Tuesday, 11 October 2016

FB Discussions - Tribal richness, and monetary poverties.

 Sriram Naganathan - The Jarawas for instance, don't have the concept of individual ownership of anything. So they happily walk into shops that abet their reserve and take away anything that they fancy. Mind you, this is not restricted to some 'need' but simply anything they fancy. They don't recognize this to be 'theft' and going by Indian laws, they cannot be punished (endangered tribe, I think). They also share pretty much everything among the clan members, including spouses and children (some of us may be repulsed by this idea, but that is their custom). There are no individual households. Not sure if the collective sharing idea extends only to those who contribute or to everyone in the community or even beyond. Some of us are actually trying to put some economics into this tradition for constructing a text book on economics for children. (e.g., what if some one chances upon something that most Jarawas value immensely but don't have? Would he / she still share it or would he / she make a 'barter' or 'sale'?) I don't know how things will pan out when resources are limited, the bedrock of all economics.

Sridhar Lakshmanan - See it form their view, its a urban forest where shops are trees yielding goods they want, they can go and pluck and shopkeepers are also monkeys who also want them but can be shooed away

Sridhar Lakshmanan
Maharaj and Me
Let me tell you another story . When i visited some forests near Bangalore for our honey sourcing one swami Shahajananda from Ramakrishna Mission referred through CII ;-) accompanied me.

When we asked the tribal leader whats the price of honey he said Rs. 300/-.  Maharaj was shocked as he had on an earlier visit enquired and found it was Rs. 100/- . So he called me here and insisted we visit this place. Now when i asked him if it was a litre he said he did not know but that he gets two parts of oil to one part of honey. Now I asked him in money terms and showed him a one litre bottle he said it was bigger, so i bought a 2 litre bottle and asked if this was the volume, he said no because the bottle was thicker, Maharaj was getting uneasy.

Nearby was another clan. Earlier both were united but due to some problem in recent freebie distribution rifts were created. When I asked this group's leader he said the price was Rs. 200/-. Maharaj now lost it and said. "What you guys say different prices at different places - is there no one price ?" Now the leader looked worried. Then I asked him when they get the honey, and mentioned  Tamil month name, ani avani aipasi, but he was clueless. Then i asked him if it was during rain, before rain before wind, during summer but he stayed clueless.

The beauty was when I asked both what other products they get in the forest. They both mentioned sambrani (dhoop), at which my antennas straightened. I asked them what the price and they said there is no price. I told them "Look here, I buy from here and I sell in urban areas and make money and so I should pay you." The answer they gave defines them. They said there is no price for sambrani. Whenever someone asks them they consider it  their bounden duty to collect it for them so that it may be offered to god. They firmly believe that that is the purpose of their birth". They just stuck to their theory of, "No price for sambrani and whatever you give we take.  No dealing wheeling and no negotiations."

Now you know why it still rains here. dont you?.
Sriram Naganathan Sridhar, isn't the larger issue 'how do you put an economic value on something for which the owner does not attribute any economic value?' I think we faced this issue when we (you, Mili and I) visited a hillock near Ambur for goat's milk, which the villagers had in abundance but refused to sell (but would happily offer it to you to drink for free).

Isn't the flip side of the story about attributing 'infinite' economic value to something and hence not willing to part with it? The answer is relevant in debates on developmental issues like dam construction, mining, etc where 'economic' value of a tree, or rock, or mountain or soil does not exist since it is sacred, even if the feature may offer immense economic value to people outside the community. We will also end up debating 'who owns the land?' though property has ceased to be a fundamental right in India since 1970s.

What would be a classic economics textbook / IIM-A class work response to this?

Sridhar Lakshmanan i have no clue about IIMA but i know one thing for sure, rather two things 
1) I am going to face this often and i have faced it many times, they influence me more than i influence them , is some thing i am begining to realise,i must admit when linkages to cities are stronger the story changes completely 
2) i am closer to realising my feta cheese from goat milk dreams. I was supposed to meet some people from yadava community forum who rear goats in large numbers and of those who helped me to help them market the produce and structure them into an entity, one of them is a prof in LIBA and interestingly this reference is also from CII

Sridhar Lakshmanan OK, on the economics of it, the problem in my view is monetisation. If you observe nature , anything greater than one's immediate needs is a waste. Money enables that to be captured as wealth, and  this is where distortion happens and we destroy nature around us. This principle you will see in factory shop floor , supply chain management etc yielding good results but when it comes to ourselves we abandon it. The realisation that money is only a partial measure of wealth is not often realised by many and business schools dont teach that. 
Balasubramaniam Thyagarajan Interesting problems. How do we deal with produce that may be surplus but no one wants to sell. What will they barter it for?

Sridhar Lakshmanan Proven good will, is what i know

Balasubramaniam Thyagarajan Do they have no needs or wants?

Sridhar Lakshmanan They have needs, but most is provided by the forest. Their needs are very limited unlike us. Many are "illiterate", they dont understand numbers, and most importantly they are a contented lot. Many a time it has happened when you ask them if you can do some thing , they politely say no and say thanks,with utmost sincerity . If they are closer to city, or to civilisation, or to education it does not happen
Aparna Krishnan Sridhar Lakshmanan. You simply have to put together all your stories in a blog. This is the India that needs to be understood. And only this India can save India.
Sridhar Lakshmanan Are you sure?? sooner than later they will find faults in all this and we will end up defending our positions. Better to go and work with these people and learn from them. The need for keeping silent is some thing i have felt strongly for long, but I could not resist the urge to write today.

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