THE PRESENT-DAY DOMINANT ECONOMIC THINKING: A CRITIQUE  (by Shiva Kant Jha)

Sunday:  26 December  2015

                         I read in the Times of India of December 1, 2015, Professor Jagdish Bhagwati’s ideas how to end poverty. This eminent Professor of Economics at Columbia University  was reflecting on  ” how the Pope’s global call to reduce poverty could best be answered”. The Reporter stated his idea  in a sentence when he wrote: ” Openness to foreign trade would lead to more growth, which would reduce poverty, a correlation supported by sufficient study”.  He founded his notion on an assumption, to quote what is quoted in the press: “”High rates of economic growth are related to high rates of openness to investment. One spurs the other.” The gist of Dr. Bhagawati’s ideas, rather the effect of the economic agenda of the so-called neoliberals, is encapsulated  in the title that the whole report bears: “Don’t make rich bleed to end poverty”. I enjoyed the idea expressed through this oft-repeated metaphor.

True to shed blood, be that of an ant or mosquito, is never a delicious  act. Who can object to the agenda:  “Don’t make rich bleed to end poverty”. But how much blood a rich man needs for keeping his circulatory system functioning in excellent gear? I  get from experts that an adult human body contains “approximately 5 liters (5.3 quarts) of blood which makes up 7 to 8 percent of total body weight” to keep the body functional. Think what can happen if the quantity triples, or the cardiac auricles and ventricles get overloaded. If it happens, it may cause life-threatening ailment if this malfunctioning is not controlled. I am conscious of the inaptness of this analogy. Whilst there is a limit beyond which blood cannot be kept in this bodily confinement, the present-day economists and finance experts have helped the rich park their wealth. beyond the ken of ordinary mortals, in the realm of darkness or the virtual sphere where even the banks have broken all the banks on incessant loot.

My reflection of Bhagwati’s ideas have brought to mind two things which I think I  may set out hear so that my readers to form their own ideas on the crisply stated economic fundamentalism of the great Columbian professor from his Olympian height of eminence. These two things are:

(i) a few lines from the well-known epic Kurukshetra by Ramdhari Singh ‘Dinkar’ to whom I was greatly indebted as a student whilst studying at the L.S. College, Muzaffarpur); and

(ii) a few pages of my autobiographical memoir, On the Loom of Time, Portrait of My Life and Times ( at http://shivakantjha.org).

                First read and reflect on what the poet is suggesting through his pregnant words which I  have translated into English from Hindi (mindful of my inability to capture the poet’s cadenced nuances of  rich poetry):

This gathering of  the treasure of affluence,

This gathering through force and deception;

By snatching  morsels even from the famished,

By  looting resources even of the weak.

 

Amassing all,  under  the vigil of guards,

They bid all others  to keep silence;

They think the  world overbrims with  peace,

Let not anyone poison it. .

***

Be still, and let us drink  blood of your heart,

That  precious  potion of delight to us;

Let the reign of peace prevail,

It is better to live and let live.

***

Peace never dawns in the world till

All humans are  equal in happiness;

None should have a lot more than their need.

Nor should anyone  have  less than what they needs.

***

Who is the sinner? Tell me the answer,

Those who thieve humans of their justice,

Or those, who in the quest of justice,

Chop off the head of the sinister rogue?

 

The most telling words deserve to be read in the language of the poet himself as the interstices of expressions have vast and rich vistas of inspiring thoughts:

हिलो-डुलो मत , हृदय- रक्त अपना मुझको पीने दो

अचल रहे साम्राज्य शांति का,  जियो और जीनो दो

सच है , सत्ता सिमिट- सिमिट जिनके हाथो में आती

शांतिभक्त वे साधु पुरुष क्यों  चाहे क़भी लड़ाई

Second, read the following from my said book though you can get things in right perspective only on reading the whole of Chapter 29 : ‘The Portrait of our Time’  at http://www.shivakantjha.org/pdfdocs/on_the_loom_of_time_2nd_edition/43_loom_29.pdf:

“…….When I reflect on the culture of the acquisitive society that the neoliberal capitalist thinkers are trying to build with passion, I notice some pronounced features, a few of which I summarize with utmost brevity.

(1). The neoliberals delude humanity towards some El Dorado. They say: let the wealth be created in the market by, and for, the MNCs and the mega-rich creatures so that, later on, even aam aadmi can be helped. It is trumpeted with passion that high GDP helps this to happen. They call this “trickle-down theory”. This theory illustrates (as John F. Kennedy once noticed it) the phenomenon unfolding how “a rising tide floats all boats”. It is, in effect, what John Kenneth Galbraith had called a “horse and sparrow theory”: if you feed enough oats to

the horse, some will pass through to feed the sparrows. My reader may read the story I have mentioned in Chapter 26 (pp. 433-435) of this Memoir, to decide if that sort of ‘trickle-down’ benefits would ever entitle ordinary persons to live with dignity. You need not get amazed at my morbid apprehensions. The days are not far when the promoters of the neoliberal paradigm would tell the poor to live only on fodder (if even that remains available after scams like the Fodder Scam discussed in the Chapter 12 of this Memoir). Experts would be hired to convince people that the cattle feed, if consumed, would provide the aam-aadmi(common man) more calories than what they needed to survive. (Perhaps, the IMF-WTO-minted counterfeit coins in high circulation would find nothing wrong in that!)

What they say reminds me of a story I had read in the Mahabharata (‘Striparva’, Chapter 6) explaining, through metaphors, the world we all live in. It tells us what this ‘trickle-down effect’ is all about. It says that someone journeying through a deep and dark forest fell into a deep well he could not see as it was covered with rich grass and saplings. It happened that much before he could fall down on the well’s bottom, he was caught, while on way down, in the labyrinthine tendrils, and he stood turned upside down. He saw a terrifying elephant waiting at the brim above, and a snake hissing down below with its hood spread. He saw some honeycombs wherefrom honey ‘trickled down’ delighting him as he saw the prospect of satisfying his great desires with lovely honey! Greed builds a rainbow of delight which many chase, but all in vain. He wistfully craved for wealth; and in the process perished.

The learned neoliberal experts tell us to wait, and wait, and wait till great wealth accumulates with ‘the substantial people’. They feel that a little of that wealth can trickle down to the common people someday. I have often wondered: will these billionaires be ever satisfied with their billions, or trillions? My study and reflection tell me: they will never be satisfied with their treasures. Centuries back, our ancestors had wisely observed in the Sri Harivamsa Purana (the ‘Harivamsha Parva’, Chapt. 30):

 

न जातु कामः कामानामुपभोगेन शाम्यति, हविषा कृष्णवर्त्मेव भूय एवाभिवर्धते

यत् पृथिव्यां व्रीहियवं हिरण्यं पशवः स्त्रियः, नालमेकस्य तत  सर्वमिति  पश्यन्न  मुह्यति

 

[Not all the wealth, not all the women can ever satisfy the lusty urge of a single man. Hence the right thing is to control desires as they have no end. Desires increase more and more when enjoyed with lust and attachment. They increase as do the flame of fire when ghee is poured on it. When desires wax untrammelled, one can never be at peace.]

Greed is never satisfied, it feeds on itself, it deludes men to never-never land where cascading desires become limitless. This is the humanity’s tragic trait that Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist and biologist, had once noted with great concern: his perception is well known as the Wallace Syndrome (see Chapter 20 pp. 266-267).”

 

NOTE

 

My reflection of Bhagwati’s ideas have brought back to mind my three reflections about which I  had written. On account of their contextual relevance, I  intend to publish them in my next post under the caption ‘Flawed Wisdom of the Eminent Persons’  to be published on the next Saturday. I wish my readers would study them with the ground reports of the wrenching poverty writhing our brothers and sisters in Bundelkhand as being reported at Z News on our TV.

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