Paradox Paradise

Would you still call it nonsense, if sense exchanges its meaning with nonsense?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Of a reason why I can’t afford a marriage

When it comes to economics, I’m more at lost than Ms. Sawant is in elegance. What I know about the subject are some simple facts. Like it’s stupid to pay a bottle’s price for an ounce of drink in a pub. Or, that you can’t buy something when you can’t afford it. Complex things like why a credit card is being offered only when you have more than enough debit, flies fast over my head. And I am very well amused when I hear or read about funny amateur theories of economics.

Since the day my country got a crush on global economic development and started embracing so-called progressive liberal economic policies; amateur economic experts have been spawning up here and there. Almost every one who has more money than enough to make the ends to meet became a self-proclaimed authority in economics. Just like almost every literate belongs to proletariat assume of being a profound communist thinker in Kerala.

It was one report about a assembly discussion happened in Kerala, and a self-proclaimed freakenomist’s comment on it that provoked me to think of my ignorance in economics now. I was entertained by the same economist’s observation that increasing prices actually helps to fight and to a certain extend eliminate individual greed, on one earlier occasion, and had mentioned it in my last post.

The Kerala Assembly recently had got together to condemn ostentatious weddings in the state and came out with suggestions to curb wedding expenses. The leftist state government believes it should intervene to curb extravagance in marriages, wants to come out with a law to limit marriage expenses. The opposition is too in favour of this, but not the above-mentioned economist. This very funny economist states that the motivation for such a move is pure jealousy than sensible economics. Sensible, arguably, is the funniest adjective that I know of, and it can make almost every noun look oxymoronic.

The theory presented is not new, but the same ghost of the ugly liberalisation fairy. If the state promotes lavish weddings instead, it will pump more money into the economy, and will provide employment to related industries. It sure does pump money into the economy, but pumps from where? And why does this economist call it stupid populism when it actually cuts down employment of economically lower classes? Just another accidental paradox? Or the legendary lack of human insight natural to people who are too comfortable in their chairs?

A middle class wedding in Kerala is not as extravagant as the adjective suggests. It doesn’t last for a week, but only a few hours; and it costs only about Rs. 1-5 lakhs. And this amount is only a part of the expenses for the bride’s family, irrespective of cast or religion. In Hindu communities, the bride’s family organises the wedding; in other communities, the dowry is handed over in advance. And the expenses for the marriage ceremony is a percentage proportional to the dowry offered.

There of course are laws against dowry; and it has been surpassed by the legitimate will of the parent to ‘gift’. If the government comes up with another law to put restrictions on wedding expenses, that too might be surpassed with some other logic. But that doesn’t mean the government should encourage it, if it can’t eliminate it. And if the law is enforced, it’ll be easier for the parents to ‘marry off’ their daughters, but could be bad on banks and in turn, the thriving economy.

Now it triggers the freakenomist hormones in me. If the government brings up a law to make it mandatory that every wedding should be lavish for the noble purpose of pumping more money into the economy, there would be lesser marriages arranged and excecuted by parents in the state. That may not help the economy much, but might force people think a little more sensibly, and humanly, when it comes to a marriage. But then that is not populism or sensible economics. And therefore won’t be having any takers.

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At Sun Oct 08, 09:14:00 pm, Blogger sanjay said...


If you're suggesting that Kerala should discourage dowries, or wondering why a ban on dowries is ineffective then it might be useful, and more accurate, to first distinguish dowry from what Hindus call "stridhan" (loosely translated as the wealth entitlement of a woman).

Stridhan is the amount given voluntarily by the parents because of the rational belief that the woman is entitled to a share of the family's accumulated wealth upto the time of marriage. Over two millenia ago, Chanakaya had laid down very clear guidelines that stridhan belonged only to the woman and no one - not her husband, kids, in laws, anyone else etc - had any claim on stridhan.

Dowry is different from stridhan in that it is (1) usually explicitly demanded by the groom's parents or (2) perceived by the bride's parents to be the going rate in the groom market and (3) claimed by and belongs to the in laws.

At Mon Oct 09, 08:27:00 pm, Blogger jm said...

if i may say a word about sanjay's comment: '.. a rose by any other name,'

At Mon Oct 09, 10:17:00 pm, Anonymous Sarat said...

Found your comment on indianeconomy.org and involuntarily clicked on your name. Turns out you, too, dabble in advertising. Tell me about the Bangalore ad scene. I own an ad agency here in the US and am always interested in talking to my partners in crime. Our site www.dayal.com. My e-mail advertising@dayal.com. Don't know how to make these things clickable. Sorry.

At Tue Oct 10, 01:56:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the state promotes lavish weddings instead, it will pump more money into the economy, and will provide employment to related industries."

Who asked the state to promote anything, Jubin? It should just stay out of the way of choices individuals make.

At Tue Oct 10, 04:53:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

Thanks a lot for dropping in. jm has expressed what my immediate reaction would have been to your comment. Would like to add a few for things, though.

In Malayalam dowry is calld 'Stridhanam', a word derived from, and mean 'Stridhan'.

Dowry 'was' a social issue in the state during the 80s and early 90s. There were many reports of suicides caused by harassment from in-laws. Dowry was demanded and negotiated. Even, very well-off parents used to think many times over before sending their girls to higher education, because well-educated girl would need a well-educated (read professionally qualified as a doctor or engineer)groom, who 'deserves' a 'good' dowry. Parents sent their boys to private professional colleges in other states where the expenses for education were 100 times or more, hoping on the ROI when they get married. And many brothers got married for the only purpose of 'marrying off' their sisters. The state also witnessed mass weddings, where scores of couples who can't afford a 'normal' wedding got together and got married. Social and religious organisations collected funds 'to help' poor girls to get married.

Things have changed a lot. People don't bargain dowry much in these days. But the girl's parents discloses the amount they are planning to dispose/gift 'voluntarily' to their daughters. They also discuss about the groom's and bride's money earning potential, and it ultimately decides the amount that is to be volunteered. And this amount is seldom considered as or as a part of, a daughter's 'rightful' share in her parent's wealth. Or any document is made. And all is done with a very clear conscience, and noble motive of securing a happy life for their sons and daughters. Who can question such noble intentions?

Personally, marriage is a socially accepted individual need, and wedding is an individually accepted social need.

jm: :)

Thanks a lot for dropping in. Will check the sites for sure.

The industry is doing very well in Bangalore, I believe. People keep dogs and bark themselves. Most of the well-fed dogs have forgotten how to bark! And the not-so-well-fed do whine. I'm one among the well-fed.

The line you have quotted is not my opinion. My post was a reaction to that line I read in some other blog, and is of the freakenomist I have mentioned.

I believe government is the most powerful social body, and has the responsibility for the required social reforms.

Nice to meet a person who believes that marriage is an individual choice. I always thought, it's a social choice where at least a couple of individuals are inevitable :)

At Mon Feb 26, 05:42:00 pm, Blogger Alphi J said...

Good work!
History shows that social reforms can very well start from a strong personality not necessarily from the most powerful social body. Let actions follow your words!

At Mon Feb 26, 10:23:00 pm, Blogger Jubin George said...

alphi: History also shows that what the strong personality eventually do is reforming the most powerful social body. That's why I still look up to that powerful social body, though it's not with much hope.

And personally, I own the little space i have, and it's almost free fr om interference. By individuals, or social bodies. :)

At Thu Mar 01, 10:11:00 am, Blogger Life Rocks!!! said...

Sometimes there are certain evils you can just ban legally but for Keralites to come out of some mind sets would take generations...i mean not only dowry may others too!!

At Thu Nov 24, 04:02:00 pm, Anonymous A Better Exposure said...

Sometimes tradition and law could clash in a different way. I wonder what will be the effective solution for this.


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