Economics constantly looks to the view that man’s primary response to economic necessity will be rational. But what if economics needs to expand its boundaries on what’s actually rational behavior these days?
Who Me, Poor? is a book by Gayatri Jayaraman, also the writer of the viral article on Buzzfeed – ‘The Urban Poor You Haven’t Noticed: Millennials Who’re Broke, Hungry, But On Trend’. An extension to the article, Jayaraman delves into case studies and analyses each with particular keenness, almost as if to justify herself for writing the widely criticised article in the first place.
Being grossly unaware of the existence of the article, I divulged into reading the book at the first glance of the synopsis at the back – it promised fresh thought, facts, analysis and research, the recipe for a modern-day paperback success. An excited cursory glance introduces me to a hunger-deprived generation that was unknown to me up till very recently. Jayaraman explores the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’ in context of modern-day hyper-consumerism and the myth that the ability to network has it easy. The author has managed to dig out highly relevant examples of people who are genuinely affected by peer-pressure: fresh graduates in the fashion industry who are inducted under the tutelage of employers who force a ‘socially acceptable’ way of dressing. The book brings forward the plight of new age millennials, and how they are broke by month-end despite being able to afford luxury items. There are several points which ring a bell and are substantiated with concrete facts. The changing paradigm and a generational shift from savings to spending and making it big in the start-up culture by a personalized struggle story, alongside the cost of tuition spiraling manifold over the past 20 years have had an adverse impact on the youth.
Exploitative workplaces make use of overabundant staff and carry forward layoffs with equal ease. However, to use the above reasons on the pretext of going broke and hungry is highly questionable; something Jayaraman has tried doing throughout the 180-page book. In what could be perceived to be an actual phenomenon after reading the initial part, you soon realize that this self-imposed lifestyle choice is quite obviously lack of financial literacy. Over the course of the rest of the book, it reduces to over-telling and reiteration of the same point that, “you pick a choice that was never quite yours” and that peer pressure had driven the unwitting few to overindulge and spend way over their means. The author completely takes off on an unrelated tangent when a detailed parallel has been drawn between the urban poor and poverty, and how “living wage” should be factored in the Indian scenario. In a developing country with one-third of its population living in abject poverty and deplorable conditions, this comparison simply trivialises and demeans the problems of the poor in front of this first world problem of lack of financial literacy and decision making skills of millennials today.
There is a an overarching, subtle hint that ease of credit cards and debt facilities have made it easy for the youth fall prey to maxed out credit and going broke by the month’s end. Then there are a few unnecessary examples of corporate honchos buying luxury items to impress their seniors, or to simply give themselves the life they think they deserve. Instances pointed at a deep-rooted class divide and culture shock affecting individuals in the corporate workspace are well researched yet unfortunately clubbed along with those few whose ability to make decisions is disillusioned.
With an amorphous definition of basic needs and growing ambition of the youth, it’s a first that the issue of urban poor has been put in the limelight in the Indian context. However, we need to realize that for economics to expand its boundaries for rational behaviors, first world problems of the privileged lot are the least pressing issues to look into.
Image Credits: The Book Satchel