Thursday, 8 May, 2008

Eat each other but work

“The inflation rate (in Zimbabwe) crossed 100,000 per cent by the end of April and the unemployment rate was over 80 per cent,” announces this fortnight's Frontline, in an article titled Economic impact (

80% unemployment!


I looked up Wikipeda. It says ( the unemployment rate is 85%.

According to Index Mundi ( it was estimated to be 80% in 2005, and has hovered over 70% since 2003.

And so on.

Everyone agrees that 4 out of 5 Zimbabweans are out of work. Doesn't anyone ask how such an enormous figure came about, and stayed that way, month after month?

Consider an extreme situation, of famine so severe that people are reduced to cannibalism. Further, assume that a grown though malnourished adult human (weighing about 60 kg?) yields no more meat to feed four of his fellow men for, say, a week.

So one dies and one kills, and the four that live eat (I assume the one that dies doesn't do so voluntarily. Even if he does commit suicide, he's got to be cut and cooked. So suicides won't change my counting.)

The chap who dies becomes, in effect, the farm, at least to the extent that goats and chicken are employed in farming. The killer becomes the farmer, or butcher.

And subsistance canbiballism does better than Zimbabwe at an unemployemnt rate of 3 in 5.

I'm sure no society in our age will have to resort to such employment generation tactics.

But why do so many societies, across the world, swallow statistic like '80% unemployment' without even asking simple questions and attempting obvious explanations?

Thankfully, some people care. For instance, an 1998 article - Zimbabwe's solution to joblessness may be in underground businesses ( - made plenty of sense. Unfortunately, it offered no figures for Zimbabwe's unemployment rate.

The same edition of the same magazine also tackles free software (A new wave of freedom []). Here V. Sasi Kumar argues, “In any case, illegal copies of most movies and music are freely available in almost all parts of the globe, especially in developing countries, and nothing has happened to either the music industry or the movie industry.”

How this logical impossibility was achieved and who supplied Kumar with the data on which he based his sweeping conclusion?

How is it possible that illegal manufacture and trade of a product does nothing to the legitimate industry, that too when the law is broken on a mass scale? Which movie studio or music brand agrees with such nonsense? And even if some obscure developing country, with a miniscule economy, were to achieve such a miracle, how can this result be generalised for the entire globe?

But then Kumar cannot be blamed. He's makes the same mistake as most of us make most of the time: He's mistakes the trees for the forest.

We think of singing superstars and movie moghuls as representative of their respective industries. They're not.

The average actor usually has no films in hand, makes a living doing menial jobs, and owes his 'actor' tag to walk-ons in D-grade flicks. In other words, the average actor is a penniless extra.

Moreover, actors are, most probably, a small fraction of the people the motion picture business feeds. Because the grizzled old usher at the rickety cinema at some back-of-beyond town and the sweating spot boy who slaves hours for little more than the price of a meal are as much a part of the glamour industry as their more glamorous counterparts.

Are these wretched souls not affected when the law is broken? Or is the effect so small that it can be logically equated with 'nothing'?

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