Clash of our pillar beliefs?


It is early days yet of the twenty first century. And while we look forward with hope to human development and new fangled wonders that the future would bring, we also remain rooted to our pillar beliefs which have stood us in good stead. So what are these beliefs?

Pillar belief one: Capitalism remains the panacea for economic development. Capitalism fosters and aligns with Man’s inherent nature to create and innovate for his own benefit.It thus spawns and rewards entrepreneurs. As economic activity expands, so does work and jobs. We hold the belief that Capitalism leads to pulling up of the lower economic strata by the shoe laces. Through more employment and “trickle down” distribution of wealth.

Pillar belief two: Technology facilitates economic development through higher productivity and process efficiency. History has shown that while in the short term, technology may take over repetitive work and jobs, it ends up creating more jobs requiring different and higher competences.

 Though mutually exclusive, both Capitalism and Technology collaborated towards job and wealth creations throughout human society. Until yesterday………..

So what has changed? For the first time in history, technology has evolved to a self sustaining state where it now is able to create wealth without creating jobs. At a subterranean level, technology is clicking and whirring away as it takes care of vast tracts of economic activity 24X7. So today, wealth creation may no longer be an issue but wealth distribution sure is.

Is this a malaise? If it is, symptoms of it are everywhere. As wealth gets created, it gets aggrandized by the CEOs and leaders who envision implementing of technology and cutting of jobs and costs. And so under the protective umbrella of capitalism, we are witness to those huge bonuses and golden parachutes for business honchos and top bankers while “We the 99%” need to make do with largely stagnant pay packets.

Do we realise that Capitalism, the Ayn Rand propagated 20th century pillar belief, possibly for the first time, is no longer “pulling up the lower economic strata by the shoe laces”? On the contrary, it is taking the refuge of technology to increase disparities between the Haves and Have-nots.

A clash of our long held beliefs?

So how do we ensure an equitable distribution of wealth? And how do we do this so that the intrinsic quality of life continues to improve, the initiative taking and creative abilities continue to flower? Frankly I do not profess to have an answer. But I can envision some broad directions and perspective shifts that may be needed.

Can we afford to be purists and let Capitalism and Technology be absolute? And what are these purist beliefs?

  • That “Governments need to adopt a laissez faire stance in economics and commerce”.
  • That “all subsidies need to be frowned upon”.
  • That “cloning of technology in different parts of the world is the fastest route to development”.

But as we start thinking of these, do we not spot inherent contradictions within each of these that could self destruct the entire system?

With the turning screw of time, synergies can turn contrarian as we have witnessed above. And as we shift our perspective away from what we have been conditioned to believe, what could remain the bedrock for anchoring our purpose? Could we achieve this by fostering core values? Values such as   Sharing, Caring, Truth, Service to others and Sustainability?

“Predatory capitalism created a complex industrial system and an advanced technology; it permitted a considerable extension of democratic practice and fostered certain liberal values, but within limits that are now being pressed and must be overcome. It is not a fit system for this century.”

NOAM CHOMSKY

                                                                                                                       **************

In   Learning……………..                                                                       Shakti Ghosal

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12 thoughts on “Clash of our pillar beliefs?

  1. Pingback: Coming of the Second Wave | ESGEE musings

  2. I take this opportunity to include here a very comprehensive comment on the blog made by a reader in another forum.

    Dear Shakti and Naga,

    Ensconced temporarily in Singapore, and with some of that increasingly rare commodity called spare time on my hands, thanks to two consecutive public holidays, I have had the opportunity to reflect on Shakti’s stimulating blog and Naga’s response.

    Watching the milling crowds on Orchard Road yesterday, the day of Christmas, with hordes of people literally falling over each other, each trying — with varying degrees of desperation — to drum up a “good time”, one was enabled to view — in a relatively detached and dispassionate manner — the increasing sense of identification of consumption as an indicator of human happiness. Little kids, scarcely out of the pacifier age, clutching outsize iPads; precocious teens and tweens furiously texting and whispering sweet nothings into smartphones; toddlers tugging at parental fingers cajoling and wheedling their parents into parting with their hard earned moolah on the new toy or trinket that the kid next door has just acquired; old people doddering and jostling their way through overcrowded aisles in overcrowded stores in packed-to-capacity malls; corpulent middle aged people thronging the food-stalls and restaurants and gorging on fatty and coronary artery-clogging goodies; the young studs roarin past in their Ferraris and Lamborghinis, all bore eloquent testimony to the siren call of consumerism that has lured us all like moths drawn to a flame.

    While I belong to the generation which has straddled the pre-gadget and gizmo era as well as the current age of micro-chip enabled utopia, I find myself increasingly troubled by the growing gap between need and greed, between the materially and digitally deprived huddled masses and our own hyper-consumerism.

    Yet in my humble opinion, any amount of exhortation to go back to the spiritual value system enshrined in our Upanishads and other religious texts and scriptures appears futile. We are so deeply embroiled in the daily grind, and yoked as we are to our ceaseless quest for more and more of everything material, like the proverbial “kolhu ka bael”; we have no respite from chasing our own tails, and hankering after the elusive trappings of “success”.

    The fact remains that the world has seen hitherto unimagined prosperity levels only in the past half century or so — a mere twinkling of an eye in terms of the march of history. Without technological advancement, we would still have been yoked to the drudgery of back-breaking manual labour and would scarcely have evolved beyond the caveman stage. Still, the pace of technological progress since the 1960’s has been so mind-numbingly rapid, that it has outstripped mankind’s capacity to adapt, and much of the present turmoil is the resultant of this.

    Shakti has made the telling point that increasingly, technology has led to wealth creation getting divorced from human labour, and hence the paradox of “jobless economic recovery”, which is unlikely to be reversed in a hurry. Moreover, the laissez faire policy prescriptions of classical capitalism have led to a skewing of the relative imputed value of different areas of labour. One perverse outcome has been the insanely large appropriation of wealth by the fund managers who create nothing, but whose adept manipulation of figures, and playing and risk-taking with other people’s money, has been rewarded so disproportionately. Another has been the humongous gains made by the corrupt and the unscrupulous people in positions of power, who have parlayed that power purely for personal gain.

    Let us be get real. There is no setting the clock back. Also, quaint notions of a Luddite reaction which would demolish the technological framework that our lives are so intertwined with, are hardly realistic. The Marxist-Leninist prescriptions of a socialist utopia have failed, and are unlikely to be resurrected.

    The need of the hour is to re-balance public policy and find a mean which adopts the best features of capitalism blended with a more humanist approach. I like to use the term compassionate capitalism.

    Yet there are some portents that call for cautious optimism.

    (1)The inevitable outcome of some of the excesses has been the spontaneous combustion of anger on the part of the aam aadmi, which is manifesting itself globally. The Arab Spring, London riots, Occupy Wall Street, our own homegrown Anna movement, and many others, are all born out of growing collective angst. Whether this leads to a lasting policy change remains to be tested, but the signs are that the cosy status quo is unlikely to sustain.

    (2)A reallisation that sustainability of the current development model is to be doubted is growing. While, whether the post-Kyoto convulsions experienced in Durban will lead to concrete public policy changes and outcomes may be debatable, the likelihood that inaction will lead to everyone getting choked and poisoned by pollutants, in addition to getting broiled if not fried, or alternatively, if you are a denizen of the coastal areas, drowned, and that too in the not-so-distant future, is likely to concentrate minds. Hopefully, this will encourage a less consumption level oriented paradigm of development.

    (3)A growing clamour and demand for development over caste and identity politics, though glacial in pace, is evident. Hopefully this will eventually result in better governance. (A caveat: that is if a “strong Lokpal”, while ensuring that hafta and baksheesh is eliminated, does not so terrify even the honest and efficient functionaries so much, that we enter into an age of prolonged policy stasis!)

    (4)Perhaps nudged not by any notions of higher purpose, but by the grubby compulsions of vote bank politics, the Government has initiated many steps for income redistribution including the NREGA. Though these programs currently leak like sieves, hopefully with more local self governance, these will eventually provide increasing benefits to the poorest of the poor.

    (5)Since the present state of gridlock and a dysfunctional Parliament is inevitably going to soon result in a state of panic-inducing crisis, the Government just may get nudged into finally taking some decisions for a change :-)! After all, are we not inexorably moving to a situation reminiscent of that once facing Narasimha Rao?

    BTW, Happy Hour at the Hotel Bar is approaching. So let us shake off the gloom and doom, and indulge ourselves! After all, there may be no tomorrow!

    As Harivansh Rai Bacchan said: “Is paar priye madhu hai tum ho; us paar na jaaney kya hoga!”

    Cheers!

    Viney Sahgal
    Sent from my iPad

  3. No single ‘ism’ is universally appropriate. Societies flexible enough to peacefully modify the mix of various ‘isms’ depending on demands of time and place will better prosper.

    Goutam

    • Dear Goutam,

      Delighted to see your comment.I need to acknowledge your argument that there can never be “one size fit all” situation. But the wisdom to be flexible in line with a changing environment is easier said than practised, even at our individual levels.So to expect it to happen at the societal level is a pretty tough call. And why do I say this? We, each one of us, are tied down by certain experiences and beliefs. Either learnt oueselves in another setting or through a process of socialisation. Our fears and ego usually prevent us to deviate from these and we then become inflexible.So one can imagine, how tough it would be at the society level with different folks pulling in different directions.But let us hope that as socities mature, they also gain the wisdom to move in the right direction.

      I would love to continue to receive your comments.

      Regards

      Shakti

      • Dear Shakti,
        I feel societies are already practicing mixes. I spent lot of time in Eastern Europe before the Wall came down (in fact, I was at the wall a few days after the fall), have seen Western Europe intensively, spent the last decade in US and visited many Asian tiger countries over a few decades. Western world, even though officially and predominantly Capitalistic, practice socialism in a more significant way than the old Red states. China, officially being Communist, is a great upcoming Capitalist society. India fared better during last three years because it followed a better mix. Japan followed the right mix for 23 years to see growth but stagnant since then for wrong policies. Capitalism without proper control has proven bad for US resulting the last recession and Communism/Socialism suppressing individual’s entrepreneurial spirit caused its downfall. Any society which can sense winds of change and adapt will survive better.

        Sorry for my long ramblings.

        Goutam

    • Dear Goutam,

      Your second comment makes imminent sense and is definitely not rambling.I need to particularly acknowledge your words, “Any society which can sense winds of change and adapt will survive better.” And so it all boils down to a visionary leadership with a clear purpose. And such leadership needs to have an inclusive style.

      Cheers

      Shakti

  4. Hi Shakti,
    The creature will only strive to succeed when the reward, in whatever form, is recognisable & tangible. I don’t know who said this but it struck a chord with me when I read somewhere that you cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity! As Prabhakar said it’s better to teach (educate) them to fish rather than feeding them the fish…..only pain & fear will teach self-preservation. Until both are felt, I’m afraid we will continue to believe prosperity is our birth right.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow;
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

    Happy New Year one & all.
    Hormaz

    • Hi Hormaz,

      I must acknowledge you for your lovely thoughts. I could not agree with you more when you say that “you cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity”. But my argument really rested with the aspect of technology which has led to wealth creation getting divorced from human labour. And the challenges of equitable distribution of wealth thus created being faced by the world today. Until and unless we as a society can resolve this,predatory and discriminatory wealth creation tactics would continue to rule the roost. I had hence endeavoured to create an environment of introspection to determine what could be broad paths to workable solutions.

      Do continue to jump in with your comments and brick-bats!.

      Cheers

      Shakti

  5. Hi Esgee, or rather Essgee !

    Well articulated, buddy ! But it may be a sobering thought to know that there is nothing like an Utopian system of governing philosophy that will work in a sustained manner. We are dealing with humans who use their brains to create perturbations – whether good or bad – in the status quo and some of these create disparitiees and asymmetries. They cannot be curbed…unless we want to create undifferentiated, robot like group think and reduce people to automatons. That is why there will always be polarities, whatever be the starting point. Capitalism has the best chance to create economic well being for the masses and if governments can take care of areas like sanitation, defence, rule of law implementation, primary and higher schooling in a dedicated way, then we give all a fighting chance to make it. Mind you, we just give tghem an aopportunity…we cannot give them fish to eat all the time !

    So what is the point here ? Whatever works will work for some time before humans create ripples which will then alter the way things work. This is a natural order. Things start, grow, mature and ecline…like the PLC we all learnt. Rejuvenation is in our hands. What governments should do is to ensure that the spirits remain alive and free, not deadened by mindlessness.

    • Hi Prabhakar,

      Thank you for your well considered and ( as usual) expansive views. I particularly liked your thoughts relating to life cycle and rejuvenation being the order of the universe and all things in it. As you have so adroitly put it, what works does so for only sometime , till its window of optimisation with the environment no longer remains in focus.But then we do have examples of organisations and systems surviving for much longer periods and through turbulence and changing times. That I guess gets achieved by appropriate tweaking. And this may be the way forward for Capitalism as well; something which I hinted at when I suggested being guided by core values.

      The good news is that today we possess the capability of wealth creation and need to resolve the issue of its distribution in an equitable manner.

      It would remain my delight to continue to receive your thought provoking comments.

      Cheers

      Shakti

  6. Unfortunately, everyone uses the example of extreme wealth mis-distribution to argue for a completely different system today (e.g., socialism); I dont see anyone saying that the current capitalistic system will work with some minor tweaks. I’d work towards identifying the tweaks, rather than identifying a new system.

    Dont throw the baby out with the bathwater!

    Ravi

    • Hi Ravi,

      It is such a delight to see your comments.

      My intention in the blog was really not to deride Capitalism, which to my mind, continues to remain the best economic model we have come across. What I highlighted was that a changing environment has deprived us of some of Capitalism’s benefits. And as you so rightly said, some tweaking is warranted. And methinks the way forward to ensure more equitable wealth distribution could be taking some inspiration from core values.

      I would love to keep getting your views.

      All the best to you and Anu.

      Shakti

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