Animal spirits
Wealth Insight|January 2022
If Indian farmers want to thrive, they should learn from the cat and not act like giant pandas
PUJA MEHRA

Outraged readers called Alan Beattie a “genocidal dictator” for his sensational view about giant pandas, the cuddly endangered species, in the book ‘False Economy’. But Beattie is not aiming to be taken seriously on wildlife. By writing shocking stuff about pandas, he seeks to illustrate how economies get stuck when old habits are not changed, even after they stop serving us.

Beattie rejects the exposition that pandas are in danger of extinction because their habitat was encroached by humans. He believes that these fuzzy giants became vulnerable as their food habits and anatomy did not evolve. Pandas’ diet, almost exclusively bamboo, is low on nutrients and limits habitat options. Further, pandas spend up to 16 hours a day chomping bamboo because their digestive tracts are short. This sort of incompetence and inefficiency ought to be disqualifications for public subsidies, Beattie writes, “Public subsidies to protect pandas should be ended even if it means that they will die out”.

He is impressed with the domestic cat. It is entrepreneurial; has demonstrated a “clearly defined yet flexible business plan”. Descended from wildcats, this savvy creature is solitary but adapts to living alongside humans. Cats spotted and filled a gap in the “market for rodent control services”, recognising humans can be “lucrative customers”. In urban settings, they captured a dominant market share in the high-growth domestic pet sector. Unsurprisingly, “unlike pandas, cats do not require any state subsidy to thrive”. To my mind, 10 Downing Street’s Chief Mouser (https://bbc.in/3ytEWHV) personifies perfectly the feline evolution Beattie writes so entertainingly about.

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