Economics with a dash of Goan wisdom

By Dr Oscar Rebelo
19 October 2017 20:27 IST

I have been trying to wrap my rather dysfunctional brain around the state of our economy. 
Demonetisation & Modi, GST & Modi, Yashwant Sinha & Modi, Arun Shourie & Modi, Gujarat elections & Modi even AK & Modi!!! 

The bombardment of our senses and weak hearts has been incessant and unrelenting.

The information and misinformation, the innuendo and prejudice, the left and right firestorm on social media and then to add to the migraine Arnab Goswami and his familiar high decibel, low common sense barking.

Frankly nothing makes sense any longer, or does it ??? 

So I decided to take off all MY blinkers and MY prejudices and MY ideology and dissect this dispassionately. 

Forget being an economist or pop psychologist, there can be no two arguments to this one indisputable fact. 

India has one of the lowest tax bases in the world and after cricket and Bollywood, one of our favorite pastimes is dodging tax. 

So it is a no-brainer that more people need to be brought in the tax net and that black money needs to be chased out of circulation. 

This has by the way been the fundamental raison d'etre of AAP, in many ways. 

So yes, demonetization and The GST rollout may have been clumsy, shoddy and cumbersome; but no one can convince me that these two monumental initiatives won't bring in higher tax revenues and expand the taxpayer base for the state and the nation. 

Also, demonetisation, for all the horrors it has unleashed on the marginal economy that deals with cash, and for whom this government's done zilch and for which it will pay a heavy price, it certainly has left a paper trail of all those who deposited crores upon crores, post-November 8, in cash. 

So undoubtedly all this is good for us in the long run, especially if black money depositors are prosecuted unless the government, of course, cops out. 

But then it is also true that in the long run all of us are dead. Which then brings me to the obvious question. 

If all this harsh medicine is good for us, then why is it that the patient (voter) is not feeling any better and as all reports suggest is hopping in purple rage at the disruption of their lives due to these double whammies. 

After all, all that is being done is the informal economy turning formal in tune with global standards. 

As I kept scratching my head searching for a logical answer to my query, wham the light shone in my brain and the jigsaw fell into place. 

It took a casual conversation with a patient of mine, a transport operator, Pandurang (not his real name because  then he will be invariably targeted by the tax terrorists) and to me the wisest species on the planet : A GOAN. 

I struck this conversation with him: 

“Pandu”, I said, “how is business getting along?" 
"Screwed up”, he replied (though it sounds far more colourful in Konkani). "This GST and demonetisation has broken our back."

Pandu is of course a diehard BJP voter and Modi bhakt, so I prodded on.

"But these two initiatives by the government will get more people into the formal economy, no?" 

"After all," I continued, “why should a handful of people, like us pay our taxes when everyone should also put their hands to the till and contribute to nation building?" 

And that's when he unleashed his sledgehammer on me:

"Dotor,” he said, “how many bribes have you to pay to run your practice?"

Flabbergasted, I said, "none since, I don't come in contact with any government department."

"That's the point,” he explained, “everyday in my line of business I am STILL dishing out cash to officials and Mantris and sundry agents to keep my engines of business chugging, in a matter of speaking." 
"That,” he continued, “is my tax contribution, that I'm terrorised to cough out day in and day out to keep family and life going."

"So, yes, I believe Modi and his cabinet are not corrupt but for the sake of power at any cost aren't they scripting alliances and inducting members of Congress, NCP, SP etc who they themselves had certified as maha-corrupt???" “And how many BJP ministers and office bearers, squeaky clean ?”

“So bring the political class into the formal economy FIRST, then we will gladly follow and abide by all the rules. FIRST, get all political donations in cheque and then let us ALL transit to a cashless economy.”

So there you are : The message from Pandu is clear. The spring cleaning must start from the roof and then descend to the basement.

To my mind, it is this hypocrisy of the government that is being challenged day in and day out and the reason why the aftershocks of GST and demonetisation (both necessary structural changes) will continue to be severe and reverberate frighteningly in the corridors of power. 

Post script: There is one little party, with very little money, trying to work for the little man and woman, led by a little leader who is the tallest and strongest when it comes to idealism which is available on the horizon and for whom the fight against political corruption is non-negotiable.

It is a pity that we the people goaded on by the media continued to kick this party in the teeth!!!

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Dr Oscar Rebelo

Dr Oscar Rebelo is one of the leading social activist of Goa and a practicing doctor. He led the historic peoples’ movement in 2006-07 to get the anti-Goa Regional Plan scrapped and save Goa from total destruction of Goa’s ecology and natural beauty. He is a Goa-based leader of Aam Aadmi Party. He is also a columnist.

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