, 90% of the rural population is below this line and that means 25.23 million in Assam, 49.90 million in Madhya Pradesh, 147.25 million in Uttar Pradesh, and 57.26 million in West Bengal. In Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, 80% of the rural population is below this line and that means 28.52 million in Gujarat, 30.66 million in Karnataka, 50.77 million in Maharashtra and 43.55 million in Rajasthan. In Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, 70% of the rural population is below this line and that means 39.64 million in Andhra Pradesh and 26.56 million in Tamil Nadu.

Taken together those rural populations are 681.72 million (more than twice the population of the USA). They are 78% of India’s 2013 rural population, almost eight out of ten rural citizens.

Who’s poor and who isn’t – the flawed $1.25 formula

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The $1.25 a day poverty line is neither realistic nor is it any use to governments of less industrialised countries. It is time this ‘global poverty line’ is rejected.

An early stage shanty settlement of rural labourers, in Maharashtra, western India

Once again a major international thinktank has released a ‘big picture’ prognosis about global poverty. Once again the $1.25 a day line has been used to confirm that in developing countries, poverty is on the retreat and that the current model of economics is working for the poor by yanking them over that troublesome dollar line.

This time, the thinktank is the Brookings Institution, USA. Here’s their bottomline. Most of the poverty reduction we have seen in the last decade has happened because of the economic growth in China and India, where, until the end of the 20th century, a large number of the world’s poor lived. That growth in Asia not being matched by similar growth in Africa is the reason, Brookings has explained, for Nigeria heading towards being home to the largest population of poor by 2015, more so even than India. Poverty will be an African problem, according to Brookings.

As many other high-profile thinktanks have done over the years, Brookings has proferred its poverty prognostications [pdf] based on a few givens in the world of macroeconomics. One is that $1.25 a day, the World Bank’s revision of its own dollar-a-day definition which is now of some vintage, is the most reliable way to set a global poverty line. Two is that economic growth has brought many people in developing countries out of poverty and will continue to do so. Three is that the kind of growth that we have witnessed (and participated in) in China is the best anti-poverty solution to be found.

A vegetable vendor pushes his cart over a bridge across the river Ganga, near Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India

Based on these ‘givens’, which I shall turn to in a moment, the world’s development specialists and macroeconomists who measure poverty have lately been waxing enthusiastic about the prospect of providing all poor people in the world cash supplements, which they are sure will bring them out of poverty. The cost, they say, is relatively quite small, at about $66 billion. This cash transfer, to each and every poor person, will cost less now than it would have done only five years ago, they have said.

Well, yes and no. All programmes, even ones that distribute cash to people, cost money to run. If you have to distribute on a regular basis enough money to enough poor people at the rate of more than $1.25 a day, that distribution itself is going to be huge and enormously complicated, and of course quie expensive too. Faced with this question, they do have a ready answer, which goes something like this: recent advances in biometric identification technologies—such as fingerprint and iris scanning—have greatly expanded the promise of implementing large-scale welfare programs in poor countries. No doubt, the technology is there and it has been proven to work. However we who work in the field know well that a gizmo in the hand is not exactly worth a meal on the table, so to speak.

That’s the nuts-and-bolts part of the proposal to buy our way out of poverty. A far more troublesome set of questions concerns the ‘givens’ this whole idea is based on. Let’s look again at $1.25 a day to start with. In most developing countries, this is in mid-2011 equivalent to about a litre of petrol. It will buy about three kilos of rice in some countries, pay for two autorickshaw commutes in others, or buy 10-15 litres of water in some cities (this year on World Water Day the UN said that “Someone living in an informal settlement in Nairobi pays 5 to 7 times more for a litre of water than an average North American citizen”).

Built-up shanties along a Mumbai highway, leading to suburbs bristling with expensive new high-rise residential blocks.

That daily line also works out to $37.50 (EUR 26.25) a month. What can an individual buy with that much for a month? Can she buy shelter which does not leak when it rains, can she buy baby food for her children and medicines for her aging parents? Can she pay for schoolfees? Can she afford even a kilowatt hour of electric power a day with that money? Can she stock her kitchen with the cereal, fresh vegetable and lentils her family needs? Never mind $1.25 a day – can she do this on $2 a day in Cairo, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro or Nairobi?

I can’t see a ‘yes’ answer to any of those questions, anywhere. Next, on what basis do the thinktanks and multilateral lending banks (World Bank, IMF) continue to say that economic growth removes poverty? They use variations of the GDP-divided-by-population formula, and ask th macroeconomists to make the appropriate adjustments for income categories and rural-urban distribution. The trouble is, the real world of poverty doesn’t function the way these models and formulae do. Economic growth has meant the continuing and deepening inequality of income. The ‘richer’ a country gets based on GDP, the more unequal the distribution of the money amongst its people. That’s the very reason the ‘advanced’ economies of Western Europe and North America put in place social safety nets (whose very much poorer cousins are the cash transfer programmes in vogue nowadays).

The truth is plainer and far more visible. There is no let-up in poverty, not in the numbers of poor, and not in how far under the poverty line they are. Any other view may be well-intentioned but misguided. [Thanks to From Poverty To Power, the blog by Duncan Green of Oxfam, for mentioning the Brookings report.]

Written by makanaka

July 31, 2011 at 01:24