Some are more equal than others in Nepal

Trickle up works better than trickle down, and concentrates wealth in the hands of fewer people

This issue of Nepali Times focuses on growing inequality in Nepal. The income and wealth gap has been widening around the world, and Nepal is no exception.

A few people on top of the wealth pyramid have a lot more than the numerous at the bottom. Governments and INGOs use the data to get aid which helps, in a strange way, to create a new category of people called the ‘Lords of Poverty’. Without too much generalisation, it is safe to say that poverty has become an industry in itself. Those who go to work every day to end poverty would be unemployed and poor if they were successful.

Read also:

Mind the Gap, Editorial

Nepal’s great income divide, Ramesh Kumar

Removing poverty with jobs, David Seddon

It’s a rich man’s world, Ramesh Kumar

We need to start with a general agreement that there is, was, and will always be inequality in human society. But we can create a safety net so that no one should ever have to live below an agreed standard and quality of life. This is the role of the government.

There are proven ways to do this, but in Nepal there is a lack of political will to make it happen. Hence we struggle. Trickle up works better than trickle down, and concentrates wealth in the hands of fewer people. Redistribution has to be by design. Tax money spent on educationhealth, infrastructure, information technology are all great equalisers, but not sufficient by themselves.

Subhas Rai

We know that in the United States and Nepal where there is poor state health care, families have been known to go bankrupt when a member contracts a serious illness. Medical expenses not just drain their savings, but some sell land or take children out of school to pay hospital bills.

What can we do about poverty caused by alcoholism, crime, disability, accidents, fraud, drugs and other addictions and mental conditions? When parents separate, terrorists attack, industrial accidents occur, people are pushed below the poverty line.

Take the example of a village where everyone is equal till one family buys a tv set and puts up an antenna. The neighbours without tv are suddenly poor.

The Sherpas are not rich because Mt Everest is up the trail from their village, but because the world made climbing mountains a business for the adventure minded.

The people of Karnali became poor because of the militarisation of the India-China-Nepal border after the 1962 war leading to the loss of trade and livestock movement with Tibet. The people of Kathmandu became rich because the land they owned became very expensive mainly due to failed rural development over the past five decades, and the insurgency that drove people into the valley to buy small parcels of land.

The Thakalis of the Kali Gandaki Valley are richer than other ethnicities in that region because they traded in salt when the British were ruling in India and had a virtual monopoly on this critical commodity. Did these create the inequality we see today in Central Nepal? It most certainly contributed.

Our ancestors were rich or poor depending on how much land they owned. Today with a new idea and entrepreneurial qualities, a person can become very rich very fast. Many still do not understand the difference between property and intellectual property.

The author of the Harry Potter books or the founder Facebook do not count their wealth in ropanis of land. How do we then define wealth? Few people will tell you how much money they actually have. The same people who plead poverty in front of the potential donors will prove to the US immigration officer that they can pay for a four year college degree, to obtain a visa.

The world and Nepal consist of those who have a lot, those who have little, but the biggest group of people are those in debt, and have not yet paid for what they have. The US may appear rich, but it is $22 trillion in debt. Next door, more than 57% of India’s GDP is owned by 1% of its population. Does it mean anything? Building fancy modern hospitals in Kathmandu may contribute to GDP, but it is also an indicator that people are sick from polluted air, water and food poisoned with pesticides.

Anil Chitrakar is the President of Siddharthinc.

Anil Chitrakar