The Pandemic in the Developing World with Jayati Ghosh

Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and member of INET’s Global Commission on Economic Transformation, talks to Rob about the unique way the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting developing countries. They also discuss the developing global economic crisis, and the way young people in particular are responding.

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Rob Johnson:

I’m here today with Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Nehru University in Delhi, India. Thank you for joining us.

Jayati Ghosh:

It’s a pleasure.

Rob Johnson:

Jayati is one of the 22 commissioners on the INET-sponsored Commission on Global Economic Transformation. She has written many wonderful things and I must say, I’m quite a subscriber to your Project Syndicate columns and your perspective on things all over the world. Today’s challenge on April 11th is the question of how the world is responding to the pandemic and the coronavirus 19. There are many different responses around the world and Jayati, I’d love to hear how, what you think is unfolding in India and your observation about what’s doing, what’s going on, any place else that you think is right or wrong and what more we might need?

Jayati Ghosh:

Well, this is an extraordinary time because of what they’re going through is clearly unprecedented, not just in India, but I think in the whole world. And it’s not just the pandemic, which is of course, alarming and unprecedented, as well. But it is the response to it and the fact that so many countries in the world have chosen this method of response, which is really and very, very severe lockdown of all economic activity and huge restrictions on mobility. Which mean, when be the best way to go, but the kind of simple imposition of absolutely drastic lockdowns is often something that creates more devastation than perhaps even the illness might have, particularly in developing countries that have nothing in the shape of social protection of the vast majority of their workforce.

We have a very peculiar situation because of countries like India. India has one of the most draconian and severe lockdowns in the world. We just stopped everything, practically. Production, distribution, everything of most goods, including a lot of essentials but because even though they were officially excluded, they rely on inputs and outputs, which they can’t have. Input/output relationships which are not feasible anymore.

Countries like India, we have imposed a method of what is called social distancing. I preferred to think of it as physical distancing, which assumes no other lifestyle. It assumes that people don’t have to go out and work for their living and will not lose everything, all income, all livelihood, all the period when the lockdown is in place. It assumes they don’t live in very, very crowded urban or even brutal conditions where they are packed five or six people to one room, which does not allow for physical distancing and that they have enough water and soap and other amenities to fulfill all the cleanliness requirements.

It presumes many things, which hasn’t been, not available in a lot of poor countries and for the majority. I’m not sure how effective they are in practice, but more to the point, what really amazes me is that this is being done. It’s never been done before that you really basically told the whole global economy, “Stop, stop everything, stop what you’re doing. Production, consumption, distribution. Everything is halted.”

And that in developing countries with large, informal sectors is a recipe for complete catastrophe for many, many people. We have, the latest estimate to something like 120 million people in India lost employment over the last three weeks of lockdown. And then or course, there are those who actually had livelihoods where the livelihood has collapsed, self-employed people who have no earnings at all over this period, even if they still have retained their so-called job. It’s a very extraordinary situation in which the mode of lockdown as a response to a pandemic is one that is creating a lot of other problems. I would say in some cases, even a humanitarian catastrophe and possibly leading to other forms of hunger, illness and disease, which are not necessarily COVID-19 related.

Rob Johnson:

At the outset of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a former Italian Finance and Economy Minister, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, gave the final speech, this was April, 2010. And he said, “The agenda for INET will be three types of sustainability. Financial and economic sustainability, which in the crisis of 2008 and beyond was quite acute, resource sustainability and social sustainability. He later wrote that speech up as what was called the Per Jacobsson lecture in June of 2010. And he passed away that fall.

But Tommaso, right as he finished the speech, came and sat next to me and he said, “Robert, all of these kinds of disturbances will ultimately flow into social unsustainability, that the pressures of extreme and unacceptable inequality will be heightened by these financial crisis, heightened by the displacements that occur because of climate and exacerbated by policy that favors the wealthy to the detriment of society at large.” I thought that was quite prescient, but as I see the pandemic, and as I listened to you, the question of social sustainability seems to be an overpowering challenge.

Jayati Ghosh:

Yes, you’re absolutely right, and he was absolutely right about how the policy responses are actually going to add to the inequalities. And we’ve seen this at a global level. We have seen it within countries, as well. Within countries, this is a response. This lockdown response is something which is achievable and manageable for those with regular incomes and those who have homes that enable them to do the physical distancing without too much stress. And who are not faced with other immediate problems of absolute survival. Whereas, in India we have seen that this lockdown has actually generated not just dramatic losses of employment, but hunger.

And yet, this is a government that is holding excess food stocks to the tune of three times what they need. 77 million tons of food green in the government’s storage capacities, which need to be immediately distributed to people who are actually otherwise facing starvation. But the slow response is really because the immediate political pressure is not felt. Also, because a lot of these people, everyone’s stuck in their homes. Nobody is allowed to come out and protest and nobody can make their voices heard.

But it’s not just the national inequalities, which are of course immense. And I would like to argue that it’s not just this COVID response, but the very nature of this disease, which is a reflection of the broader growth of inequality and the policies that have pushed inequality in all our countries over the last few years. Particularly, the decline in public health spending per capita, the assumption that all of the burdens of the care economy can be pushed onto households and to unpaid work.

The feeling that a whole range of essential goods and services no longer has to be provided by the state, but through privatized facilities and services, which essentially favor those who are better off. All of this has happened in all of our societies at different levels of per capita income. And it’s meant that these inequalities are created a very fertile ground for the spread of this disease among those who are already significantly worse off, with less access to the kind of public health services that they would require to deal with it, so that’s within countries.

But globally, look at the impact. Most developing countries haven’t really been affected by the pandemic yet, in a very significant way. China, yes, it started there, but look at most developing countries, we have not yet had that kind of dramatic increases in infection that Europe has seen or that some parts of the US have seen.

Nonetheless, these are economies that are already devastated by these global market forces. Trade has collapsed, export revenues don’t exist. Tourism has disintegrated. It doesn’t exist at all. Travel related services have gone. A whole range of other services that were tradable, disappeared. Capital flows have gone completely in the other direction. We’ve seen dramatic reversals of capital flows in just the last three weeks, bigger than occurred after the global financial crisis. And all of this has meant that currencies have depreciated very dramatically within a month. That has me now debt servicing costs go much, much higher in a situation where we were already at very, very high levels of debt, inactive debt. And these costs are now simply impossible to meet, so that the real, there’s going to be a problem of sovereign debt. There’s going to be a problem or private debt.

There’s going to be domestic financial messes because of the kinds of forces that I have mentioned. In addition to the public health crisis, which as I said, hasn’t really started yet in our countries. In addition to that, we are simultaneously already facing a financial crisis and an extraordinary economic crisis because of the fact that economic activity has been stopped. There’s a cessation of most economic activity.

This, I think it’s unprecedented. I cannot think of a single period in history where we’ve had this amazing and weird combination. But you can see that it is dramatically increasing inequalities across the world, as well, because some countries notably the US, but also several of the other large, advanced economies, are able to put in place fairly significant revival and stimulus packages. I mean, in the US for example, $2 trillion of GDP has been already committed. I’m told that another $2 trillion is in the offing. The US Federal reserve is just out there buying any kind of debt that you could mention.

It’s putting huge amounts, I am told that it’s already something that 30-40% of GDP. The European Union is less so because of the internal contradictions. But it still has the capacity to do something to revive the economy to prevent it from plunging off the cliff. Whereas, a lot of developing countries do not have that luxury. Even if we print money, and we will have to, even if we simply go from monetized deficits, which all of us will have to, we have huge problems of external financing. We have problems that supply shortages because of the lockdown are going to lead to inflation. Our depreciating, currency is going to generate official depression, as well.

And so, we’re really in a strange kind of environment where we are unable to do the kinds of revival measures that are necessary because of both internal and external constraints. And we are going to have to deal with the public health epidemic for which our current levels of spending are simply inadequate and our infrastructure is totally unprepared. That inequality is something that is going to play out I believe over the next two or three months, very, very starkly. We haven’t really, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Really, in that sense.

Rob Johnson:

I am also concerned as we use the term globalization and yet we all talk about the nation state, about which you might call the power or the capacity of officials within a nation to marshal the resources or alleviate the distress of the public. Capital, as we’ve seen, has wings, technology has wings, human migration and the resistance to it, I think has shown us once and for all that human beings are not just factors of production. The dimensional reality of a human as a member of a society, et cetera, as well as an economic input is much greater. But I don’t know, I guess what the question I have is this unfettered globalization with its consequences that I think exacerbate the relative power of the powerful compared to the people. How will a country like India-

How will a country like India, or Costa Rica, or places in Eastern Europe, how can they manage their economy? Or are we going to break that interconnected multilateral system once and for all and essentially have everybody work as an autarch? How do you see the architecture of a global system in light of what’s developed?

Jayati Ghosh:

So this is a global system that I think in some ways was already unraveling. I have a lot of problems with the international architecture, both financial and trade, and other legal architectures that have really operated against developing countries for a while. But what we’re going to see, what we’ve already been seeing, is that that architecture was already being upended by Mr. Trump. And by doing nationalist tendencies in a region of countries, I think this pandemic is actually bringing all of that to a head. And when we wake up from this nightmare, when this phase is over, which at some point it must be, and we don’t know still how long it will last and how devastating it would be. But when this phase is over, we’re going to wake up to a different world, a world in which the people will be much more suspicious, not just of migration, but even of what’s coming from abroad, where people would be much less likely to engage in the kind of open-ended travel, that it become something that people assumed was normal and would happen across a range of different economic categories.

So I think it’s going to be a different world, and it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a happier and more pleasant world immediately. I think it’s going to be quite ugly in many ways. All kinds of national and local and regional resentments would come to the fore and blow up in different ways. But it’s also going to be one where the earlier tenets of different organizations are not going to be valued. And how that would play out I think depends a lot also on the political economy within countries, and that’s not clear to me yet because currently a lot of the most unpleasant states still have a lot of popular legitimacy. They’re still able to get away with murder, and get away with very, very unequal policies that clearly privilege certain crony capitalists and certain classes over the majority of the people.

But nonetheless, something like this, an extreme disorder of this kind which leads to so much human catastrophe and suffering, really has consequences. Let me give you an example. In India, we’ve relied a lot on rural-urban migrants coming to work for in our construction industry, in a whole lot of manufacturing and many of the other services. Suddenly these migrants were told there’s no work. They’re all informal, so they don’t have access to any incomes in this period when there’s no work. Many of them get thrown out of their houses because a lot of the times their place they live is linked to their work. And then they’re told, “You can’t go back home either. We’re locking it. You don’t have anything to eat. You don’t have any income, you don’t have any work, but we will not allow you to go back home. We will arrest you. We will criminalize you if you try and go back home.”

Now this is going to lead to a massive loss of confidence, even in the very fact or rural-urban migration. So it’s even possible no matter how desperate the conditions are in urban areas, you will not have the same kinds of laws and availability of labor that you relied upon for your earlier struggle. And I think similar things will happen in other countries. Similarly, the whole process of globalization, which entailed getting involved in global value chains, inserting yourself in there and trying to maximize your share of the value added somehow or the other, That strategy may not work not only because supply chains are collapsing, but value cheese themselves are disintegrating.

And how much a country’s development strategy can rely on that in the developing world is I think going to be a moot point, it’s going to be something that’s not evident immediately. So yes, we’re not going to have the same kinds of push towards global integration that we have seen in the past, and the pandemic is only one of the things. I think the fight over global resources, the fight over nature, and the fight over the implications of climate change will also that to those.

Rob Johnson:

I know there’ve been a number of discussions about the role of climate change. In this early part of this year, one could see in many contexts, including the World Economic Forum, that there was a great, how you say, I don’t know, acknowledgement that climate change in a 10 or 15 year horizon is a global problem that must be addressed. And there had been people warning of this for a long, long time, but it felt as though the world was turning in the direction of recognizing large scale transformation had to begin.

As the pandemic has come forward, it changed our focus for the time being, albeit transient. Now some are saying our fiscal resources will be taxed. People’s disruption of their work will have to settle down before we can reengage in climate. Others say what the pandemic has revealed is a failure in the structure of governance to address collective problems, and so what we should do at this juncture is learn from that and move forward more rapidly. How do you see the challenge of climate change and addressing a sustainable resource economy in response, or in the aftermath of this pandemic challenging us all?

Jayati Ghosh:

This is a very interesting question, and I think the contradiction that you’ve highlighted is particularly acute in developing countries. Because at one level, of course, the fact that everything’s stopped has generated suddenly at least a huge decline in atmospheric pollution. So suddenly in Delhi we have clear skies, we have wonderful air quality that we’ve stopped imagining even for the last 20 years. So if at one level suddenly people have realized that it is possible to live in a world that is cleaner, and so on. But the big thing that has happened, and this is true not just in India but in most developing countries, is that there has been a massive disruption in economic activity, a huge loss of livelihoods, a huge decline in not just incomes, but a massive increase in poverty and in problems of accessing basic food and other necessities, which means that the urge to somehow get back on track on those trends is going to dominate over all other designs.

And so it might well be that after this pandemic is over, the focus of policy attention, and even of people’s attention, will be just generate jobs anyhow, just generate more employment, create more economic activities so that we can all somehow survive, provide basic needs to everybody. And so the focus will be back onto drawing any old how. True, and with employment somehow they created, rather than thinking about how to deal with this in a sustainable and in an environmentally conscious, ecologically viable way. I think this danger is much more in developing countries because we are going to be having a large proportion of the population now at the very margin of survival, and the desperation to ensure that you come out of that will perhaps dominate over the larger and often recognized need to actually move towards sustainable patterns of expansion.

Now this is contradictory particularly sharply in developing countries because we are also the major of victims of climate change already. We can’t even say it’s coming. It’s upon us. We are observing desertification, we are observing the collapse of habitats. We already have climate refugees in many parts of not just our own country, but across the developing world. So it’s already happening to us. We’re already facing climate change. It’s no longer something in the future. So we have to do something about it immediately, which is why the goal is for a global green new deal. These cannot be any more hypothetical, and they are not utopian at all. It’s no longer a question of something that is desirable and so we should all be feel good about it and so on. It’s really about survival. The pandemic has highlighted one source of fragility, but the other source of huge fragility has not gone away, and in fact it probably is going to be rearing its ugly head very, very soon in all kinds of other ways.

So I believe that the way of getting around this is to actually push for the kinds of things that have been already outlined in a lot of discussion of the global community, which is to put massive fiscal resources into addressing these issues of mitigation and adaptation to climate change. And those resources will actually integrate anyway to raise employment. The point is that if you’re going to have a very large fiscal stimulus, which we need to have because of this dramatic collapse in the economy, and if you’re going to have central banks out there willing to buy up anything to enable new kinds of activity doing that, those activities have got to be ecologically viable. And they have to be planned according to a strategy that fits in with an overall greening of economic activities.

Getting governments to realize this is a harder task. I think people are beginning to realize this. Governments, I’m unable to understand a lot of our governance in the developing world and why they are so resistant to understanding something which is actually now staring everybody in the face.

Rob Johnson:

So you’re talking about the importance of government. Now obviously I live in an Anglo Saxon country, and probably the UK and US are among the most devoted to free market fundamentalism at least over the last 40 years. What concerns me now, and I remember in 2010 Zbigniew Brzezinski gave a talk to the council on foreign relations in Montreal, and he said, “We’ve gone from a North Atlantic, basically Protestant world to a global world, a G20 world. And after the corruption of the bailouts in 2008, and with the advent of social media, the public is aware and very sensitive to politics and quite disapproving. And there is a need for a global system of order, but it seems almost impossible to create.” And Brzezinski, he wrote that I believe … Or he spoke that, excuse me. I watched it on a screen.

When he gave that speech was in the aftermath of the financial crisis. In the United States the despondency led to the Republicans taking over House, Senate, and Donald Trump becoming president after the Obama administration. What we saw was the rise of the Tea Party on the right and the Occupy movement on the left. This context, at least in those countries, and the lack of faith in government is in marked contrast to the preparation for World War II. After the success of the New Deal, which helped the economy escape from the Depression and re-invigorated trust and faith in government under the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt, how, given 40 years of a mantra that government is-

Given 40 years of a mantra that government is the problem, not the solution, which surprisingly was somewhat positively re-enforced in the aftermath of 2008, how do we mobilize, what you might call, an invigorated power of the public sector, with, which you might call, restraints on the potential for corruption, and restore the faith of people around the world?

Jayati Ghosh:

This is a very important issue, also because let’s face it, a lot of our governments are not particularly oriented towards the welfare of the people as a whole, and are often more interested in not just certain forms of crony capitalism, but also in a cementing their own power and control, through all kinds of authoritarian means, which are made much easier by the new technologies that allow almost constant monitoring, surveillance. But I think there are two issues here; one is that, while we talk about the notion of the public, what we really want is for public purpose to be achieved as my friend Mariana Mazzucato puts it, that, “Public presence is not in itself what matters; it’s public purpose”, which is a broader thing. And whether governments are actually interested in achieving public purpose, is a lot dependent on the political economy in particular countries, and whether the power relations and the imbalances that exist are such as to ensure that government activity is actually oriented towards the public purpose.

In many developing countries that’s not the case. We have the emergence of a strong man leaders, who have a certain popular charisma, who are able to actually bend the popular will, but who do not display much interest in public purpose, in state actions. And that is difficulty that is not easily resolved. I mean, I think many of us are struggling across the developing world; those who are dissenters and who are therefore marked out in various ways. We are struggling just find a way in which to make people realize that what’s not important is state activity per se, but it’s the activities of a transparent and accountable state, that is actually listening to the people and responding to their needs and concerns, and is making clear what it is doing, in an open way. Currently across the developing world for sure, governments know everything about what we as people are doing, citizens are doing, but we know very little about what government is doing. In fact, we know next to nothing about what government is doing.

And it’s getting harder and harder. All those channels of information, those forms of transparency are actually being closed. Remarkably even something like a pandemic becomes an occasion for further centralizing of information, monitoring and surveillance of the citizenry, because we can all be spreading the virus, and lack of transparency or monitoring by the people of the state. So there is a real concern about putting too much power in the hands of governments. On the other hand, we know that markets don’t deliver, in fact, they deliver not just unequal and unjust outcomes, but unsustainable outcomes, as you’ve mentioned. So we have to ensure that we are putting power in the hands of an accountable state. And that’s something which, at one level we thought was going to become easier in the 21st century, and now we’re finding that it’s becoming more difficult that the unholy marriage between Big Brother and Big Data is actually making us less able to push for the kinds of policies that would actually deliver, to the majority of the people.

So it’s not just that people are distrustful of governments, but that they would have a reason to be, because of the way in which governance has changed, and the political economy of these power relationships. How do we alter that? Does it take a crisis? Unfortunately, I don’t think big crisis do the work for us. I don’t think the great financial crisis did that work for us, I don’t think COVID-19 will do that work for us. It will create a huge mess. It will bring out the inequalities, the instabilities, and the injustices of global capitalism and our structures of power that re-enforce those. But we let automatically and necessarily create a huge push for change? I’m not so sure. I think that really depends on the ability of those of us who feel that this is essential to capture the public imagination, in a way that we haven’t so far been fully successful.

So I think there is a challenge out there, which we know that this is a crisis that will expose a lot about both global capitalism, and a lot of our nation states. But having exposed those, will it then lay the seeds for an alternative? Perhaps eventually, but that would take time, and it will require work. It’s not something that, because you’ve created such a mess, you will be held responsible and other people will be allowed in to actually usher in a whole new system. I don’t think that is so easy.

I do think however, if I don’t go on for too long, maybe I should just make this point. I do think that two things will emerge from this pandemic that are not so entirely bad. One of them is, the recognition of the significance of care work. Because it’s one of those things which is, if you like, the underbelly of economic systems. In most societies, it’s not really valued. A lot of it occurs in unpaid form, within families and households, largely done by women and girls. A lot of it also within communities. Because so much of it is unpaid, when it is done, and the people who do it are underpaid, and society typically undervalues your work, it gives such very little respect, dignity or remuneration, and doesn’t even recognize the various challenges faced by care workers. Now that care has become so essential, and now that the, “Public” word has come back into health, because finally people have realized that you’re only as healthy as the poorest person in your society, because if that person gets ill with an infectious disease, you are as much under threat.

I think that recognition, the importance of care workers in dealing with such situations, the everyday importance of care, when it’s absent in critical periods, I think that realization need well have an impact in terms of how societies and economies value care work. And that’s very welcome, not just for reasons of reducing gender inequalities, but because care work has been a massive subsidy to capitalism, and recognizing the critical role it has played is a major means of transcending capitalism. I would argue.

So that’s the first big possible change. I think there’s one other, which is that, just as I said, it’s an unprecedented crisis, and it’s unprecedented because it’s hitting both demand and supply at once. Of course it’s hitting demand, that you’re depriving people of incomes, you’re taking away their jobs, you’re not allowing them to work, many will lose jobs after this, and so on, yes, it’s a huge crisis of demand. But at the same time you stopped production, you’ve stopped distribution, you’ve stopped the movement of a whole range of goods and services. So there’s a supply issue as well. It’s all very well to say, “We are going to ensure the supply of necessities”. That doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You can’t simply say, “I will ensure the production of,” let’s say drugs, because all of those drugs required inputs. They require workers, they require facilities, they require amenities, they require packaging, they require distribution. So you would have to ensure all of those, just to get the drugs there.

What about other items of mass consumption? How are you going to ensure those? So all of these, just recognizing that bringing production back on track cannot be left the market left for anyone to figure out on their own; it has to be done somehow in a planned way, in a coordinated way. That just going to bring back some recognition of this need for planning and coordination. Again, planning had become a bad word. Just like all of these other things have become bad words. I don’t mean centralized top-down planning, but I do mean that you cannot achieve any kind of revival of supply, without some kind of coordination. And governments and societies are going to have to recognize that after this crisis.

Rob Johnson:

I think you make a lot of very good points here. And some of my friends who, what you might call adopt the posture of an optimist say, “Well it’s darkest before dawn”. And that adage might be true, but the question I think for us now: is it going to get darker before that dawn, or are we at the turning point? And I think these complications in relation to the credibility of governance, and the dangers particularly as you mentioned a little bit earlier on. The centralization that technology affords leaders, and the ability to monitor, and other things, means that I think democracy is under threat. And at times of distress, I always go back to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, is when the powerful people can organize things around their imperatives, and in the short term, it isn’t put up to democratic affirmation.

What I’m concerned about here is that, we may be very close to a justification amidst fear of a violation of many rights principles, and essentially render the software that is analogous to the American Constitution, Bill of Rights, as a romantic document, nobody adheres to that; you’re a fool if you think principles matter. That perhaps this is more vivid than anyone would articulate, who is sitting in a position of government, but the question of, what processes will take us in that constructive direction, I think is very difficult to imagine.

Though the one I heard, kind of piecing together threads from the pattern that you were describing is, we might have all hands on deck right now, producing the medical equipment and doing what’s necessary to extinguish or diminish markedly the pandemic. But after that, what I think might be constructive, is to recognize that people will be afraid. They will be, you know, “Once burned, twice shy”, they will be reluctant, they’ll fear the re-emergence of the pandemic in a large public program addressed to energy transformation, and to dealing with climate change may be the equivalent, it’ll be the Green New Deal that provides jobs, and provides meaningful and purposeful work, and provides aggregate demand, and restores the faith of the body politic, that the government is working for the benefit of human beings. But it’s a very delicate time, in my view on all of these matters.

Jayati Ghosh:

Yes, I think you’re absolutely right.

Rob Johnson:

Let me go to a slightly different place. I worked for six years in the United States Senate, and when we founded INET, what I said to people was that it is not the case that you’re going to march in -

The case that you’re going to March in and use unusual ideas that are not part of the conventional wisdom and have a whole bunch of senators grab onto that because of the logic and create transformation. But what is a potential in the interaction between events and ideas is that that conventional wisdom in 20 years will change.

So we begin by working with our young scholars initiative who will be the people in positions of responsibility in 20 years and we begin trying to shape what that conventional wisdom will look like. In light of this pandemic, in light of the troubles that you see on the horizon, how will we as a society be shaken to the bone and reconstruct our ideas? And what will that conventional wisdom look like if you had your dream in 20 years from now growing out of this episode and this challenge?

Jayati Ghosh:

I agree with you that things are going to get worse before they will better. Unfortunately. I think that is the case. But on the other hand, the thing that really keeps me going are young people. Exactly what you said. My children’s, a lot of young people around me before this pandemic and all that. There was an outburst of protest across the country led by young people, students, others and in big cities, in small towns and villages everywhere. There was a massive kind of emergence of protest that was very colorful and exciting. It was against a particular move of the government, against trying to contain citizenship to the majority community. But it expanded, to many, many other things.

What I find among the young, and that’s what really gives me hope, is that they have a degree of courage and self confidence and an ability not to get shaken and terrified by the realities. That is lacking in our generation. I mean, let’s face it, we are really leaving a right horrible mess for young people. But I have a feeling that many of them have the tools to manage it. Many of them have the imagination, the courage, the tenacity, to actually fight for better alternatives. And many of them have really interesting ideas which are different from our ideas, which are more creative, more flexible, than our ideas. We are sometimes also stuck in various other older binaries of left and right, and this and that. They are much more open, more creative, and I would say, as I said, more courageous than we are. And that really does give me hope.

Rob Johnson:

I am reminded of my dear, dear friend William Greider who wrote largely about the American system, but central banks. He wrote a book on globalization called One World Ready or Not. Bill passed away on Christmas day in 2019. But towards the end of his life, Bill set up a website, and the website’s first or second post was how he had faith in the young. And how he explained it was that his faith in the young came from the fact that they have fresh eyes to see the challenges that are essential. But they have not been conditioned through social interaction as regards what is considered feasible. So they’re not deterred from envisioning and imagining and asserting what needs to be done.

And he thought that generation after generation, we need to take guidance from the young. And in work I’ve been doing with Joe Stiglitz, Jeff Sachs, and some others. Pope Francis has meetings, and these are not Catholic Church meetings. They’re people from many different denominations and people from the Jewish community, Muslim community and what have you, that come to these meetings. And they start the meetings observing a constellation of young people from around the world and what they think we need. And so I think you’re exactly right about the role of young people.

Selfishly, I want to, when we finish this podcast, book you to give a seminar to the Young Scholars Initiative, because I think it would be quite encouraging and uplifting. And there are roughly 10,000 people now in the young scholars initiative around the world and it continues to grow. I believe, didn’t you speak at their meeting in Vietnam?

Jayati Ghosh:

Yes I was in Hanoi and it was wonderful. It was wonderful. I really enjoyed.

Rob Johnson:

Yeah. But I think that, that is a great place for investment, and a great place, how would I say, in the sense, that this is where courage and where action will emanate from. And I think you’re also right that it’s almost ironic, but this group that grew up in the 60s in the antiwar, civil rights movement, in various analogues around the world, is the generation that is handing a dreadful legacy to their children. And I think that’s worthy of investigation unto itself as to how I’ll call it, our generation lost, lost the sense of purpose in such a marked way. Do you have thoughts as to how this older generation missed the importance of the challenge?

Jayati Ghosh:

Well, you know that’s true. I think in many, many ways we have failed the young, not just in terms of the climate. But the complete lack of sustainability of pretty much everything that we are needing them as economic systems, as social structures and so on. The only thing I would say is that we must have done something right because there’s so many of them in this generation, the young, who are so damn smart and witty and courageous, and seem to be able to get on with it. So all the terrible things we did, yes we did. But somewhere some of us must have done something right to create a generation like that.

Rob Johnson:

How would I say, we’re better parents than we are ambassadors and shepherds of public policy.

Jayati Ghosh:

Exactly, yes.

Rob Johnson:

I remember when my… I have a son who is now in his thirties, named Nicholas. And I remembered when Barack Obama was elected, he was at Pomona College in California and he called me and he said, “Dad, I got in a big fight tonight.” And I said, “Why is that?” He said, “Well everybody was just acting like a romantic liberal because they loved Obama. And I decided it was your fault.” And I said “Why is it my fault?” He said, “It’s your whole generation’s fault. Because you told us that our politics was silly. And you went on romantically over and over about the anti war movement, and the civil rights movement. And Obama stepped on the stage sounding like a black Baptist preacher and being a black man and saying he was against the Iraq war. And all these young people just leapt at it and said, we found our politics and I don’t think Barack Obama will ever fulfill what they dream they have found.” And he was like 16 years old at the time. Just starting college. I was in shock when I heard him say that. But I do think-

Jayati Ghosh:

There you go. You see, they’re so much smarter.

Rob Johnson:

Yeah. Yeah. Generation after generation, I don’t think it’s in the diet or the food. I think it’s just there is a formative period which you might say they haven’t been dumbed down to be called wise, or to chase awards, or positions of prestige and conformity, and those fresh eyes really do make a difference. So as we look at the coming months and the global commission, how would I say, is going to reexamine our agenda and augment it in light of what’s developed. Are there any recommendations you have for your fellow commissioners?

Jayati Ghosh:

I think this is a period that is going to be extremely challenging. But if I had to put energies into any particular things, it would be the two things that I just mentioned in terms of care and the care economy very broadly speaking. And how significant that has to be as part of a global community, that you really cannot have one without massive investment in care. Which includes healthcare and of course the entire other range of it. And also has very strong employer employment affects and strong multipliers and so on. And the other, about the role of the state, how do we actually get a coordinating state that works for public purpose and how do we rejuvenate people’s belief in states like that?

Rob Johnson:

Well, it’s been a lovely, better part of an hour getting to know your thoughts and ideas and I think I look forward to continuing to work with you on the global commission and I’m sure as time unfolds here on this podcast, there’ll be more chapters where we draw on your wisdom and insight and expertise again. You’ve certainly shed light on things in a quite powerful and meaningful way today. And I want to thank you for being here on the INET podcast.

Jayati Ghosh:

Well, it was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Rob Johnson:

We’ll talk again soon.

Jayati Ghosh:


Rob Johnson:

Bye. Bye.

More episodes

About the Host

ROB JOHNSON serves as President of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Johnson is an international investor and consultant to investment funds on issues of portfolio strategy. He recently served on the United Nations Commission of Experts on International Monetary Reform under the Chairmanship of Joseph Stiglitz.


About the Guest

JAYATI GHOSH is a development economist, member of INET’s Commission on Global Economic Transformation (CGET) and Professor of Economics at the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, in New Delhi, India. Her specialities include globalisation, international finance, employment patterns in developing countries, macroeconomic policy, and issues related to gender and development.