I was really surprised the other day when I heard one of these self-described Indian yuppie friends describe her political views as "fiscally conservative, socially liberal." Now at least this is a step forward from the typical Indian opportunism that you see among middle class children of trade liberalization (serving one of these global banks, hedge funds, or knowledge production houses), who usually describe themselves as "apolitical." But, what really is this "fiscally conservative, social liberal" label and what purposes does it serve?
So let's begin with the classification "fiscally conservative." In simple words, a fiscally conervative worldview is one that favors privatization, trade liberalization, minimization of subsidies for the poor, and removal of social securities. Its proponents ranging from Ayn Rand to Milton Friedman, fiscal conservatism is rooted in the worldview that offering social securities to the poor makes them lazy, and instead, the emphasis should be on supporting private industry, which in turn, can generate enough employment to move the economy forward and to tricke down the benefits to the poor. So coming back to these simple Indian yuppies, with an IIT and an IIM education, with a cushy job in a hedge fund and a superficial introduction into political-economic theory through pop culture readings of Ayn Rand, being fiscally conservative works out as an advantage to justify economic opportunism, narcissitic accumulation of wealth, and the expenditure of this wealth in the form of the LV, the Burberry, and the Merck (which of course she rightly deserves). Essential to this fiscal conservatism then, is a worldview that "I am better than those who are poor, and hence I have earned the wealth." The poor emerge in the mindscape of the yuppie as a lazy and uncultured homogene, lacking in agency and the willpower to do anything. Even more, the poor are responsible for the fate they have to face. I remember, after the financial crisis hit the roofs, one of these yuppies telling me that the crisis had all to do with people who didn't deserve to buy homes ending up buying homes (what amazed me at that point was the fact that he conveniently forgot to mention his bonuses and salary raises, i.e. the stolen money, that got us here). As I read the concept of fiscal conservatism envisioned by Indian yuppies, it really boils down to a worldview that is intrinsically personal, a worldview that justifies the personal accumulation of wealth, accompanied by a deeply-felt derision for the poor (what is amazing to me is that some of these yuppies themselves grew up lower middle class and now blame the lower and poorer classes for all the major problems).
Now what is this socially liberal thing all about? Once again, to understand the social liberalism of the yuppies, we have to take a look into the personal lifestyles they live and the social choices that accompany these lifestyles. So for the yuppies, social liberalism is about alcohol consumption at unhealthy levels, watching an occassional arty movie at an indy art house (so one could appear intellectual), clubbing in Manhattan pubs (the Indian yuppie has arrived!), and mimicking many of the aspects of Western culture that appear to be "cool" or "in." Being socially liberal for the yuppie is about appearing to be intellectually engaged. Like their Idol Bill Gates, being socially liberal is also about supporting the next micro-credit program in say some village of Bihar. Being socially liberal is about working on the "thick" Indian accent so that one can do away with it and sound "American" (at the same time, making fun of others about their "thick" Indian accents). Social liberalism then is once again a brand identity that communicates finesse, sophistication and marketability in the "free market."
When you combine the two different identifiers, we now have a label that is pretty attractive in the story it tells. The combination "fiscally conservative, socially liberal" then is ultimately about a specific brand identity that is fairly vacuous in its ethical foundations, and simultaneously packages the "intellectually engaged yuppy" for the global free market. It is ultimately about justifying the economic narcissism of an entire class of Indians whose very packaging is based on the erasure and denigration of the poor.