Should India be sending a rocket to Mars when 40% of children are malnourished? Vote now.

November 5, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

We interrupt complexity week with a quick question – what do you think about India’s Mars space  project? The Indian SpaceIndia space launch Research Organisation today launches a rocket which it hopes will get to Mars before the Chinese space programme – BRICS in space.

Cue lots of outrage – in a country where 40% of children are malnourished and half the population have no toilets, wouldn’t the mission’s $70m budget be better spent on feeding the hungry? Or on fixing the energy system – more than 600 million Indians were hit this week by the world’s worst power cut.

And of course grist to the mill of aid opponents – how can we justify the UK’s tiny aid budget to an India that so misallocates its resources?

But then I got to thinking. Isn’t the opposition a bit reductionist – like saying poor people should spend all their cash on food and drink, and never have any fun, or celebrations, or ritual life of any kind? We’ve moved on from that, thinking about wellbeing and the multi-faceted nature of living in poverty (including not having enough fun). Remember cash for coffins?

So why shouldn’t that apply to countries too? The money is tiny ($70m is just a drop in the ocean of India’s welfare spending), and the impact on national identity, sense of possibility etc might be substantial, with unpredictable knock-on effects on governance, accountability etc.

So what do you think? Should India scrap its Mars mission and spend the money on reducing poverty and feeding the hungry? Vote now. (And yes I fully realize voting on this is just as daft as asking blog readers elsewhere to vote on UK or US government spending decisions, but I’m just interested in what you think).

Update: for an altogether more vituperative response, check out this fantastic rant from Balaji Viswanathan [h/t Makarand]

November 5, 2013
Duncan Green