How Free Market is Screwing Me.

I recently moved back to my home town from Delhi. So firstly, a little something you should know about my place:

It is a small town called Balaghat of hardly 150,000 people in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. The two nearest big cities are Nagpur to the west and Raipur to the east; both about 3 hours out, both not connected by railway. In fact, we are not connected to anywhere by rail-route except another equally small township called Gondia, which, although only 40 kilometers away, still falls across the state-border in Maharashtra.

Balaghat is, by the virtue of being associated with the mineral-rich Chota-Nagpur plateau, a mining-based economy. Manganese is in abundance. Copper is fairly well mined as well.

This town hasn’t got the dividends it should have gotten out of its ores.

That is because it is surrounded on three sides by hills and dense forest of Kanha-Kisli National Park, and on the fourth, a wily river flows — unpredictable and treacherous — sometimes bringing the joy of good harvest, sometimes fetching flooded fury!

That’s one-half of the story. The other half are the people themselves. People here have learnt to earn and to save. They even manage to invest. But they haven’t learnt to spend! Somewhere amongst the acres of rice fields grows a miserliness that is the biggest setback to the economic growth of this small town. People don’t trust the market, people don’t spend, and consequently, the market doesn’t grow.

Somewhere amongst the acres of rice fields, grows a miserliness that is the biggest setback to the economic growth of this small town.

That didn’t matter for a long time. We were happy with what we got, for our needs were not many. But now with large-city lifestyle getting streamed in HD right into our bedrooms, consumerism is seeping in through the cracks of conservatism.

The only conceivable difference that has made seems to be to the beauty parlours. The girls are spending more on make-up. That’s it. That’s the only industry that has grown. And on the list of ‘things-to-avoid-spending-money-on’, education is right at the top. That percolates and changes into a complete lack of any infrastructure that supports education. Which means we don’t have bookstores, we don’t have libraries and worse, we do not get any newspapers! Correction: we do not get any meaningful — English or otherwise — newspapers. And that frustrates me.

As a (self-proclaimed) informed citizen, I need my morning newspaper. As a writer, I need my morning paper. As an aspiring civil servant, I need my morning newspaper. But Adam Smith’s invisible hand denies me that simple pleasure.

“A handful of customers just aren’t worth the effort,”

The reason is simple: quality newspapers cost more. And in an economy where books as assets are considered inferior to lip-gloss, I can hardly expect to get quality print media. We don’t get any major newspapers here, and the local vendors refuse to get them from nearby cities even on offering double payments. “A handful of customers just aren’t worth the effort,” is their economically sound reply.

So when Wall Street Journal tells me that the Indian newspaper circulation is ever increasing, I don’t know what the fuc fatty-acids it is talking about!

For me the problem is simply that of bad demand. Or no demand, rather. The market is just not viable enough to even entertain the thought of sustaining long-run supply. And who can I blame for this? No one! The newspapers have the right to set their prices. The Balaghati people have the right to refuse to pay. And the vendors have the right to not provide that service.

I am, in short, being screwed by free market!

This post was originally published by the author on his LinkedIn page.


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