India desperately wants to belong to the world that is rapidly advancing on technology front. But, as the only option to build a science-driven economy is to instill meritocracy in the system; the most important question is: can meritocracy have any hope in the land of Shylocks?
As a general concept, meritocracy finds complete acceptance. Ask any parent, employer, politician or even yourself; we all want the best man/woman to succeed. But, when the generic becomes specific; parent or employer or politician or you and I, we all want our child to be given preference. Thus meritocracy is just remains a concept and not a social practice.
In an environment like this, we can’t hope to have a cultural solution that leads us to meritocracy. So, meritocracy must find systemic support. We do have a lot of systemic support available to merit in our education system, but if we look closer, education is not the real domain that matters. It is our industry that needs meritocracy if we want science to be the engine of growth in next fifty years.
Actually, in one way, we do have strong meritocracy in place, but it only considers money as merit and nothing else. Indian economy celebrates power of money over everything else in a very tangible way. Our almost absurd interest rate structure is the true quantification of merit of money.
In any commercial endeavor that any brilliant hard-working Indian may be engaged in, he will be paying the Shylock more than a pound of his flesh because we acknowledge the first right of money over everything else. Indian interest rates allow money to be so powerful that, it is, possibly the only merit that matters.
We have to accept that interest rates are not some simple arbitrarily decided numbers. They are corner stones of economy and are decided using various parameters. But, looking at the ever increasing number of Non-Performing Assets accumulated by the banks today, it is clear that our lending rates and returns that one can expect in our economy are out of sync.
The only way to displace money from the apex position of power is to reduce interest rates. This is already attempted by introduction of various subsidies but this ploy has not worked because of cumbersome mechanisms have made subsidy availing a business itself that “risk” takers (read law-breakers) exploit and not the meritorious ones.
For a paranoid society not trusting the state to be there in the hour of need, saving is a critical psychological support; hence we have become prone to appreciate high interest rates without looking at its overall impact. So, the process of change has to start with better social security made available to people. This can, in long run, ultimately lead us to rationalizing of our lending rates and reinstall human merit over wealth.
As a society, we need to reach a stage where money stops becoming the solution of everything. Only then it can be stopped from ruling us. Today, we have become slaves of money and thus of the moneyed.
Indian society has become money-centric due to long periods of insecurity. Risk-taking is cherished as enterprise, but only when it is in terms of money. This perception needs to change. We need people to take risk but in terms of ideas and learn to value those who invest time and intellect in such pursuits.
The need to dethrone Shylock is urgent if India wants to realize its Make in India dream. We need to accept existence of the near-complete failure of our money-lending system, face the NPA issue as real and move towards a complete overhaul of the system. If we don’t, rapidly advancing world will leave us far behind not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of wealth.