Fuck it bro, I give up. I’m so tired of reading and writing about the failings of our economic systems, like the fact that our reliance on cheap fossil fuels and our resistance to clean energy has sent the planet into a death spiral, or the fact that people are perfectly content sacrificing the poor to a new pantheon of vengeful deities with names like Apple and Exxon and Amazon and Nestle.
Call me a goddamn lily-livered pinko commie bastard, but I’m not so sure that this whole capitalism thing is actually that good for equality or individual freedom, so much as it’s good for running the world into the fucking ground and making up ways for rich people to maintain supremacy. I’m not the only one who feels this way — everybody on some level understands that capitalism exacerbates all sorts of inequalities left over from when we thought skin colour determined intelligence or that a stubbier chromosome meant more human rights.
But this understanding exists more in the abstract, especially for the descendants of those dumbasses who used to think shit like that up here in the Anglosphere. Stories about gig workers or long term demographic trends about declining income and employment are hard to digest in the face of the shiny new toys with which we’re presented every 30 seconds — An app that brings me anywhere I need to be, an app that brings me anything I want, an app that lets me send Elon Musk memes into space and then back down to a different app 5 ft away, all that shit is way too cool to worry about the business practices behind them.
It’s much easier to understand the harsh consequences of unfettered capitalism when you can actually see what happens when it’s insatiable vacuum-seal gawk-gawk 3000 money hose sucks people up and chews and spits them out in real time, and at an accelerated pace. This is why I wanna take us to India, where farmers have been left to fend for themselves against the frequently terminal advance of the free market.
I don’t know of a single country in which the agricultural industry can survive without government help, which usually takes the form of subsidies or bailouts or price controls or whatever. India is no exception and there, prior to September of last year, individual states managed their own separate systems of controls that generally revolved around a state-operated wholesale market, or “mandi.” These mandis, though they never made up the entire market, served as a benchmark for the minimum price of produce, which forced buyers to compete with a fixed price that at least provided some stability for farmers — a safety net, as people who are not creative enough to explain it in a cooler way tend to put it.
This system dated back to the 60s, when drought led to severe famine for the newly independent country, and U.S. advisors were brought in to help with reforms. Indian farmers started growing different grains with different techniques and that led to a huge boom in production. Since then though, agriculture’s share of the economy has plummeted from nearly 50% of the country’s GDP to 15% with shifts toward the tech and service industries. Big number to small number equals bad for farmers, who, regardless of the lost market share, still make up about half the country’s 1.4 billion people.
Indian prime minister Narenrda Modi
According to an Indian think tank, the average annual income for a farmer was less than $650 CAD in 2017, and according to the government, more than half of these households are in debt. This poverty is also the attributed cause of a suicide epidemic ravaging Indian farmers, so that’s pretty sick too. Anyway, that’s the landscape that serves as context for prime minister Narendra Modi’s honestly dogshit attempt to “modernize” the industry.
In September, his government passed three laws that deregulated the shit out of the whole-ass industry, which, if by “modernizing,” he meant “speeding up the death cycle,” then sick job. These laws were so counterproductive, they made our responses to First Nations’ drinking water crises seem timely and effective. They did nothing for the average farmer and instead opened the market up to corporate domination by kneecapping minimum price-insured mandis, effectively removing their influence from the market; removing oversight of business contracts, stripping farmers of protections from bad deals; and removing product storage limits that were used to control prices.
The concern among Indian farmers is that what little security they have will gradually be obliterated as greedy corporate interests penetrate their formerly regulated trade spaces. And when you go from virtually no safety net between your family and utter poverty to literally no safety net, it understandably stokes anger.
Since November, tens of thousands of farmers have occupied the country’s capital of New Delhi. The protests have been met with resistance from the Modi government, and have been ramping up, culminating in the storming of the city’s Red Fort on January 26, an act which activists say does not represent the spirit of the movement. Elsewhere on the same day, a man was killed when a tractor overturned near a police station.
Pro-farmer protestors overrun New Delhi's Red Fort on Tuesday, January 26
The government response turned violent and fears for the integrity of the world’s largest democracy arose when the government temporarily blocked access to the internet in certain districts of the Haryana province, where most of New Delhi is. Modi has previously blocked the internet, which is a fucked up thing to do, in his crackdown on dissent in the disputed territory of Kashmir along the border with Pakistan, and his Hindu nationalist views round out my shitty world leader bingo card.
International response to the protests has been mixed, with everyone pretty much hoping they’ll settle it themselves down there. Trudeau stood behind the protests and was scolded, while Biden’s administration “encouraged dialogue” between the protestors and government, and said that it “welcomed steps that would enhance the efficiency of India’s markets,” which, yeah no shit, so would the farmers.
The problem is that the legislation is so vague, nobody really understands what the point of it is, other than to say “please take advantage of our poorest people, greedy corporations. We can’t be fucked to be responsible for them anymore, so we’re feeding them to you as sacrifice, hope you like them uwu.” It’s an incredibly fucked up play in the midst of a pandemic, and in the face of already brutal poverty.
What has me worried is that while the protests have remained largely peaceful, I don’t know that you can just declare your intent to ignore the deadly problems of half your population and the cries of protest from Greta Thunberg and Rihanna, whose opinions seem to be worth more than Joe Biden's (honestly, this is as it should be), and expect them to remain that way forever. Protests turn violent when protestors feel like they have nothing to lose, and the threat of evaporating livelihoods is certainly enough to turn people desperate.
Probably the reason you've even heard of these protests in the first place
I’m not stupid though, I’m sure the people that designed these laws have, if not empathy, at least an understanding of economics. But I’ve seen a lot of takes that try to back the legislation on that basis that really just come across as pathetic. Maybe the markets will in fact be more modern, but supporters of these reforms are basically saying to farmers, most of whom only have access to a single hectare of land, to “get good” at farming, which, ok good advice, thanks. I’m sure the families that can barely grow enough food to feed themselves every day will get right on ‘innovating their business model’ or whatever.
The implication that any part of these new anti-regulations can be good for the individual labourer is completely detached from reality and represents a microcosm, or I guess since there are 1.4 billion people in India, actually a macrocosm of what blind devotion to free markets and a willingness to usher capitalism into its latest stages can do to your population and your political stability. Spoiler: it’s fucking bad for them. And honestly it’s just embarrassing when your economic model can’t even seem to properly support the industry that forms the literal basis of civilization, so I’m over capitalism anyway. Fuck the bourgeoisie and all that. Bye.