When It Comes to Creation of Jobs, We Agree and Disagree with Amit Shah

amit shah

The BJP president Amit Shah late last week said: “We have tried to give new perspective to employment as it is not possible to provide employment to everyone in a country of 125 crore people. We are promoting self-employment and the government has made eight crore people self-employed.”

Well it’s obvious that no government can create the huge number of jobs that India needs. But then politicians are not known to say the most obvious things. Hence, Shah deserves credit for saying what he did.

The number of jobs in central public sector enterprises has fallen over the years. Let’s take a look at Table 1.

Table 1: Employment and Average Annual Emoluments in CPSEs 

As can be seen from Table 1, the number of people employed by the central public sector enterprises has fallen over the last decade.

Now how do things look for the central government employees? On January 1, 2006, the central government had a sanctioned strength of 38.3 lakh. Against this, it had 32.7 lakh employees on its rolls. By January 1, 2010, the sanctioned strength had gone up to 38.9 lakh, while the number of employees had fallen to 32.3 lakh.

By January 1, 2014, the sanctioned strength had risen to 40.5 lakh, whereas the number of employees had risen marginally to 33 lakh. So, between 2006 and 2014, the central government basically added around 28,000 jobs.

Over and above this, the various state governments employ around 72 lakh individuals. Hence, the ability of the government to create jobs is limited. This does not help given that around one million Indians are entering the workforce every month. Hence, the economy needs to be creating 1.2 crore jobs every year, and that is clearly not happening.

In fact, the sad state of the Indian jobseeker can be made out from something I write in my new book India’s Big Government-The Intrusive State and How It is Hurting Us: “Only 60.6 per cent of the individuals who were available for work all through the year were able to get work for the entire year. In rural areas, this figure was at 52.7 per cent. This basically means that close to half of rural India cannot find work for all 12 months of the year.” These numbers were true for 2015-2016.

Further, the situation on this front is more or less the same since the last survey was carried out, in 2013-2014. As per the last survey, 60.5 per cent of individuals who were available for work all through the year had been able to find work for that entire year. In rural areas, this figure was at 53.2 per cent. The figures are more or less similar to those of the latest survey.

Last week Shah talked about self-employment and the government having made 8 crore people self-employed. In the next breath he also said: “There is no system to find out the exact availability of jobs in the country.” So that makes us wonder, where did the 8 crore number come from?

Also, Shah in his statement tried to pass-off self-employment as something unique to the current government. Self-employment is what almost every Indian who does not find a job, ends up with.

As Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo write in Poor Economics: “The sheer number of business owners among the poor is impressive. After all, everything seems to militate against the poor being entrepreneurs. They have less capital of their own (almost by definition) and… little access to formal insurance, banks and other sources of inexpensive finance…. Another characteristic of the businesses of the poor and the near-poor is that, on average, they are not making much money.”

The point here is that a large part of the workforce is not self-employed by choice but are self-employed because they have no other option. Banerjee and Duflo call them ‘reluctant entrepreneurs’. This can be made out from the fact around 46-47 per cent of the Indian workforce is self- employed.

The fact that Indians are reluctant entrepreneurs also becomes clear from some data highlighted in the National Manufacturing Policy of 2011. It estimated that the number of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in India stood at over 26 million (2.6 crore) units. They employed around 59 million (5.9 crore) people.

This means that any SME, on an average, employed 2.27 individuals. The Boston Consulting Group estimated that 36 million (3.6 crore) SMEs (or what it calls micro-SMEs) employ over 80 million (8 crore) employees. This means that any SME, on an average, employs 2.22 individuals. These firms are responsible for 45 per cent of the manufacturing output of the country.

What this clearly tells us is that the size of the average Indian manufacturing firm is very small. This is a good proof of the fact that most Indians getting into entrepreneurship do so because they don’t get jobs. They start small and continue to remain small. One reason lies in the fact that their business does not generate enough capital to expand.

The second reason lies in the lack of ease of doing of business. Any firm looking to grow soon runs into a maze of rules and regulations and corrupt bureaucrats appointed by both state and central government. Jobs are created when small firms start to grow big and recruit more people.

As an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) research paper points out: “SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) account for 60 to 70 per cent of jobs in most OECD countries, with a particularly large share in Italy and Japan, and a relatively smaller share in the United States. Throughout, they also account for a disproportionately large share of new jobs, especially in those countries which have displayed a strong employment record, including the United States and the Netherlands. Some evidence points also to the importance of age, rather than size, in job creation: young firms generate more than their share of employment.”

Hence, jobs are created when small firms grow. And that clearly isn’t happening in India. The labour laws continue to remain as screwed up as ever. And so does the ease of doing business. On that front Shah’s government has barely managed to move.

When it comes to creating jobs, the government can at best act as a facilitator and help the private sector and individuals create jobs. But that facilitation is easier said than done.

Postscript: I recently did a podcast with the writer Amit Varma who is currently the editor of the Pragati magazine, on The Coming Jobs Crisis. Most of what I spoke was based on my new book India’s Big Government-The Intrusive State and How It is Hurting Us. You can listen to the podcast here.

The column originally appeared in Equitymaster on May 29, 2017.