Poetry to plumbing
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Spanish philosopher Maimonides ranked different kinds of charity in ascending desirability: giving money to somebody you know, giving money to somebody you don't know when they know who gave it, and giving money anonymously to somebody you don't know. But he believed the highest form of charity was giving somebody a job. It is important to reflect on how much of the gigantic "inclusion" spending in the last decade has given people fish rather than taught them how to fish — another classic Maimonides quip. But money is always welcome and the budget allocation was useful. More interesting than money, however, was the signalled shift in the narrative to jobs in the budget speech and Economic Survey. India transformed into a high-inflation low-growth economy because of government spending authored by the National Advisory Council — mostly individuals who have never created jobs. The new narrative suggests that jobs will be placed at the heart of policymaking and election rhetoric. Has "naukri" become a more potent electoral pitch than "garibi"?
I propose that many solutions to our education, employment and employability (3E) problems lie in praying to one god: jobs. This shift needs innovation more than money; not more cooks in the kitchen but a different recipe. The chapter in the Economic Survey on seizing the demographic dividend is a wonderful synthesis. We need to start action by tweaking five historic regulatory thought worlds.
One, labour laws, unchanged since the British wrote them, make an employment contract irreversible. We get a toxic brew when this labour market equivalent of marriage without divorce combines with the criminalisation of politics and politicisation of trade unions. Our labour laws have huge costs: high informality, poor productivity, sub-scale enterprises (more dwarfs than babies), substituting people with machines, and small low-skill manufacturing (only 12 per cent of our employment but China's weapon in getting people off farms). About 90 per cent of our workers employed informally do not get leave, minimum wage, benefits or workplace safety. We need to make these four issues non-negotiable but make employment contracts more symmetric.
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