The organisation of work and property ownership in India


Here’s an interesting article from Deepankar Basu and Amit Basole of the economics department at UMass Amherst.

At times it is a little confused (among other things, Basole is plainly influenced by Lohia’s thinking on industrialization, and Basu not). Past and current debates about Maoism are never far away.

But it tends to let facts speak for themselves, not getting bogged down in the usual pro- or anti-Naxalite boilerplate. Thus it contains a great deal of information about the nature of property holding and unpaid surplus labour in India’s agrarian and urban ‘informal’ sectors.

Indian enterprises

Those characteristics reveal, for contemporary India as for any other human collective, ‘the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state’:

One of the striking features of contemporary Indian capitalism is the predominance, both in agriculture and in industry, of small-scale production. In 2003, 70 percent of all operational holdings in Indian agriculture were less than 2.5 acres in size, with another 16 percent between 2.5 and 5 acres; around half of the produce from these small holdings is kept for family consumption while the other half is sold in the market. Similarly, informal manufacturing is dominated by petty proprietorships, which typically has an owner-employer and an unpaid worker (usually a family member); a large number of such firms neither employ wage labour nor are part of a putting-out system. Thus, while production for subsistence and for sale on small, unviable plots is a key characteristic of the agrarian scene, petty commodity production (or simple commodity production) marked by low productivity and income seems to be a pronounced feature of the non-farm economy. The vast majority of the Indian poor shuttle between these two.

Here, in the miserable tedium of ‘self-employment’ within the small workshop, household plot or home-based production, bound to the tyranny of the domestic patriarch or the local moneylender, is the reality behind journalistic effusions about ‘India’s growing middle class’.

handloom weaver


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2 Responses to “The organisation of work and property ownership in India”

  1. Distributional conflict and technical change in Australia, 1963-2009 | Churls Gone Wild Says:

    […] vast, under-utilized labour resources (e.g. collapse of the Soviet Union, rural migration in China, stagnant pools of petty producers of India, greater labour-force participation of women) meant that Australian real wages were stagnant for […]

  2. The body shop | Churls Gone Wild Says:

    […] Beyond the frontiers of the OECD, however, in the less industrially developed countries whose populations comprise the overwhelming majority of the world, Mayhew’s vista of scrounged livings now predominates. […]

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