When Times Are Hard... by Gurmukh Singh Global recession is already being compared with the Great Depression of 1930s. For the Sikh community, the economic downturn is affecting their lives in the countries they live in, and also the country of their origin, India. Global recession hits national economies differently and its socio-economic impact depends on the extent to which people are dependent on the organized sectors of their economies. In short western countries suffer more than the unorganized and less centralised poorer economies like India. Social unrest, strong reaction against immigrant workers and worsening of law and order situation are more likely in the organized economies than in the poorer countries, where majority populations are used to life at or below subsistence levels. Recent protectionist measures being introduced by many western countries may go against the spirit of international trade but need to be looked at with these background issues in mind. We hear of “economic nationalism” emerging in western countries. It refers to protectionist trade policies adopted by governments when times are hard. “Save the recession-hit world from protectionists” is a typical editorial in countries like India these days. G7, the club of super rich nations has issued similar warnings while scrambling to erect barriers to inflow of foreign goods and migrant workers, and restricting outflow of work through outsourcing to poorer countries to protect own workers and economies. In India, the recession has not hit the ordinary people as hard as the working people in the industrial and post-industrial economics. It may be that the benefits of massive investment by international companies in India and outsourcing of work from western countries in the last one or two decades, were not reaching the vast majority of Indians dependent on agriculture and local markets for goods, skills and services. Looking at the Indian scene as the country heads for the 15th Lok Sabha elections, despite the rich getting richer and an expanding middle class in recent years, the lot of the ordinary farm labourer or the factory worker (the “aam aadmi”) is not much better today than some decades ago. When we look at the infra structure projects ostensibly aimed at longer term progress, trust the Indian mind to improvise and cut corners but not to find lasting solutions. Flyovers through the middle of towns are becoming fashionable. Yet, some projects are obsolete even before they start – that is, if they do take off at all after the laying of foundation stones in the glare of much publicity and announcement of multi-crore budgets. Half finished public buildings and structures litter towns and the countryside. Flyover road constructions with hardly any visible activity going on, cause traffic chaos in city centers for years. Most of these structures are noteworthy only for poor design, use of poor quality materials and shoddy work. Dishonesty is a way of life with contractors in league with corrupt officials, who hand out public contracts. Despite economic superpower status, India has been extremely slow in improving the country’s infra structure by building good roads and other networks necessary for a modern economy. Therefore, so far as the global recession is concerned, half completed projects will just remain in their present state for longer periods than usual. Unemployment is nothing new even for the middle and upper classes. They just do with less. The “aam aadmi” continues to suffer as usual. It may be argued that governments are duty bound to protect the livelihoods of workers in own countries, and, as mentioned above, there is also the question of maintaining law and order at home. I am inclined to agree with an editorial, “When time are hard pledge and practice part ways”! Even Barack Obama’s stimulus plan includes “buy American” clause. UK, France and other rich countries – they are all at it while warning against protectionism. Failure of communism, and now capitalism, based on expanding economies dependent on wasteful and irresponsible consumerism, point to economic systems more relevant to the needs of the 21st Century global village.