The salaried middle class is facing the pinch of inflation in many ways. It is just not the price of goods that is going up, but also of services. While reams are written and spoken about the travails of the rural poor, little is said about the difficulties being faced by the economically challenged in urban areas. It is a fact that the income of the working class that provides the daily services is growing much faster than that of those considered their social superiors. Just consider what the mason, plumber, electrician and mechanic is demanding these days. This is exacerbated by the woeful supply and demand situation.
Under classical economics, the rising demand for the services of this intermediate class of skilled workers ought not to just increase their wages but also, in the long term, increase their supply. However, as anybody looking for an electrician or plumber capable of doing a decent job would testify, these are in extremely short supply. In other words, a large number of consumers are being priced out of the market for these services. The skilled mechanic cannot be blamed for demanding and obtaining exorbitant rates as there is a class of person more than capable of making the payment. In the rush to park funds that cannot be put anywhere else but in brick and concrete, this class of worker is getting hooked to disproportionate results for the effort that is actually put in.
The parallel to this in Bollywood terms would be the exorbitant payments being demanded by an increasingly narrow base of ‘stars’, while the payments for others involved in film-making are shrinking, while in some cases the jobs are disappearing altogether. One has only to see the plethora of films where the only visible ‘actors’ are limited to four or five, with crowds and locales serving as the backdrop. It makes script writing pretty simple, as well as the direction. The item number sometimes becomes the most expensive part of the film after the star cast.
Why aren’t new plumbers and actors unable to profit from such a situation? Is it because growth in most sectors is on a narrow base and the Indian economy does not allow for horizontal expansion? Even though technology, for instance, has provided freedom from geographic rootedness, the culture of the ‘big kill’ has become overwhelmingly dominant. If a plumber, for instance, makes big money once from the contract for a house, he would rather sit idle in wait for another such killing rather than make the daily rounds on odd-jobs for much smaller payments. And, yet, one does not see too many rich plumbers!
On paper, there is any number of ITIs producing intermediate level technical workers, but where do they disappear? Even taking into consideration the uptake by the Gulf economies, there ought to be enough to satisfy the requirements of consumers at reasonable rates. (The same goes for the plethora of film-making institutes churning out actors and directors in every part of the country.)
Just as the number of brain cells does not matter if they are not networked, the same goes for the economic potential of human resources. There is at every level a shortage of entrepreneurial, management skills, as well as institutionalisation of occupations. So, the potential and number never reach the critical mass to gain momentum. Unless every big transaction is backed up by numerous small ones, it is unsustainable and unproductive. Be it the mechanic or the film-maker, velocity is as much necessary as the mass.