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  • How to live your life in a determined world: A philosophical guide.

    I believe that we do not have free will. Yet, I believe that this is both completely neutral and actively bad. This article explain this somewhat paradoxical position. To offer a hint: the term determinism describes not one but several concepts, that all have very different implications for how we should lead our lives. The goal of this piece is to disentangle two of these concepts, namely that of causal and that of structural determinism. I will show why I believe both of them to be true, compare their implications, and describe how to adequately respond to these very implications. A couple definitions, so you know where we’re starting from: Free will has many different definitions, of which I chose one: “An entity has free will if they could have chosen differently”. This condition is not already satisfied through having multiple options but necessitates a theoretical possibility of choosing something else. My definition is far from perfect, but I believe it suffices for the purposes of this essay. Causal determinism has been defined as “the idea that every event is necessitated by antecedent events and conditions together with the laws of nature” (see here). This view has gained increasing popularity in recent years, as our modern, rational world leaves arguably little room for something like free will. Structural determinism can be defined as the thought that society is fundamentally structured by systems of power that influence different groups differently and to some extent determine the range of possible outcomes in their lives. Unlike the individual focus of causal determinism, structural determinism adopts a macro-level stance, implying that for entire groups of people their life outcomes are determined. To sum it up shortly: According to causal determinism you are reading this article because the exact conditions of the big bang led you hear through an inescapable causal chain. According to structural determinism you are an engaged university student with a certain interest in philosophy and thus were very likely to read this article. What Concepts Do These Determinisms Describe? Why Believe In Them? Causal Determinism Causal determinism posits that every event, including human actions, is the inevitable result of preceding events and natural laws, creating a continuous chain of cause and effect. This perspective is deeply rooted in the empirical successes of the physical sciences. For instance, classical mechanics presents a universe governed by predictable laws, where objects follow specific paths determined by initial conditions. This scientific materialist lens which many people understand the world through, necessarily is a deterministic one. One may illustrate this type of deterministic view by the hypothetical scenario of rewinding time: if we were to turn back the clock to the universe’s inception, the idea is, the same set of laws and initial conditions would lead to an identical unfolding of events. Everything would have to be the exact same – else, at some point, we would find the causal chain broken. This thought experiment underscores what is meant by the belief that the laws of nature govern all phenomena, and why this leaves no room for events to occur differently. One common objection to determinism is the feeling of personal agency – “but I can do whatever I want.” Determinism contradicts this claim instead positing that this feeling is just an illusion because while one may act according to one’s desires, these desires are themselves shaped by a prior sequence of causes, i.e., “one can do what one wants, but not want what one wants”, to paraphrase Schopenhauer (quoted from here). I will illustrate this more at a later point. Should the reader take these arguments to be convincing, they must concede that the notion of free will is at least substantially undermined, if not an impossibility all together. Structural Determinism At the heart of structural determinism is the recognition of complex, often deeply ingrained systems of power and hierarchy that operate within societies. These systems – be they economic, legal, political, or cultural – create a framework within which individuals and groups interact. The nature of these interactions and the distribution of power and resources within these structures can profoundly influence life trajectories, shaping everything from educational opportunities to professional success, social mobility, and even health outcomes. One of the arguably most fundamental structures of our modern society is capitalism. It will partly be the angle of analysis in this essay. Capitalism, as an economic system, not only structures the distribution of resources and opportunities but also cultivates a specific culture that emphasises values such as competition, efficiency, and productivity. Yet capitalism does not maintain its influence solely through material and institutional control but also wields significant influence on the cultural and ideological levels, as argued by Antonio Gramsci. This process of “intellectual and moral leadership” is what he calls cultural hegemony (source). This influence manifests in the collective consciousness, subtly embedding the capitalist ethos as the natural order of things. The result is a societal landscape where values aligned with capitalist interests – such as relentless productivity, competition, and material success – are not only normalised but admired. The capitalist influence on culture transcends the boundaries of work, permeating various aspects of life and shaping the societal narrative about what is desirable, attainable, and worthwhile. It is this cultural aspect that I will focus on most. Structural determinism suggests that while individuals may make technically free choices, the context in which these choices are made is heavily influenced by overarching societal constructs. This does not imply that individual agency is non-existent, but rather that the agency is exercised within a set of possibilities that are pre-structured and often limited by these larger forces, including the pervasive cultural norms shaped by dominant economic systems like capitalism. For further reading on this, I would suggest looking up Foucault’s panopticon (I unfortunately have neither the space nor the expertise to go in-depth here). A simple analogy to make matters clear: Suppose you decide to save money in a bank account. Did you ever choose to want to save that money? A structural determinist might argue that one’s cultural and socio-economic background create such behaviours. Causal determinists would go further. After all, could you, if you so pleased, choose to want to waste it? And even if you could choose to want to waste it, you would have to want to want to do that. All choices, though felt as free, are ultimately the end product of a long causal chain of preceding events. Every effect must originate from a preceding cause – following the principle of causality*. This idea is crucial to the causal determinist position. *... if there was somehow no preceding cause, as some advocates for free will might assume, how could one then ever affect anything? What Does That Mean for Us? Causal determinism is neutral and removes agency. In the contemplation of determinism’s impact on our lives, it becomes essential to discern how these underlying forces shape our existence and the scope of our freedom. Causal determinism, by its nature, presents a neutral force in the universe. Being neutral means that causal determinism does not inherently guide human actions towards any particular end or value; it simply posits that every event is the result of preceding events in accordance with the laws of nature. This framework suggests that while our actions are determined, they are not predetermined by any teleological, purposeful force. This understanding allows for the pursuit of happiness within the deterministic framework. The previously introduced notion that one can still “do what one wants to” remains valid under causal determinism. This is because the perception of choice and the pursuit of desires are not negated by the deterministic nature of the universe; they are simply understood to be the result of prior causes. We can of course not save human agency and omit the already mentioned and quite impactful subclause attached to it (“... but not want what one wants”). Importantly, the introduction of determinism only challenges the notion of meaning if one presupposes that meaning is derived exclusively from unfettered agency. This notion is, however, quite an unusual one – most people would likely rather say the derive meaning from the pursuit of happiness. However, even if agency is deemed essential for meaning, the subjective experience of making choices and pursuing desires – the feeling of agency – remains intact; we still very much feel like we have control over what we are doing in life. So while causal determinism does take away agency, this does not have to inherently be a problem for us. Indeed, this control that the laws of nature have about us are not directed towards any direction. They are neither inherently harmful nor beneficial paths; rather, it presents life as an amazingly engaging movie, that makes us experience it as if we are active participants. This perception does not diminish the quality of our lives but is instead a neutral force. Structural determinism is not neutral (right now even harmful) but allows some agency. Contrastingly, structural determinism operates on a different plane, embodying a directional force that significantly influences our collective and individual lives. Unlike causal determinism, structural determinism does not strip away our agency in the straightforward manner of causal determinism. Instead, it channels our decisions and actions within a pre-defined framework of societal and systemic constraints. This structure is not neutral; it is imbued with the values, inequalities, and power dynamics of the systems that constitute it, such as capitalism. Let us examine this in detail. In structural determinism, individual agency remains intact, but it is exercised within a constrained set of possibilities. Thereby its main influence on agency happens on a macro level, shaping the actions of the collective and over a long period of time. While we might be initially relieved to hear that we can keep our individual agency, reality is much harsher. In contrast to the strong controlling grip of causal determinism, structural determinism has softer touch but indeed pushes us persistently toward direction. I believe this direction of structural determinism is currently a harmful one, especially within the capitalist framework. Capitalism, by design, encourages certain behaviours and lifestyles, pushing individuals towards relentless productivity and overwork (I wrote an article about this some time ago!). The system values economic success and material accumulation above all, often at the expense of personal well-being, societal health and community. Thus, the capitalist imperative drives us as a society toward a direction that is actively harmful to us. How Should We Deal With This? In navigating the complexities of determinism, our responses to causal and structural determinism must diverge to address the distinct challenges each presents. Acceptance and action become the dual paths forward, each tailored to the nature of the determinism we confront. Accepting Causal Determinism Causal determinism, rooted in the immutable laws of nature, dictates a course of acceptance. The inexorable chain of cause and effect that governs the universe leaves us with little choice but to acknowledge our position within it. This acceptance does not imply passivity or resignation but rather an acknowledgment of the reality that shapes our existence. As we “navigate” life’s complexities, understanding that our desires, choices, and actions are part of a larger causal chain may bring a form of peace. Thereby, it can make us feel freed from the burden of trying to assert an impossible autonomy against the fundamental laws of nature. This perspective aligns with Albert Camus’ exploration of absurdity in “The Myth of Sisyphus”. Camus argues that recognising the absurdity of seeking meaning in a meaningless world does not lead to despair, but rather to a liberated state of mind. In accepting causal determinism, we encounter a similar form of liberation. The absurdity here lies in mankind’s refusal to accept the all-encompassing natural order that surrounds us. Embracing the absurd, then, means accepting our place within this deterministic framework and finding meaning within the limitations it presents, much like Sisyphus finds resolve in his eternal task. Revolting Against the Current Structural Determinism Conversely, structural determinism presents a scenario where acceptance morphs into complacency, and action becomes necessary. The harmful effect of the capitalist system is not an inevitable outcome of human nature but a consequence of specific societal structures of governance; however, unlike the laws of nature that dictate our lives elsewhere, the structures that define our societies are mutable. They are the result of human actions, decisions, and they can be restructured to prioritise different values and outcomes. It follows that revolt is our duty. What is needed for that is a collective will to reimagine and reconstruct the societal frameworks that bind us. It is not just about resisting or reforming certain aspects of the system; it is about envisioning and working towards a fundamentally different society that prioritises human welfare and nature over economic gain. How exactly such a society would look like and whether it can forcefully be acquired or must be the result of a process of evolution (or indeed is unattainable at all) these are questions part of a different debate. It rests with me to solely emphasises our collective ability of evoking change. For the individual structural revolt is not the only hope. As agency, as earlier explained, stays intact on the individual level, we can aim to free us from the structural influence of capitalism, at least to the extent that this is theoretically possible. Capitalisms influence is manifold. For one, it affects the economic opportunities of different groups to flourish in life. This is to some extent “a hard fact” which individual from such a group cannot feasibly escape from. Other effects are more cultural though. They shape the choices we make, the types of desires we have, and thereby also the lives we live. These cultural binds of capitalism are not less powerful than the economic ones, but they are more within our realm of influence. We can do so by first questioning the origins of our desires and then evaluating which are healthy and which are not. Of course, causal determinism restricts who will ever truly want to (want to, want to, ...) free themselves from these binds, yet a reader of this essay might have relatively decent chances to be on the right path. Conclusion It would be ironic, were I to end this piece with a call to action; a call about “freeing yourself from the capitalist chains that bind you”. Though it may be epic, it would also no doubt be foolish. Of course, in a very real sense this text (like any other entity, be it even the most insignificant) will necessarily shape the world. One might think that, therefore, I would very well be in the right, was I to attempt and persuade the reader. After all, even if our actions (including the writing of this text) are predetermined, a text that was predetermined to be very persuasive would indeed still be very persuasive, even if the reader never choses to be persuaded. Having now almost finished writing it, I hope this rather abstract and unusual conclusion is indeed a persuasive one. If only one reader were to believe my argument, critically examine their life, and alter this life’s path to its always predestined path (on the way, maybe even tell another person about it) – if only one reader were to do so – then this might indeed result in collective action that changes the world. “Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias.” (Oscar Wilde in "The Soul of Man")

  • A Hollywood Story

    How the requirements of profit shaped 2023 for the film industry. Hollywood Sign; Source: Pexels The multi-billion dollar film industry encompasses a wide range of services, genres and firms. From indie horror to blockbuster action, audiences flock to the big screen to experience the magic. Unfortunately, malcontent seems to be brewing amongst the masses, and Disney’s unsuccessful 2023 releases stand as a prime example (i.e. The Marvels, Wish, Ant Man: Quantumania). But, 2023 also witnessed Barbie and Oppenheimer jointly destroy box office records and Everything Everywhere All At Once sweep the Academy Awards. Amid worker strikes and streaming wars, major Hollywood studios have forgotten the core values of cinema: creativity, innovation and boldness. While independent production studios akin to A24 meteorically step into the limelight, corporations envision movies as products instead of art. Film, as an art form, sits deeply within the roots of modern culture. Actors and directors garner fame and attention, enormous crowds converge to Hollywood amusement parks, millions of toys sell yearly, and catchy quotes become ingrained in topical memes. The over $100b global industry today presents multifaceted categories and subgenres, ranging from teen comedies and superhero flicks to Japanese animation and Korean dramas. With limitless imaginative potential, movies possess the power to stimulate any emotion. Unfortunately, corporate cinema currently prioritizes generic profit-making crowd-pleasers over projects with a unique and innovative vision. While the ‘90s saw the rise of independent auteur cinema (such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction or the Coen brothers’ Fargo), and the 2000s witnessed the reach of Hollywood A-list stars (i.e. Will Smith and Tom Cruise), corporate big budgets dominated the 2010s. Movie franchises, meticulously planned to tell an interconnected story, drew large audiences to the theaters and became a cultural macro-phenomenon. Major film studios such as Warner Brothers and Sony earned great profits as they released sequels, prequels and spin-offs. And at the top of the hierarchy stood Disney. Namely, in 2019, the company released seven movies that grossed over $1b at the box office. However, audiences’ taste is mutating and Hollywood has yet to take notice. Disney’s 2019 Releases; Source: Box Office Mojo In fact, while Disney celebrated 100 years since its inception, 2023 saw seven of the company’s theatrical releases significantly underperform at the box office. Whether it was the latest Marvel release, the unnecessary Indiana Jones sequel or an unwanted live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, Disney’s releases struggled to capture large audiences. Moreover, other Hollywood studios also experienced underwhelming box office performances: The Flash and Blue Beetle from Warner Brothers and Paramount’s Mission Impossible 7 all fell short of initial projections. Entertainment corporations have lost their Midas touch. As corporate cinema grows increasingly formulaic and unimaginative, today’s fatigued audiences select movies with greater skepticism and cautiousness. Streaming platforms, social media and rising ticket prices have greatly impacted the infrastructure of the film industry. The current landscape of cinema presents large corporations with endless obstacles (i.e. social media reception, streaming alternatives, inflated budgets), whilst offering great upside potential to smaller projects. During 2023, the film industry underwent magnificent highs and disastrous lows. A wacky independent action comedy about taxes and parallel universes swept the Academy Awards. WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes lasted for months whilst negotiations with major Hollywood studios occurred. Two movies at complete ends of the cinematic spectrum shared the spotlight, dominating the media cycle. Disney celebrated a bitter centenary. By analyzing last year’s salient movies, a clear picture of the current state of cinema emerges. Creative dynamics within Hollywood are shifting. How can Disney and other major Hollywood studios adapt to changing standards and reclaim cultural importance? The Fallen Titan The Walt Disney Company holds both timeless classics and modern favorites amongst its catalog of intellectual properties. For decades, the industry titan has dominated popular culture with acclaimed masterpieces such as The Lion King and Tarzan, and beloved blockbusters, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Avengers. Furthermore, a history of smart acquisitions allowed the company to remain relevant through continuous renewal (Pixar, Lucasfilm, Hulu, Fox, Marvel). Sadly, in 2023, the tide has turned: Disney relinquished its crown on global box office market share for the first time since 2016, failed to release a $1b movie for the first time since 2014, closed its state-of-the-art $250 million Star Wars Hotel, and lost 7% of total Disney+ subscribers. Goliath has become David due to extravagant spending, mistaking audience demands, and a myopic release policy. Amongst last year’s failures, none shine brighter than Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Disney’s latest Indiana Jones sequel starkly contrasts the glory of the original 80s trilogy, aptly illustrating the media giant’s current hardships. The Indiana Jones franchise holds great significance in Hollywood history. Raiders of the Lost Ark, an exciting entry in the early wave of 70s and 80s blockbusters, became the highest-grossing film of 1981. With the legendary Steven Spielberg directing and the visionary George Lucas writing and producing, the movie captured audiences and convinced critics. Such success spurred the development of a trilogy, which expanded on the accomplishments of the first installment, garnering fame and praise. The exciting action setpieces, charismatic performances, globetrotting stories and beautiful score cemented the trilogy as beloved classics. Indiana Jones 5 Promotional Image; Source: The Walt Disney Company Today, the franchise includes two further entries, but much has changed. Before the 2012 Disney-Lucasfilm acquisition, a 2008 reboot failed to depart. Additionally, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the latest release, greatly underperformed at the box office ($380 million gross on a budget of roughly $400 million) and left fans dissatisfied. Without the Spielberg-Lucas duo leading the project, the movie stands out as uninspired and unnecessary. Lead actor Harrison Ford appears tired and disinterested. New cast members (and therefore characters), such as Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller Bridge, failed to appease audiences. Overall, Disney committed the same mistake Lucasfilm did 15 years prior: reopening the franchise without any basis other than profit. In an industry that increasingly views movies as products, corporations are recycling material instead of searching for the next great sensation. Fortunately, the oversaturated and played-out stories that have dominated the industry for the past decade are being rejected and abandoned now. The culture of remakes and reboots, of endlessly mining the same properties for more cash, seems to have finally hit creative bedrock. In fact, when major Hollywood studios bring fresh stories to light, mainstream audiences appreciate the novelty. Obviously, an original story must intersect with compelling screenwriting and breathtaking cinematography to pack theaters. The 2023 summer window had just that. Atomic Barbie The 21st of July 2023, lightning struck twice. Two colossal projects finally hit theaters globally. The tale of Barbie and Oppenheimer is one of similarities within differences. While diametrically opposite at first glance, beneath the surface lie the commonalities that defined their successes. Both helmed by visionary creatives, Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan, the two movies dominated the media cycle, critical reception and audiences. Where does Barbenheimer’s triumph originate? A feminist satirical comedy and an explosive historical biopic united to become the fourth-largest aggregate domestic box office weekend ever. How it happened: Universal and Warner Brothers offered talented creatives the opportunity and backing to craft art. Furthermore, the two corporations gave creative control to the individuals involved. Instead of interfering to obtain safe and canonical output, executives accepted risk and uncertainty. Given such resources, Greta Gerwig and Christopher Nolan produced masterful pictures unafraid to express engaging stories. Every individual involved, ranging from editors and producers to cinematographers and musicians, longed for a distinct art piece. Predictably, the care and passion that permeated both projects resonated with audiences. As Oppenheimer and Barbie gear up for the awards season red carpet, Hollywood must realize how special this duo really is. Barbenheimer Poster; Source: Sean Longmore Two lessons for Hollywood emerge from the spoils of Barbenheimer. Firstly, Barbie definitively proved that women will show up in massive numbers to movies actually marketed towards them. Instead of Hollywood’s standard approach of awkwardly retooling traditionally male franchises in a lazy attempt to appeal to both genders, stories made by women for women will pack theaters comfortably. The film industry has ignored such an extremely large and impactful demographic (women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchases in the United States) for too long. Secondly, the complexity of audiences’ taste and trends cannot be understood. Barbenheimer dominated popular culture for months before and after its release. The raw power of organic social media word of mouth vastly outmatches even the most aggressive marketing campaign. The competition between Barbie and Oppenheimer, dressing up for either, the double feature cinema day, the memes that permeated Instagram and TikTok, such simple pleasures remind us why cinema belongs to the audience. The Challenges Of Success The ideal trajectory for most successful directors consists of an inexpensive start, a bold mid-budget stretch, and, lastly, the prestige of high-priced production. The limitations of small budgets stimulate talent’s ingenuity, whilst the freedom of big budgets offer an endless stream of possibilities (and dangers). Extremely popular director-writers such as Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan or Greta Gerwig, having proven their ability to combine box office success with critical acclaim, need not worry about funding. Major Hollywood studios, having realized the upshot potential for projects with colossal backing (see also: Avatar, Avengers, Top Gun: Maverick), are frothing at the mouth for spending opportunities. But money does not guarantee success. Director-writers Ari Aster and Robert Eggers constitute two of the leading voices in horror dramas. The two rising stars spawned strong, albeit small, fanbases with their debuts: Aster’s Hereditary and Eggers’ The Witch established the creatives as distinct directors with strong vision. Both movies are terrifying and well written, entwined with brilliant performances. Subsequently, Aster’s and Eggers’ sophomore projects, Midsommar and The Lighthouse respectively, solidified the pair’s permanence and recognition. Naturally, after low-budget box office successes, greater finances awaited the pair. Robert Eggers teamed up with Focus Features, a division of NBCUniversal, for his latest project. This consisted of Eggers’ first experience working with a major studio, now finally working with a large production budget (estimated $70 million). The Northman, an epic historical thriller, depicts a viking prince’s quest to avenge the murder of his father. Unfortunately, despite a star-studded cast (which includes Willem Dafoe, Anya-Taylor Joy, Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke) and a strong marketing campaign, the film proved too offbeat for mainstream audiences. Barely reaching its breakeven point of $70 million, the release did not conform to studio expectations. Considering the project faced the tough reality of 2022’s slow post-COVID-19 ticket sales recovery, NBCUniversal will hopefully undertake similar productions in the future. The Northman Poster; Source: Focus Features Different was the fate of Ari Aster’s 2023 release, Beau Is Afraid. Working for the third time with A24, a rising independent production company, Aster received his biggest production budget to date. The surrealist tragicomedy horror film portrays Joaquin Phoenix, starring as the title character, on a weird journey to find his mother. Despite Aster’s prestigious reputation after Hereditary and Midsommar, the film failed to find its audience, grossing only $11 million on a $35 million budget. Poor marketing, an excessively freakish plot or the usual box office difficulties of the horror genre all contributed to the film’s hapless release. May Ari Aster bounce back with another gem. Beau Is Afraid; Source: A24 Although both directors failed to meet box office expectations when given their first large budget, Hollywood must remain trustful of ambitious directors with unusual styles. The films were financially unsuccessful, but the preceding decisions were sound. In a buyers market such as the film industry, not all releases can succeed at the box office. Big and small productions alike are vulnerable to Hollywood’s greatest mystery: audiences’ taste. The financial ruin of a box office flop has frightened major studios into risk avoidance. Safe and formulaic completely oppose the artmaking core of cinema. Sterilizing the artform to obtain profit will only alienate audiences further. The End When movies simply stand as products, major Hollywood studios will tend to streamline and standardize the film-making process. Disney has become a factory when it should be operating as an art gallery. Unfortunately, Hollywood remains a business, bound by the financial requirements of the industry. Profit is and always will be the end goal for major studios. Such an expensive artform must face the tough reality of ticket sales and streaming views. But it is the only way: how else can we experience the colossal productions of Dune: Part Two or Avatar: The Way Of Water? Nevertheless, quality and profit can marry when funds operate under passionate and dedicated leadership. Corporate cinema need not perform poorly, uninspired recycling is responsible for recent box office flops. Human ingenuity and creativity can conquer everything, may Hollywood offer them their deserved space.

  • The (Indian) Elephant in the Room: India’s Economic Dilemma and the Looming General Elections

    As the world’s largest democracy celebrates the building of the much-awaited yet controversial Lord Ram temple, where once the Babri Masjid stood. The controversy sparked from the demolition of the mosque by a mob in 1992 stating that the mosque was built over the birthplace of Lord Ram. The prevailing Hindu nationalist government, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks forward to another election in the upcoming months that will shape the country’s future alongside their own. Most Indian citizens have been positively influenced by the government’s decision to inaugurate the decade-long pledged temple weeks before the general elections, given that 79.8% of India’s population identifies as Hindu. However, while the emotionally appealing ruling government expects to retain its power in the coming elections, it is imperative to address the elephant in the room: India’s Economic Dilemma. As the nation prepares to cast its vote, the state of the economy emerges as a critical factor that could influence the electoral outcome. The Economic Dilemma The economic dilemma that India faces is a fairly convoluted one with various factors at play. While the country has been the fastest-growing economy in the world, the citizens of India also grapple with high unemployment rates, rising levels of inflation and income inequality. In addition, the fiscal deficit of India, though lower than the set target of 5.9% in FY2023-24, continues to be a pressing issue. Moving forward, policymakers need to be careful in finding the correct balance between mediating these important issues and ensuring the continued growth of the economy. Unemployment Unemployment in India currently stands at 8.65%, as of December 2023, with a labour participation rate of merely 42.4%. Being the world’s most populous nation, an unemployment rate of 8.65% results in severe consequences. Not only does it negatively affect national consumer spending and decrease consumer purchasing power along with low-income levels, but it also propels crimes and social unrest. Moreover, India is a country with the highest youth population in the world and yet has a 17.9% rate of unemployment in people aged 15-24, illustrating an unbridled under-utilisation of resources. Besides youth, women’s participation in employment lies just under 33%, denoting a wide gender gap in the economy. Unemployment saw a steep incline due to the The COVID-19 Pandemic is not the sole cause of such high numbers. There have been major attempts at changes in government policy, including the demonetisation to tackle black money in 2016 and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax to implement a centralised tax rate in 2017 that have significantly impacted the unemployment rate in India, both negatively and positively. These decisions of the ruling government in their first term shocked millions but still somehow managed to make a landslide victory in the general elections of 2019. The issue remains a criticism for the Modi government today as they are being blamed for not creating enough jobs. Income Inequality Income Inequality in India is another aspect of the country’s economic dilemma. The widening gap between the rich and the poor poses an issue of social instability and results in lower levels of happiness. While the country has seen significant economic growth and prosperity, the benefits have not been evenly distributed. The top 10% of the population holds a significant portion of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 40% struggles to make ends meet. India ranks 111th out of 125 countries in the Global Hunger Index with its progress against hunger nearly being halted since 2015. With a poverty rate of 21.90%, India struggles to lift a substantial portion of its population out of poverty. as they are trapped in a vicious cycle resulting from low incomes. In recent times, according to India’s consumer survey, the richest 20% of India’s population have seen a rise in their household incomes while the poorest 20% have seen a steeper fall in their incomes. This difficulty of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer continues to be stubborn. Fiscal Deficit The fiscal deficit refers to the amount by which a government’s spending exceeds its revenue as a proportion of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the ruling government not only managed to meet the target of 5.9% but also reduced it further to 5.8%, the deficit remains sufficiently higher than the prescribed 3% in the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act 2003. However, this value seems to be fairly difficult to achieve since it has only last been achieved in the 2007-8 period. It is also vital to acknowledge the pandemic which required substantial spending to boost economic growth. The most recent available data from the World Bank reveals that around 19.4% of the Indian Government’s expenses are paid in the form of interest. However, as the country is a rapidly developing economy, higher public debt is expected and interest payments are likely. In addition, the existence of significant income inequality makes maintaining a balance on the fiscal accounts more difficult, provided that less than 5% of India’s population pays income tax. The government is, on paper at least, working towards uplifting the rural areas and providing them with a source of income with increased skills. Managing the fiscal deficit is a delicate task for policymakers. Striking the right balance between economic growth, social welfare, and fiscal responsibility is essential for India’s long-term stability. Inflation The inflation rate in India, as the article is being written, has been easing for three months and was recorded at a value of 5.09% in January 2024. Considering the current government regime, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation has averaged 5.8%. While this figure is slightly higher than the 4% target set by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), reflects the delicate balance policymakers must strike between economic growth and price stability. Food prices in particular, however, have seen a persistent rise with a 9.5% hike nationally, exacerbating the difficulties faced by the average Indian citizen by eroding the value of money. This inflationary pressure on food prices is further aggravated by supply chain disruptions and climate change impacts which have led to crop failures and increased the cost of agricultural inputs. The government’s efforts to mitigate these effects through various policy measures such as increasing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for crops and implementing food subsidy programs have had limited success due to implementation challenges and other fiscal constraints. The Road Ahead Despite these challenges, it is important to highlight the persistence of the country to move towards a developed nation. While the upcoming elections add a layer of complexity to the economic issue at large, it is also credible that the government did not take any populist measures to influence voters in the recently released interim budget. This might partly be a demonstration of their confidence to win the approaching polls. Moreover, the religious appeal of the ruling government adds to their popularity among certain sections of the demography. To conclude, the Indian economic dilemma is an intricate play of rapid economic growth and other instabilities relating to the improvement in the quality of life of the standard Indian household. The votes of only these households and individuals will not only ascertain the immediate economic path of India but also its course into the distant future. The correct push of a button will determine the prosperity of the world’s fastest-growing economy with the hope that the elected leaders will navigate through this economic dilemma and address the elephant in the room. The stakes are high and the world watches as Indians vote to carve out their economic destiny.

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