Why Liz Hurley is good for India

Because the economy benefits from her marriage to Arun Nayar. Times of India reports:

The hospitality sector estimates that the Jodhpur wedding [between Nayar and Hurley] should cost about Rs 1 crore.

I’m assuming that with so many foreign guests coming down, and some of them perhaps being tempted to return later, the indirect benefits of the wedding will be even greater than that. And much of the money spent may not have been spent within India if not for Liz Hurley. Thus, however much we may envy the rich their ability so spend so ostentatiously, we should actually encourage them to do more of this, because it ends up creating jobs for people at the bottom of the ladder throughout the hospitality industry.

Also read: “Lavish weddings are good for the economy.”

8 billion dollars

Or rather, US$7.922 billion. That’s how much money a Punekar named Hasan Ali was allegedly worth until recently. CNN-IBN reports:

The Income Tax department claims to have traced unaccounted wealth valued at Rs 35,000 crore to accounts operated by a Pune-based businessman Hasan Ali.

If true, and if that is the sum total of Mr Ali’s wealth, he would place No. 62 in the Forbes list of the richest men in the world. What I find stunning is that with this kind of money, he didn’t simply buy himself immunity from the legal system by putting top politicians and bureaucrats in his pocket.

And on an entirely unrelated note, is it only me who finds the following line, from the Wikipedia page on the Sahara Group, somewhat amusing?

Sahara india parivar is the largest family in the world. [sic]

Such procreation must happen!

(CNN-IBN link via email from Gautam John.)

Your maid funds Unani

This is the latest installment of my column for Mint, Thinking It Through. It is an elaboration of my concerns behind my ongoing series, Where Your Taxes Go, and I’d like to thank all the readers and bloggers who have sent me links for that. Keep them coming, and keep expressing your outrage on your own blogs as well.

These are good times for Unani. In his latest budget, the honourable P Chidambaram allocated Rs. 563.88 crores for the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy. I kid you not, I am not making this up for your satirical amusement. That departments exists. And you work your ass off, and make sacrifices, so that it can be funded. You and your maidservant.

On my blog, I have a section called “Where Your Taxes Go,” where I document strange instances of how our taxes are put to use. There is much there that is trivial and amusing—a moustache allowance for a havaldar in Lucknow, compensation for a bank employee mistakenly declared dead, salary for an 11-year-old teacher, relocation of monkeys from New Delhi to MP (only Rs. 25 lakhs). There is also much there that underscores the irresponsibility of our politicians—toilet refurbishment allowances for Jharkhand legislators, parliament hold-ups that cost 20k a minute, the 90 lakh free TVs that the DMK promised in Tamil Nadu to get elected there. Most of us are so used to government wastage that we shrug this off. “Pata hai yaar,” we say together in a gruff chorus of a billion nonchalant voices. “So what is new? Gorment is like this only.”

I feel outraged, though, angry and helpless. I never used to bother about such wastage earlier, largely because I had built a mental wall between the money that I pay as taxes and the money that the government spends. It was almost as if they were two separate things, and there was an endless supply of the latter. As a college kid, I am ashamed to admit, whenever I saw a worthy cause that needed support, I saw virtue in government money heading that way. It never struck me then that this money had a cost, and I never thought about who bore that cost.

Indulge me for a moment: take out a handkerchief and write down the taxes you have paid since you began working. List out all the things you would buy if 90% of that money was still with you. Consider, if everyone else did this, how much money would go into the economy, and the vast number of jobs created by this. All the people in those jobs, better off than they would be otherwise, would then be earning money and spending it. Think of the virtuous cycle that would then result. That is the cost of that money. Now put that handkerchief in the laundry and use a notepad next time.

That old saying about death and taxes being inevitable equate the two, which, as libertarians never tire of pointing out, is unfair for one reason: you are not dead one-third of every year. But if you are a typical Indian taxpayer, you pay more than a quarter of your income in taxes. For more than three months of the year, your salary goes to the government. (Sounds like part-time slavery, doesn’t it?) If you are reading this article on its date of publication, consider that you haven’t started working for yourself yet this year. That is still a few days away.

Indeed, it could be a lot more than just a few days away, because my calculation is based on your probable income tax. That is not where the matter ends. Every single thing you buy in the supermarket or the bookshop has taxes levied on it. You cannot spend your money anywhere without a chunk of it going to the government, indirectly or otherwise.

And this is not just the case with you, an educated, reasonably well-to-do reader of Mint [or India Uncut]: it is the case with every Indian. My maid, for example, may not pay income tax, but large chunks of every purchase she makes go to the government. Whenever she buys pulses or rice or soap and schoolbooks for her children, she is helping to fund the government’s activities, including moustache allowances. If she realised the extent to which she is being robbed, she would be rather upset at Sania Mirza asking the government to allot her land for a tennis academy, or Amitabh Bachchan getting tax relief on his KBC earnings of more than 50 crore. My maid bears their burden.

Now, I am not suggesting that we pay no taxes, despite the fact that they involve coercion. We need a government, and the government needs money to spend on maintaining law and order, providing public services and so on. But most of our taxes are simply wasted—I shall elaborate on the pointlessness of most government spending, even when well-intentioned and seemingly sensible, in my next column – and I wish we protested more at this waste. Not only is this money badly spent, but it would have been better spent elsewhere, and would have done more good for the economy as well as for us.

And remember, I am not just speaking of us decadent middle-class folk, but also my maidservant and her family, living a precarious existence in the slums of Mumbai, funding Unani with her backbreaking work. Isn’t that simply criminal?

On the Taliban, DJs and cows

When the Taliban bans music in the areas where they’re in charge—this one is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan—it’s hardly surprising: we all know what they’re like. But you wouldn’t expect a bunch of people in Haryana to ban DJs, would you? Well, they have. And here’s one reason why:

Due to high volume of music preferred by DJs, people can’t milk buffaloes and cows in the morning as the animals are unable to sleep at night.

Monstrous. Even cows have a right to pardy!

(Link via email from Gautam John, who spotted it on Youth Curry. And yes, I know I said no more cow posts, but the public demand is driving me nuts. So here you go. Previous posts on cows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 , 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84.)

And in case you missed it, the Taliban has also effectively banned shaving. It’s good news for Afghan lice, but it adds an urgency to the War on Terror. After all, Gillette needs to expand into new markets.

God sulks

You’d think in a poor country such as ours, food would be almost sacred. Well, check this out:

In a country where millions go to bed hungry, Rs 1 million worth of food meant as a holy offering at Orissa’s Jagannath temple was destroyed on Friday because a foreigner had entered it—an act seen as defiling the premises.

Ooh, God is so sensitive, She sulked and refused to eat because a foreigner entered Her dwelling place. Ooh, poor thing.

(Link via email from Sanjeev Naik.)

On rave parties, victimless crimes and shooting the messenger

All the newspapers today are full of the “rave party” that was busted by cops near Pune yesterday. It is a party that I might well have gone to in my youth (I never did drugs, but I did like to rebel), and I feel sorry for the kids who’ve been arrested for activities that harmed no one. It is a pity that so many victimless acts are treated as crimes in our country. If I want to snort a little of whatever it is kids these days snort, what business is it of anyone else? Unlike cigarettes, where bystanders can be hurt by passive smoking, most recreational drugs don’t even harm anyone else.

But then, who cares about individual freedom in this country?

An aside: And do check out the following line in Categories FreedomIndiaNews

On internet connections

Dear readers

For your enjoyment, an email conversation is reproduced below, between me and my kind friend Manish Vij, who has consented to the publication of this most-enlightening exchange. Please read from the top. As I am blogging this via broadband, the grain of rice in front of me lies unsullied.

Warm regards and Happy Holi