One of the most enduring quips, some say first made by maverick American businessman of the 1970s and 1980s, Lee Iacocca, ex-president of the country`™s third largest automobile company Chrysler, and one of the most rabid critics of Japanese business and its best known doyen then, the founder of Sony Corporation, Akio Morita, goes something like: `If you pay your workers peanuts, you will be left with monkeys working for you.` It may not be Iacocca who actually first said this, but that does not really matter. The truth in these words, however comically delivered, would still slap those in the fledgling private sector in Manipur hard on the face. For owners of these enterprises, the scripts may be different, but for a vast majority of those employed in this sector, it is a thankless struggle, with the road ahead still very uncertain. Compared to the job benefits and salaries their counterparts in the government sector are guaranteed, theirs is still literally just enough to buy peanuts. But the irony is, what they get, is actually the market value of labour at current price, unlike in the government sector, where it is artificially inflated, rendering any notion of material worth of labour, skill or leadership, ridiculous. The example of education is closest to mind. Private schools have left government schools far behind in performance, yet private school teachers still continue to earn `peanuts` as compared to government school teachers. And the former earn `peanuts` because the revenue returns of their institutions, in most cases, are not big enough for all to be comfortable together. If the government salaries were also to be decided on the basis of the revenue their services are able to garner at market value, in all probability government employees would be earning much less than those in the private sector.
This imbalance is not a healthy sign and the Manipur government needs to be wary and do something. For a long time, the Union government (just as another emerging economic giant, China), was doing it. Before the advent of a liberalised economy and the lifting of many protective curtains, these countries took careful efforts to keep the private and public sector at a par, even at the cost of keeping government salaries low. They also shielded their industries from unequal competitions from more advanced economies, at least till such a time as their own industries were mature enough to join the competition as equals. In the long run, as we are witnessing now, these policies paid off. Now it is time to see the same logics work in the internal situation. In such a vast country as India, it would be ridiculous to adopt a one-size-fit-all policy outlook. Indian economy overall may be growing fast, but states like Manipur are still stuck with the infamous `Hindu rate of growth` that Western economists once with condescension described the Indian economy`™s snail pace of less than 3 percent growth. Most immediately, after the recommendations of the 6th Pay Commission for Central employees came to be in force, and state government salaries too were lifted to somewhat not be too far behind, it was again another blow for the fledgling private enterprises here. Since the health of the private sector is unlikely to have improved reciprocally, salaries of employees in these sectors still would not be enough to buy peanuts. As it is, the most talented by and large already go for government jobs and see private jobs as hardly any alternative.
The government must urgently evolve a strategy to reverse the trend. The structure of the Indian federation being such, it will be next to impossible to roll back or obstruct the trends set by the Union, but within its limits, the government must exercise imagination to ensure that private entrepreneurship is not throttled totally. It could for instance reform its industrial credit mechanism. Let it remain competitive, but ease it up wherever essential so that the private sector can continue to grow. This may sound like a vested interest coming from an organisation in the private sector, but let the government think bigger and see the larger picture. At this moment, the only real avenue for it to create jobs for all is by nudging growth in the private sector. Moreover, as Vietnamese economy`™s resilience and the lack of by of economies such as those of Iraq and other middle east countries, as well as Central Asia which were formerly part of the USSR, have proven before all, economies which depended solely on the government to remain afloat are the easiest to collapse, and economies which are as varied, widespread and depended on the natural ingenuity of its people, are the ones which can bounce back even from the brink.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam