A few years ago I traveled with the Brazilian film director, Hector Babenco outside of Rio to a gated community to visit a cinematographer. We had to go through two layers of gun toting security guards past razor-wire topped 15 foot concrete walls to arrive in the relative tranquility of a walled city. Just outside the walls was a favella of tin shacks with 100,000 slum dwellers ruled by local drug lords. This morning the Times tells the story of similar walled cities going up all over India, where the chauffeurs and the maids live just outside the walls in hovels with no running water.
India has always had its upper classes, as well as legions of the world’s very poor. But today a landscape dotted with Hamilton Courts, pressed up against the slums that serve them, has underscored more than ever the stark gulf between those worlds, raising uncomfortable questions for a democratically elected government about whether India can enable all its citizens to scale the golden ladders of the new economy.
“Women and children are not encouraged to go outside,” said Madan Mohan Bhalla, president of the Hamilton Court Resident Welfare Association. “If they want to have a walk, they can walk inside. It’s a different world outside the gate.”
It does seem to me that our discussion of Laissez Faire Capitalism in the last couple of weeks needs to take into account of what happens when the wealthy totally opt out of the public sphere and the “social contract” for the sake of a private protected city behind walls. I worry about rising inequality in America–about an underclass that has no stake in the society and no real hope of advancement because they are imprisoned in the kind of schools Hugo rails against. The ultimate trajectory of that sort of society can be seen today in Rio and Bangalore. As I drive up to my house every day I pass by two gated communities, with armed security guards. I know we are not in Bangalore–but we need to make sure we are not headed in that direction.