- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development
- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 2
“If India follows in the footsteps of Europe, accepts her political ideals, social system, economic principles, she will be overcome with the same maladies. Such a consummation is neither for the good of India nor for the good of Europe. If India becomes an intellectual province of Europe, she will never attain to her natural greatness or fulfil the possibilities within her. Paradharmo bhayavahah, to accept the dharma of another is perilous; it deprives the man or the nation of its secret of life and vitality and substitutes an unnatural and stunted growth for the free, large and organic development of Nature. Whenever a nation has given up the purpose of its existence, it has been at the cost of its growth. India must remain India if she is to fulfil her destiny. Nor will Europe profit by grafting her civilisation on India, for if India, who is the distinct physician of Europe’s maladies, herself falls into the clutch of the disease, the disease will remain uncured and incurable and European civilisation will perish…” (CWSA 7: 1041)
What Sri Aurobindo, writing in 1908, had warned us against has unfortunately come to pass. The Western judicial, legal, administrative, political and economic systems of organisation we inherited from the British continue unabated even after more than seven decades of Independence. Not only this, but during this period, we have been increasingly coming under the sway of the Western modes of thinking, feeling, life style and values which are increasingly having their corrosive effect on the psychological infrastructure of our society. A class of educated Indians has been created and nurtured under the label of “Secularism”* (*Tarek Fatah, a free and learned Islamic thinker, has most aptly defined this “Secularism”. According to him India is a country which has a superior culture. This is the only country where people are taught to hate their great culture. A great effort is made to educate people to eulogise the attackers and invadors who came to destroy this culture. And this foolishness is called secularism.) which has no use for India and its spiritual culture and is in love with the West and its values and lifestyle. This has enabled the Western spirit of commercialism and utilitarianism to come to the forefront and pervade every nook and corner of Indian society. This spirit seems still to be increasing and moving towards its culmination in the near future. Even those few who followed a different curve and have been nurtured under the aegis of the “Hindutwa” organisations – though spared the poison of the popular pseudo secularism – have equally come under the influence of the Western mentality and its way of looking at things and have fallen prey to the commercial and utilitarian spirit.
Even the nationalist government of Sri Modi which came to power in 2014 after over six decades of secularist governments does not seem to be conscious of the danger and the corrosive effects of Western institutional infrastructure inherited by us seven decades ago and all the gross selfish materialistic values and thinking that have been springing from it ever since. It must really be so, or else, how do we understand the loud talk on the part of our Prime Minister and his party on making India a $ 5 trillion economy in the next five years from the current $ 2.6 trillion. The size of the economy that the Prime Minister is referring to is popularly measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is not at all a satisfactory measure of the real well-being of a country. However, most even of those who would agree with this would point out that although unsatisfactory as an absolute measure of well-being, it (the GDP) is still a very useful measure, at least in indicating the direction of the movement in the well-being of a country over time.
When the concept of GDP is closely examined, it is found that not only is it a very poor, but often, even a perverse measure of the level of well-being of a collectivity. If it were possible to design a true measure of well-being (not just the monetary value of the streams of income and wealth) it will be found that the changes in the GDP and in this true measure may often move in opposite directions over time. All this means, when put simply, is that a growing level of GDP could be consistent – and often is – with a declining level of national well-being, even when defined in narrow materialistic terms – i.e. limited to the satisfaction of the surface being – the physical body, life and mind – of the individuals and the collectivities.
The important question is how this can be true given the universal acceptance of the idea of economic growth and development among experts and common people. To begin with, it can be easily shown that the concept of GDP and the way it is defined and estimated makes it almost entirely unsuitable for measuring real human well-being. The GDP of an economy is defined as the sum total of all the expenditures on goods and services during a given period without any distinction of how much or how little a particular expenditure adds to (or even detracts from) the real well-being. The size of the GDP alone matters and it is always taken as a measure of the well-being. So, higher the aggregate expenditure, higher is the level of development even if a good part of the aggregate expenditure is directly related to fighting the environmental degradation (physical and psychological) translating itself into ever newer and newer forms and increasing levels of ills such as diseases, crimes, wars, terrorism and depravations resulting from addictions to ever more and more nebulous and enticing drugs and other products of technology such as computers and smart phones, etc., which are, in a way, the by-products of the present predominantly materialistic way of thinking and living. On the collective level, the deep distrust prevailing among nations prompts them to spend ever more and more on research and acquisition of ever more potent and sophisticated means of mutual destruction and annihilation. The ever growing expenses on all the above which have nothing much to do with increase in human welfare are yet counted as GDP.
The national pursuit for an ever increasing level of GDP is akin to the journey of someone who in journeying towards a seemingly attractive landscape – a materialistic dreamland of happiness – finds himself faced with “ditches” ever increasing in number and depth* (*Not always too unpleasant in appearance but increasingly deadly in effect.) as he goes along. Before one can proceed further towards the attractive dream land, one has to try to fill these “ditches” by means of hard physical and psychological labours, hurts and sufferings. The spending on the alleviation of these ever increasing afflictions – the only part measurable in monetary terms – is only a small fraction of the price paid in terms of physical and psychological sufferings incurred. Logically, this part needs to be deducted from any real measure of well-being but, instead, it is taken as contributing to the ever growing GDP measure. It is like someone charging you both for the digging and then for the filling of the “ditches” so dug. As things stand at present, unless humanity is made to change course by the divine Grace, it faces the prospect of having an ever increasing portion of the GDP contributed by spending related to the filling of the above mentioned “ditches” of depravation. At a given level of consciousness, we can only partially alleviate even the physical part of the sufferings caused by the “ditches”. The psychological part of the sufferings cannot be alleviated except by rising to a higher level of consciousness – the aspiration for which has been the foundation of Indian culture since times immemorial.
If one looks at things in this light then it becomes clear that the GDP is not only not a good measure but is likely to become, increasingly, a perverse measure of the “well-being” even by the materialistic yardstick. The recent GDP growth figure of 5 percent for the quarter ending June 2019 should be looked upon in this light. When so done, all the hue and cry about such a low figure of growth – as if the sky of economic disaster was going to fall on us – seems like childishness. The calculated censor and cooked up alarm is quite understandable when coming from certain quarters – aptly labelled by Sri Swapan Dasgupta as a “pack of hyenas hunting for even minor slips of Modi.” But the noise made by somewhat neutral (both handed) economic experts and the response of the government and its economic advisors to such a noise is less understandable. In the light of the Modi government’s policy initiatives during the past few years, the latest GDP Growth figures, if anything, should be welcomed as an indicator of the country’s movement towards a saner and higher level of physical and psychological well-being* made possible by the nationalistic government’s attempt to rid the economy of corruption and other political, social and economic structural imbalances which have been a major source of impediments to the country’s march towards the cherished dream of national greatness whose flame has been kept burning by the blood and sufferings of countless martyrs and great spiritual Gurus during the dark night of a millennium of cruel subjection to the rule of the aliens. The bubble of the aggregate demand – to increase which the economists and experts of every kind and colour have been advising the Modi government – was expected to be deflated a little bit when the superficial and harmful part of it – springing out of the play of black-money generated mostly by corruption at every level of government – was being progressively deflated by the central government’s attempts at regulating black-money by making it accountable and otherwise also determinedly fighting corruption at all levels.
*(The Modi government’s decisive and bold action of 5th August, 2019 has – for a major portion of the country’s population – uncovered and brought up to the surface such a stream of deep psychological satisfaction (which had remained hopelessly submerged during the past one millennium of continued national humiliation) that in the face of such an upliftment in national psyche, most people couldn’t care less for all the ups and downs in the mundane and superficial indicators of economic well-being. This is the characteristic manner in which we hope, a growing love for the country and pride in its greatness is going to enable the country to come out of the grip – utterly narrow and degrading for a spiritual culture – of the Mammon of utilitarianism and economic growth.)
The noise made and the common concern shown for the high unemployment rate turns out to be equally hollow. The rate of unemployment that stood at the level of 2.55 during 2018 is still not higher than what it was during the years 2013 to 2017. The problem of unemployment that the country is facing at present is, in its nature, mostly structural, applicable only to a particular kind of ever growing crowd of job seekers – largely the holders of worthless degrees from educational institutions of poor or ill repute. The role of the market in a competitive economy is to send signals to the producers of goods and services through changes in the prices of their products. When there is an excess of supply of a good or a service, it is reflected in an increase in the unsold stock and fall in the price in the case of the good and a higher level of unemployment and lower level of wages in the case of the service – the relative strength of these changes depending on the relevant demand and supply elasticities of the good or the service in question. The higher level of unemployment of the “educated” youth – there is practically no excess unemployment in other categories – is just the thing required (however unpalatable it may be to the politicians) to save the scarce precious resources of the country by curbing the overproduction of worthless degrees and diplomas.
In a series of articles following this brief introduction, we hope to bring into sharp focus the deep and momentous problems associated with the blind pursuit of the modern materialistic gospel of economic development and growth by the individuals and the collectivities.
(To be continued….)