Monday, October 18, 2010
I am reading two books concurrently. Two books - that have opened my eyes and mind to two diametrically opposite perspective.
Arundhati Roy’s, ‘An ordinary persons guide to empire’ and Gurcharan Das’s ‘India unbound’. I started reading Roy’ s book and before I finished it, I picked up the other. And I am glad I did that. On reading Roy, I was exposed to a socialist concern. Using the ‘the people’s agitation against big dams as a lens, Arundhati Roy throws light on the phenomenon of empire -The neo liberal colonialism and the harmful affects of consumerism where the people are pawns in front of the government and the administration in turn are pawns to the strong corporations. On the other hand, Gurcharans Das’s work is a semi autobiographical journey thru’ the history of India right to the present day from an economist’s point of view.
The extreme views that the two brilliant writers have thrown light on at times seem to negate each other. Here are few lines that I quote from the respective books to bring out their contrary opinion on free market.
In a country like India , the structural adjustment end of the corporate globalisation project is ripping thru peoples lives. Development projects massive privatisation and labour reforms are pushing people off their lands and out of their jobs resulting in a kind of barbaric dispossession that had few parallels in history...Across the world as the free market brazenly protects western markets and forces developing countries to lift their trade barriers, the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer....
Modern democracies have been around for long enough for neo liberal capitalists to learn how to subvert them.... Fifteen years ago(1990’s) the corrupt centralised Indian state was too grand too top heavy and too far away for its poor to have access to it – to it institutions of education, of health, water supply, electricity... today the project of corporate globalisation has increased the distance between those who take the decisions and those who must suffer them even more....
It was... the congress party that first opened India’s market to corporate globalization. It passed legislation that encouraged the privatisation of water and power, the dismantling of the public sector and the denationalisation of public companies. It enforced cutbacks in government spending on education and health and weakened labour laws that protected workers’ rights...
India has recently emerged as a vibrant free-market democracy after the economic reforms in1991. And it has begun to flex its muscles in the global information economy. The old centralised bureaucratic state ...killed our industrial revolution at birth... In stubbornly persisting with the wrong model of development (esp. after the 1970...) they suppressed growth and jobs and denied people an opportunity to rise above poverty. The irony is that in the name of the poor they refused to change course. The worst indictment of Indian socialism is that in the end it did very little for the poor.... but the rulers shackled the energies of the people by adopting a socialist economic path that led us to a dead end. Indian’s won their economic independence only after 1991... India embraced democracy before capitalism.
I am confused as probably you are too. I haven’t finished reading either books as I try and unravel the two view points. In theory, both of them make sense. Roy puts the blame squarely on the free market and the neo liberalist capitalism as she refers to it for the plight of the poor today. But she doesn’t explain why the government before the neo liberalism couldn’t eradicate poverty when Indian market was dominated buy public sector enterprises. In fact as Das points out, the bureaucracy on the post independence administration was corrupt to the core. On the other hand, Das puts the blame on the socialist approach of the early government for the hugely undeveloped population while comparing the economy of Japan and China that began the race to prosperity at about the same time. But he doesn’t address the issue of the poorest of the poor today who are being sacrificed on the altar of progress.
I now have a more balanced opinion on the issue. Economic prosperity is important to make all the policies that can hep the poor. The poor must be given equal opportunities to help grow and rise above their economic status. Spoon feeding the poor with dole in the name of socialism isn’t the answer. Empowerment of the poor, is. And that can only come by education. Closing the markets for private sector is not the answer. It’s more important to create an atmosphere of healthy competition where the public sector is not patronised but competes on equal terms. We don’t have to shun the foreign brands to uplift the local industries. Instead, encourage them to raise their standards. Again, there is no need to chase after foreign products when an equally good local brand is available in the market. Ask for superior service and products and you will get it.
Reading the two books have been insightful but more importantly, they have taught me an important lesson. There are two sides to a coin. Do not form an opinion without having heard the other side of the argument. The truth, as it is said...lies in the middle.