The Unrealistic Optimism of Indians on Prospects of Upward Social Mobility -Ranjan Ray
To rectify this gap between perception and reality, inequality of opportunities and the lack of emphasis on primary education need to feature more prominently in Indian policy discussions.
We are constantly reminded of how Narendra Modi started from humble beginnings by selling tea and rose to occupy the position of the prime minister of India. Irrespective of which side of the political divide one is on, there is no disputing the fact that this is an incredible trajectory and an impressive achievement.
Modi is, of course, not alone since Margaret Thatcher, born into a family of grocery shop owners, assumed the office of the prime minister of the UK. By sheer coincidence though, both Modi and Thatcher rose to head their respective governments as leaders of right-wing parties wedded to free enterprise and the protection of privileges handed down from one generation to another.
Though Modi and Thatcher’s achievements are isolated and extreme examples, they nevertheless have encouraged the perception that there are no barriers to upward mobility in their respective countries. What is the evidence for this?
While in recent years there has been considerable attention paid by economists such as François Bourguignon, Thomas Piketty, Branko Milanovi?, Joseph Stiglitz and others to the topic of income inequality, the issue of inequality of opportunities associated with the lack of social mobility has not figured as prominently in the discussions. Yet, inequality of income is a result of inequality of opportunities which is linked largely but not exclusively to one’s ‘accident of birth’.
By focussing on income, which is an output, and not on the range of inputs that generate the income, we are in danger of overlooking the source of the problem. There was an early recognition of this in the Human Development Report (HDR), 1990 that introduced the measure, Human Development Index (HDI), used to rank countries.
HDI downplayed the exclusive role played by income in per capita income based comparisons by reducing its weightage from one to a third and bringing in education – which is widely regarded as one of the most effective means of achieving upward mobility.
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