Yujiro Hayami is a dist¬inguished agricultural econo¬mist whose pioneering work on the specificities of Asian agriculture and the paths of its trans-formation is known all over the world. Professor Hayami, along with Masao Kikuchi, has recently comp¬leted an authoritative book, Asian Village Economy at the Cross-Roads, which will be published by the University of Tokyo. The present book¬let forms a part of that larger work. It was presented at a seminar at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, during his stay there as a Visiting Professor in 1981. The Institute of Economic Growth, which had for some reason discontinued the publication of its Occasional Papers Series, in which eight papers were brought out between 1960 and 1968, has revived that publi¬cation under the title Occa¬sional Papers: New Series, and has seen it fit to make the present contribution the first publication in this Series.
The great intellectual impact made by the papers published in the Old Series, many of which acquired a permanent place in the economic litera¬ture relating to India, the reputation of the Institute of Economic Growth, the fulsome foreword written by P.C. Joshi, Director of the Institute and one of the foremost scholars of agrarian scene, and of course the name of Professor Hayami himself lead the reader to expect a great deal from this slim book. Unfortunately, the expectations are belied. When one reaches the end of the book one is left with the feeling that several mammoth mountains were in labour but all that was delivered was a miniscular mouse, emitting not much more than well-known, seemingly truistic, almost banal squeaks.
Let us begin with the excel¬lent summary of the paper which Dr Joshi presents in the Foreword:
The paper consists of two parts. In the first part, Professor Hayami develops a theory for analysing vil¬lage communities. This theory incor-porates insti¬tutional changes as an endogenous factor in the economic model. The author argues that the institutions that govern the village eco¬nomy, characterized by patron-client relationships, take the shape of customary rules. This is because pro¬duction externalities are so perva-sive and possible con¬flicts are so numerous that accumulated precedents and customs tend to serve as far more effective means to settle conflicts than the stipulations of formal laws.
In particular, Professor Hayami hypothesizes that the basic force underlying the tightness in the com¬munity structure is the relative resource scarcity—the scarcity of non-labour resources relative to labour. The need to coordinate the use of resources arises only when the resource becomes scarce; and efficient coordin¬ation requires rules to define rights and obligations among the people on the use of its resources as well as the rules to settle possible conflicts … .
In the second part, Pro¬fessor Hayami examines the major factors that underlie the changes in agrarian structure in order to give a broad pers-pective on the future direction of change in the rural economy in South and South-East Asia. The author observes that the empirical evidence fails to identify the HYV techno¬logy as a factor accentuat¬ing polari-zation in the rural community. Contrary to popular belief, the author maintains that the real danger of polarization arises not because of penetration of new technology but because of its insufficient penetration into Asian agriculture ….
Professor Hayami further observes that the future course of agrarian change will de¬pend most critically on the ability of village communities to develop new institutions within the framework of the traditional village system … He cautions that if such institutional innovations at the village level fail to emerge, rural Asia is likely to pro-ceed fast on the ‘route of po¬larization’, (emphasis added).
Several questions arise from reading the summary itself. Does the patron-client rela¬tionship exist really as widely as is hypothesized by Professor Hayami? Does it continue to exist unaltered even today? If it does, is it the ideal relation¬ship in the context of Asian village societies and econo¬mies? If not, what are its social implications for the rural poor, the disadvantaged sections, women and children, and for production and pro¬ductivity in the economic con¬text of the semi-feudalism it reinforces? Is polarization nece-ssarily ‘wrong’, and do attempts have to be made to prevent it at any cost? These are recurring questions which come to mind in the process of reading the paper.
The very first sentence of the text is: ‘The village is the basic unit of rural life in Asia.’ This profound statement is elabor¬ated further: ‘The village is not simply a place where people live but it is a community which coordinates the use of scarce resources for their sub¬sistence’ and ‘the village com¬munity governs…peasants’ ac¬tivities by coordinating the use of scarce resources through customary rules and institutions’. One is amazed that such a statement should have been made in 1981 when Belchchi, Pathhadda and Narainpur had already become familiar names throughout India. The fissures in the ‘village community’ are so obvious that it could almost be said that the ‘village’ is the basic unit of death of the rural poor in India. Is it not naive to think that the notion of a village community governs the rich peasants and landlords who are running amok with the lives of the poor peasants and agricultural labourers?
The idyllic village life of mutual complementarity under a benign patronage-clientele (exploitation?) system that Professor Hayami point out is belied by historical and con¬temporary empirical evidence. He says,
A landlord does not simply receive a share rent for his contribution of land to pro¬duction processes, but also bears a part of production cost such as seeds and ferti¬lizers and advances credits for production and con¬sumption purposes. More-over, he often patronizes his tenants in such ways as giving gifts at the birth of child (sic) or the death of father (sic) and using his connection and influence to save the tenants trouble with other villagers or out¬siders. The tenant recipro¬cates by the loyal service of himself and his family including the voluntary domestic help at the festive occasions of his landlord, (emphases added).
It is recorded that during the period of the reclamation of the Kuttanad back-bay in Kerala, the landlords, after whipping the agricultural labourers who were thought to be lax in diving and scoop¬ing up mud to bund the land¬lord’s rice fields, used to—in the manner of benevolent pat¬rons—give the labourers some oil to soothe the wounds left by the whip lashes. Today it is true that in Kerala there is no lashing of labourers but there is no free oil anywhere either. And in parts other than Kerala, whipping of labourers (and worse) con¬tinues to be a popular sport among landowners. In places like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, in recent times, the only ‘gifts’ the landlords seem to be giving their labourers is the gift of death: there is no need to provide firewood to cremate the dead if you burn the labourers alive! Perhaps things are better in other parts of Asia which Professor Hayami has studied.
The author, taking off from Pronab Bardhan’s statistical finding for India, feels that
the incidence of labour-tying arrangements (a euphem¬ism for bondage) by use of credit and other means is smaller for the areas of high un-employment rates….in slack labour mar¬kets with high unemploy¬ment rates, the employer does not bother to have the labour-tying arrange-ments because he is surer to secure sufficient supply of labour for peak operations.
This conclusion, though ap¬pearing commonsensical, is again belied by empirical studies of the phenomenon of debt-bondage (e.g., Sudipto Mundle’s study of Palamau, the works of Pradhan H. Prasad, and the National Sur¬vey of Bonded Labour carried out by the National Labour Institute) which establish that the incidence of’ debt-bondage is particularly high precisely in backward areas which have relatively high unemployment; for, as even a casual observer of the rural scene knows, employment of labour in such rural area is a critical need in short durations. The land¬owner therefore makes provi¬sions well in advance to meet that need and takes advantage of the labourers’ weaker bar¬gaining position, precisely because the labourers have fewer alternatives in a buyers’ market.
There are many more gems in the booklet.
In the village environment the decentralized system of independent (sic) peasant producers tied by persona¬lized exchanges… tends to work more efficiently than the markets and hierarchies of the urban type.
Apart from being a tauto¬logy that a rural system is better for a rural setting than an urban system, the statement implies that an exploitative dadan system of produce exchange works effici¬ently. Efficiently for whom? Professor Hayami’s observa¬tions would have been allowed to pass as arising out of ignorance of the concrete situation obtaining in many rural areas, if he did not make normative statements like ‘non-market institutions to re¬gulate villagers’ behaviour (sic) directly should be deve¬loped’. But even in his nor¬mative stance he is not consis¬tent. How does one reconcile
we share … the perspective that a change in the basic institutional framework will result through a cumula¬tive process of relatively minor adjustments …
In some societies the resist¬ance of some vested-interest groups is so powerful that it may have to involve major disruptions or resolution (sic: revolution?) to destroy the existing institutional framework before creating a new one.
Professor Hayami is highly exercised by the possibilities of polarization in rural socie¬ties in Asia. He feels that it should not come about and hopes that it will not come about. But he does not have similar views about ‘peasant stratification’ which he descri-bes as
an increasing class differ¬entiation in a conti¬nuous spectrum ranging from landless labourers to non-cultivating landlords, while maintaining the social mode of traditional village communities—people are tied to each other in multi-stranded personalized rela¬tions …. Unlike the polari¬zation case characteri¬zed by the bi-modal differentiation between kulak and proletariat, semi-subsis¬tence peasants will be preserved in the peasant stratification case even though the majority of them may become poorer with smaller farms to cultivate.
This is a fine semantic dis¬tinction and a hope for the pre¬servation of semi-subsistence peasants under semi-subsis¬tence conditions!
In the process of trying to understand rural change, the author does not consider the factor of peasant mobilization, organization and struggle. For him the impersonal forces of economics determine every¬thing:
As the larger number of workers seek employment in agriculture and the larger quantity of labour is applied per unit of land area, the marginal productivity of labour will be reduced and the wage rate will be pushed down, provided that techno¬logy broadly defined as the production function relating output to inputs will remain constant.
The struggle of the labourers in Kerala to maintain and improve their wage levels and the results achieved by them demonstrate once again the limitations of Professor Hayami’s view of the agrarian situation.
Arvind N. Das is Fellow at Public Enterprises Centre for Continuing Educa-tion, Delhi, and author of Agrarian Relations in India.