October 12, 2018 @ 2:00 am

12 OCTOBER 2018


The movement to make workplaces safe for women must involve us all

In what has been called India’s MeToo moment, the social media is thick with women coming forth with stories of sexual harassment. In the quick aftermath of actor Tanushree Dutta’s allegations, in an interview in end-September, of harassment at the hands of actor Nana Patekar on a film set a decade ago, women have been speaking of their experiences and the trauma, mostly on Twitter and Facebook. The testimonies so far have mostly concerned the film world and the mainstream media, and cover both the workplace and private spaces. They range from stories of assault to propositioning, suggestiveness to stalking. In the vast majority of cases, the naming is a result of the failure to receive a just response from the system, a signal that it is no longer possible for such behaviour to be breezily dismissed or excused because boys, after all, will be boys. The MeToo hashtag gained currency a year ago in the U.S. when women came out one after another to first corroborate allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, with each further account making clear that there was a systemic pattern of abuse and silence. In the outpourings in India too, a year on, a disturbing picture is emerging. It is not only that many of the allegations are extremely grave – for instance, against M.J. Akbar, a star editor who left journalism for government, to become a Minister of State for External Affairs. What is perhaps of even greater disquiet is that for so very long an official silence was kept around what were, in many instances, open secrets.

Now that women are speaking up – picking up the stories where others have left them, making public suppressed memories,breaking free from the helplessness or a false sense of humiliation that kept them quiet for so long – there can be no looking away. It is important to identify the exact transgression in the various cases that are being outed, and to ensure that action is taken with due process. No one can be deemed guilty only because he had been named and any punishment must be proportionate to the misdemeanour. But the larger issue perhaps is the message sent out by the outpouring – namely, that there has been a systemic disregard for making workplaces and common spaces free of harassment. It must disturb us that a thread that binds so many allegations now coming out is that many women thought that their words and feelings would be dismissed, their careers would suffer, or their families would pull them back into the safety of home. This fear of making a complaint needs to be overcome in all workspaces, not only the media and the film industry. All of society needs to internalise a new normal that protects a woman’s autonomy and her freedom from discrimination at the workplace.

An economics fix

The Nobel to work on growth and long-run sustainability frames a crucial priority

American economists William D. Nordhaus and Paul M. Romer were jointly awarded the 50th economics Nobel prize this week in recognition of their work on economic growth and its long-run sustainability. The Nobel committee noted that the duo’s work “brought us considerably closer to answering the important question of how we can achieve sustained and sustainable economic growth”. The committee’s praise is fitting as both economists devoted their careers to the study of the various “externalities” or “spillovers” that affect economic growth in a market economy. Mr. Nordhaus, for one, has been a pioneer in the movement towards quantifying the impact of economic growth on the climate and, in turn, the impact of climate change on economic growth. To correct this problem, he recommended imposing appropriate carbon taxes to curb pollution that was detrimental to growth in the long run. Mr. Romer, on the other hand, studied the importance of technology in achieving economic growth. He proposed the endogenous growth model where technological progress is seen as the outgrowth of businesses and other entities investing in research and development. At the same time, he recognised ways in which the market economy may undersupply technological innovations. Consequently, he recommended the use of subsidies, patents and other forms of government intervention to encourage economic growth through increased investment in technology. In essence, the Nobel committee’s decision is a recognition of economic research concerning market failure.

Of course, critics have highlighted flaws in the works of these two noted economists. For one, it may often beimpossible to arrive at an objective measure of the carbon tax rate or the ideal amount of pollution to allow in a developing economy. It is equally troublesome when one needs to determine how much subsidy, or other forms of government support, should be allotted towards research and development. Even though mathematical models have been devised to address these problems, they are only as good as the data fed into them. Further, such decisions regarding the perfect carbon tax rate or the ideal subsidy allocation are likely to be determined by political considerations rather than simply pure economics. So the threat of government failure may have to be taken as seriously as the effects of market failure. These concerns lead to questions about the real-world impact of the policies supported by the pair. Nonetheless, many would argue that Mr. Nordhaus and Mr. Romer’s works are an improvement from the past in that they try to use the market mechanism itself to address its failures. The Nobel committee has done well to recognise important work on issues that are particularly relevant to the developing world.

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