For a Healthy Economic Order:
Think Indian, Act Indian
By MG Vaidya
There is unprecedented turmoil in the economies of the countries of the Western world. In USA, an agitation called ‘Occupy Wall Street’ is gaining strength day by day. It is also not limited to New York. It has spread to Oakland, San Francisco and Atlanta, too. In Oakland the police with tear gas shells were put into action to control the protesters. Wall Street is a centre of American Money Market, a hub of financial transactions of that so-called richest capitalist country. The situation in the countries of the European Union is no better; maybe worse. In Italy’s capital Rome, protesters turned violent; they ‘set cars alight and hurled rocks at the police’ reports the Economist. The situation in Greece is even more damaging. The Government, there, announced certain austerity measures and the people violently revolted against them. The army was called in. Taking into consideration the seriousness of the situation the European Union rushed to the help of the Greek government and offered a huge amount of monetary package.
The rage of the people is against the Capitalist system of economy that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. They say that the poor are paying for the sins of rich bankers. One of the protesters’ slogan is ‘the 1 per cent have gained at the expense of the 99 per cent.’ The whole Capitalist system is in doldrums. Just look at the figures of the unemployed workforce, below the age of 25. In USA, it is 17.1 per cent. Across the European Union, except probably Germany, Netherlands and Austria, it is 20.9 per cent. In Spain it is a staggering 46.2 per cent. The only conclusion is that Capitalism has failed.
It cannot be denied that Capitalist economy generates prosperity. But its distribution is uneven and imbalanced. To impress the people, GDP figures are prominently displayed. But these figures are deceptive. The average can be deceptive, is remarkably told by an anecdote which tells that a traveller not knowing how to swim, entered a river on the information that the average depth of the water is 3 feet only and got drowned, when he came to 6 feet deep water. So let us be wary about the GDP figures.
As an antidote to the ills of Capitalism, Socialism came on the stage. Socialism proclaimed that private ownership of the means of production and distribution is the root cause of all economic mischief. So, Socialism advocated socialisation of the means of production and distribution. Socialisation means, replacing the private ownership by social ownership. But society is an amorphous existence. So a way out was designed. The State or the Government should own those means. Various experiments of different hues were carried out in different parts of the world. But the most pervasive one was one that the USSR implemented. There, the government became the owner of all industries, of all trade, even of agriculture and all economic activities. This experiment was carried out with the full force of the State machinery, even, at times, with immense brutality. Those who opposed the government’s ruthless actions were either killed or sent into exile in the snowy deserts of Siberia. The whole world knows what the ultimate result was of this cruel obsession practised for 70 long years. The remedy of Socialism proved more harmful than the original malady of Capitalism. The world again turned to Capitalism. Now there are a few countries that still cling to the Socialist vocabulary but in practice adopt Capitalist roadmap.
For the welfare of the people we must abandon both these two extremes and devise a middle path. The individual should not be deprived of his capacity to initiate. He should have full opportunity for his resourcefulness. And at the same time, there should not be concentration of wealth in the hands of an individual or a group. And for devising such a system, you have to turn your attention to the ancient history of India.
Role of dharma
This path too will not absolve the government of its responsibility and contribution. The infra-structural industries as well as the defence production will be under government’s control. For the rest of the economic activities, its role shall be limited to giving directions, making rules, so that no group monopolises the wealth or ignores the social good. This is possible when economic activities are governed and directed by social morality. The ancient word to denote the principles of social morality is dharma.
It is misconception that the ancient Indians neglected the things of this world and that they were occupied only with otherworldly matters. Among the four Purusharthas one is artha, i.e. economic and political matters. The only condition is that this artha should be guided and controlled by dharma. Let us first understood that dharma is not a religion. At the best, religion is just a part of dharma not the whole dharma. Dharma is both material and spiritual. Vaisheshikas have defined dharma as Yato abhyudaya-nisshreyas siddhih sa dharmah. It means that which is a vehicle of this worldly prosperity and also of spiritual bliss is dharma. The Mahabharat also gives the same meaning in different words. It says dharanat dharma ityahuh, dharmo dharayate prajah—meaning it is called dharma because it sustains the world. Dharma maintains and sustains the people. As pointed out earlier artha includes both economics and politics. It is true that Kautilya’s Arthashastra a pioneering work by revered Chanakya, emphasises only the political angle. In all the 15 chapters and 150 sub-chapters, Kautilya only discusses the statecraft. But artha includes economics also. This artha must function within the boundaries of dharma. And it is the duty of the State to see that these limits are observed.
In ancient India, the system of four varnas was present. The caste-system is its offspring. It worked well for thousands of years. As soon as a child was born, his occupation was fixed. He followed the footsteps of his father. There was no employment problem. But now many a perversity has creeped into that system. It is no longer a workable economic system. It is extant just because of vote-bank politics. It should go lock, stock and barrel and that too as early as possible.
Wealth comes out of dharma
Indians, and to be specific Hindus are still cognizant of the basic nature of dharma. Their social and individual behaviour bears out this truth. In an interesting article titled- ‘Wealth Comes out of Dharma’, Shri Sandeep Singh gives interesting information. David Leonhardt wrote: ‘Your Religion, Your Financial Destiny? (New York Times May 11, 2011). In this article he says, “The economic differences among country’s various religions are strikingly large, much larger than the differences among States and even larger than those among racial groups.” The Pew Forum found in its survey that 65 per cent of Hindus made more than $75000 a year, compared with only 31 per cent of the population as a whole. The survey reflects the cultural traits of Hindus living in America:
1. 79 per cent of Hindus are married, highest among all religious groups.
2. 0 per cent Hindus are with ‘live in partners’, a phenomenon unique to Hindus only.
3. 5 per cent Hindus are divorced or separated, lowest among all religious groups.
The findings are not surprising at all. Among Hindus the smallest unit is not an individual but family. This naturally broadens his attitude towards life. This is exactly what dharma tells. If you join yourself with a larger unit, you are performing dharma. If you build a house for yourself it is no ‘dharma’. But if you construct a house for other people to live in, ‘dharmashala’ springs up. ‘Dharmashala’ is not a religious school. It is your dharma that gives you a larger identity.
In short, our concept of and adherence to dharma makes you conscious of your duty towards society and that helps create a healthy economic atmosphere, without curbing your enterprising skills and abilities.
(The writer can be contacted at [email protected])