By The Editorial Board
See original post here.
India’s single most vexatious economic problem is the lack of adequate employment and earning opportunities for its large and growing labour force. The nation is one of the youngest countries of the world in terms of its demographic profile. This ‘demographic dividend’ is considered to be a blessing. It could, it is argued, help India become the world’s labour force. However, for the dividend to yield returns, it would require, firstly, a well-educated and well-trained workforce. The demographic dividend’s fruition is also predicated upon the availability of enough job opportunities across the world. Neither possibility seems obvious today. Although India has a large constituency of graduates, an overwhelming number of them are considered unemployable. There is also a very large number that is unskilled and functionally literate. Employment opportunities abroad are limited to a few low-skilled jobs, openings in the technology sector, and some in academia. Moreover, low-skilled labour migrating to other parts of the world is subject to scrutiny since few countries look at migration favourably. Moreover, the scale and the speed of emerging Artificial Intelligence-based technologies do not augur well for the traditional job market, save for workers who are highly educated and skilled in cutting-edge technologies. On joining the dots, the future of jobs across all levels of skill is not bright.
Given this context, the remark made by the chief economic advisor, that India does not need a universal basic income because economic growth would suffice to meet aspirations, must be taken with the proverbial pinch of salt. India’s economic structure hides unemployment behind part-time, informal, job-sharing livelihoods. These ‘workers’ are surplus in the sense that total production would not decline even if they were to be removed from their activity. Therefore, the wisdom of depending solely on economic growth to guarantee basic amenities for all is unwarranted. Some alternative strategy has to be thought of to ensure a decent living for all. The concept of a universal basic income, or some variant of it, cannot thus be ruled out. The idea is to be able to provide for collective survival and sustenance. A template of UBI has two principal challenges: the identification of beneficiaries and the avoidance of fiscal stress. The digital enumeration of personal information can solve the first problem. Additional taxes on the super-rich can resolve the latter. Reality demands that the possibility of UBI be debated and kept alive notwithstanding its political unpalatability.