At present, the term GDP in India appears to have come to represent our collective Gross Despondency Perception. Our economists and statisticians can perhaps cheer up the hapless and overtly depressed citizens. They can do so by overcoming their obsession with pure materialistic growth. There are several ‘intangibles’ as well as ‘tangibles’ which can get added to the quantitative measure of our progress. For all you know, they could end up depicting a rosier picture which would also be closer to reality.
The following invisible facets of GDP could do with better visibility in the public domain:
1. Grand Domestic Pampering
Household chores performed by a vast majority of the better half of our citizenry continue to remain invisible even to prominent economists who take such services for granted at their own homes. Home makers surely deserve a better deal. Without their contribution, the wheels of our economy would grind to a complete halt in no time. Home management services are provided by them 24×7. There is no doubt that they possess a high degree of multi-tasking skills. Also, their inventory management techniques always ensure that there are no stock-outs in the kitchen when uninvited guests suddenly pop up over the weekends.
2. Gross Dramatic Produce
Why neglect works of entertainment, literature, music and art works? The movie industry keeps churning out pot-boilers one after the other. Over the years, only the bar of success at the box office keeps getting raised. Television has already blossomed into a primary source of entertainment for the masses. Both the mediums have transcended international boundaries and gone global. India boasts of prolific writers across all languages and there is no reason their contribution to the social thought process should get neglected. Creative personalities and achievers of all kinds have added value to the Indian identity – right from Rabindranath Tagore to M F Husain, from M S Subbulakshmi to Pandit Ravi Shankar, from Munshi Premchand to Vikram Seth and from Lala Amarnath to Saina Nehwal. The relative soundness of the Indian IP regime can facilitate the inclusion of this parameter in the GDP computation without much fuss.
3. Groovy Digital Products
With broadband getting rolled out across the country, and with spectrum sales eventually coming out of the depressing shadow of scams and judicial overreach, the Indian economy would soon start getting digitalized at a faster pace. Digital experiences are slated to improve in terms of reach as well as quality. This sector can boast of a unique range of intangible assets of its own. Such developments can only be ignored at our own risk and peril.
4. Great Domestic Patience
Yet another soft power which remains ‘invisible’ to the Homo economicus (as opposed to the Homo reciprocans) amongst us is the religiosity, the innate bent towards spirituality and the resultant bias towards non-violence. The patience displayed by most of our denizens in dealing with shoddy civic facilities, super-slow public services and systemic corruption is perhaps a result of our social mores which are steeped in spirituality. By ignoring this facet, a great mechanism to handle setbacks in life is therefore left out of the reckoning.
5. Grand Design Patronage
R&D expenditure in the private sector is another area which deserves attention. Admittedly, we are far behind in the realm of innovation and design. But we do have the potential to catch up with the rest of the world. If such expenditure is considered an investment in the economy, a more realistic perspective would emerge.
6. Green Development Plans
In the relentless pursuit of economic growth, we are guilty of drawing more than we replenish to Mother Nature. Whether it is mining, spectrum-sharing or water-management, we are taking myopic liberties which would prove very expensive, if not irreversible, in the times to come. Green initiatives taken to compensate for the loss of natural resources surely merit inclusion in our scheme of things. The aggregate value of ‘production’ should surely be adjusted to reflect the permanent damage caused to our fragile environment.
Considering intangibles in macroeconomics data is not a new idea at all. Way back in 1908, Thorstein Veblen, a sociologist and economist, had used the phrase ‘intangible investment’ to cover everything from innovation to promotion and advertising. At a business level as well, the proportion of tangible assets backing up a brand could be a miniscule 5% of the overall value of the brand.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis of US has recently created history of sorts by publishing a revised series of public accounts which include the R&D investment in private sector as well as original works of art such as films, books and music. As an example, for the period from 2002-12, the new data shows an annual average growth rate of 1.8% in place of the earlier declared rate of 1.6%.
We have a number of institutions, bodies, statisticians and economists who can surely propose a more balanced way of capturing the realities of the Indian economy. The data may not be easily available and may have its own share of initial controversies, but the attempt would certainly be an improvement in the right direction.
PS: Whatever little I understand of Economics, it is due to the learning received from late Prof. S P Singh, a friend, philosopher and guide. This article is merely a humble tribute to the great person.
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