- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development
- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 2
- The Indian Spiritual Heritage and the Problem of Economic Development – 3
The Problem of Development
The Illusion of Economic Development
In the modern era Science and Progress has brought about an increasing concentration of man on his surface individual self which, as pointed out earlier, makes it impossible that individuals, in general, could be getting better in any real sense. Therefore, what is perceived as progress or development, in spite of the bewitching appearances to the contrary, must be really illusory as far as the real well-being is concerned. It should be apparent to all who can look behind surface appearances that, as long as the present trend in the movement of human psychology continues, not only can there be no increase in real income and well-being, but, as a matter of fact, these things are bound to experience a steady decline over time which, if not stopped by some divine intervention enabling humanity to change course, will lead humanity towards its extinction in the near future.
Science, progress, government, society are simply instruments and mediums and not the godheads that this materialistic age has made of them. These are like a double-edged sword that can cut both ways and their value is dependent on the consciousness of those using them. Because of the narrowness of the goals and the egoistic spirit in which they have been pursued, the whole humanity seems to have come under the influence of the subtle vital beings – who are invisible but whose presence can be felt – of the life plane whose aim is always to enslave human beings through their unchastened desires and use them for their own satisfaction which lies in creating, as much as possible, confusion, disharmony, catastrophes and other forms of sufferings and passions which makes human beings throw out the kind of vital vibrations these beings cherish. To anyone who can really step-back and look at the present scenario it will be apparent that the present civilization is swiftly moving towards destruction of life on earth.* (*Stephen Hawkings, a renowned British scientist, has recently stated that by the end of this century the earth is likely to become uninhabitable and humanity must look for life on another planet if it is to survive.) One of the most important factors contributing to this movement is humanity’s blind acceptance and seeking after the Mammon in the form of GDP.
The GDP of a country consists of the production or consumption of goods and services. While the production of goods can be measured in terms of volume, major services like education, health, justice, law and order and defence cannot be quantified and hence their volume is measured simply by the amount of money spent on them. The most important thing for a service is its quality which is often capable of being felt easily by the people involved but which cannot at all be measured objectively and hence an expense incurred on it is made to pass for its measure. If a doctor begins to charge Rs. 200 for the same examination for which earlier he charged Rs. 100, then for the purposes of economic calculations he would be considered to have provided two times more valuable service than before, even though in this case, in all probability, he may have inflicted not only a much greater financial drain but also (through his act) an adverse psychological impact on the consumer of his service. Thanks to the onslaught of the utilitarian spirit, an increasing proportion of the Health-Service sector’s contribution to the GDP may be attributed to the motivated and positively harmful medical practices such as unnecessary and harmful surgeries, tests, costly medicines and treatments in the hospitals. The service sector which accounted for about one third of the world GDP in the 1950s, accounted for 66% of it in the year 2013 and in the case of an advanced economy like that of the U.S.A it is about 80% at present.
To fully illustrate our point of view, let us assume that an economy consists only of services. Now, in such an economy one person’s expense will be another person’s income and vice versa. If everyone were to start charging ten times (as much as before) for his/her service, this will lead to a tenfold increase in the nominal GDP as currently measured. But will there be any increase in the real GDP if the quality of the service performed remains unchanged? The only way the real GDP can increase in such an economy is via an increase in the quality of service. If the quality of service keeps going down – as it has steadily been doing under the corrosive action of the ever increasing utilitarianism in the modern societies – the real income of the people (at least as far as the services are concerned) will also keep going down regardless of the ever increasing figures for the (service sector) GDP. The real GDP figures are arrived at by deflating the nominal figures for price changes. But there is no provision for adjusting the GDP figures for changes in the quality of service which – as is felt by most – has been steadily declining over the years. The pace of this decline – thanks to the ever more powerful discoveries of science – has also been increasing, especially since the beginning of this century. So, in the face of these facts the figures for the real per capita GDP – even when an account is taken of the upward trend in the volume of services made available – must have been declining over the years – at least as far as the consumption of services (accounting for almost two-thirds of the total) is concerned.
In any service, particularly in the case of such services as education, health and justice, quality alone, without which quantity is almost superfluous, is really important for giving satisfaction to the people. Now, what has been happening in the service sector – the world over – is that while the quality of the services has been steadily going down over the years, the national accounts figures for the average real (constant price) per capita income of persons engaged in this sector has been going up. In India, the service sector accounted for 61.5 percent of the GDP in 2015-16, but only about 28 percent of the total employment. Thus the average income of a person employed in this sector was more than 3 times that of the non-service sector.
For the non-service sector (accounting for about one-third of the GDP) the story is basically not much different. Certainly, the apparent increases in this cannot be expected to make-up for the declining real value of the service sector in its contribution to the GDP. Even in this sector, the cost of a good is not a reliable indicator of its quality nor, obviously, is its attractive outer packing. Undeniably there has been an upward trend in both of these along with the volume (of the goods), but it has been, more often than not, accompanied by a declining trend in the quality of goods in general. At present the whole world economy is based on the principle of competition with an unbridled seeking after profits by all the players in the field. It has become apparent – especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early nineties of the last century – that in the psychology of the players in the competitive economic system there is a built-in tendency to cut costs by taking out of a good all in terms of quality that can be safely taken out to enable one to lower the price and thereby gain an additional competitive advantage in the market. If one producer begins using this trick, others will be forced to follow suit. This is what is meant by a dictum of the bad coin driving the good coin out of circulation in the market. And the above principle is the characteristic manner in which an economy begins to function under the utilitarian spirit which, if allowed to continue unabated, ultimately leads to its total dissolution.
In today’s utilitarian society, more and more individuals are increasingly finding that the situation in their life and the field of work has become such that they must consent to the use of more and more unethical and degrading means to succeed or even to survive.
For example, let us assume that A and B are two competitors in a business and A resorts to the practice of avoiding paying of government taxes (whenever he can get away with it) and starts selling his articles a little cheaper. Even if B is a man of scruples, when he finds it increasingly difficult to stay in business he copies A. Now, to do better A decides to undercut his competitor by taking out of the product, in quality and substance, all that could be taken out ‘safely’ – without affecting the appearance, i.e. without the risk of the consumer finding out. This lowers the costs and enables A to further reduce his price. Now B must do something similar or if through his experience of so called ‘realities of life’, he gets exceedingly groomed in the commercial spirit he may even do better and discover noveler ways of cheating customers and undercutting his competitors.
Thus the disease spontaneously percolates to deeper and deeper levels and most of the people – even those who begin with good intentions – working in any kind of business or economic activity or profession are either thrown out if they do not yield or they begin sinking to ever lower levels in ethics and morality.
[This] utilitarian spirit…has already made deep inroads into the areas of services that practically must remain – as they traditionally have been – free from the commercial spirit if they are at all going to be able to perform their sacred task. Education, health and medicine, justice and not even philanthropy and religion are any longer immune from the corrosive action of this rust of the human soul…Close family ties and intimate personal relations have so far remained largely free from the grosser forms of this commercialism because India has a tradition of strong family ties and a spiritual culture. However, a turn towards it has already been made – particularly in the urban areas – and it may not be too long before it spreads and India begins to catch up with the Western gospel of each man for himself.
Thus it should be clear that in such a scenario, an increase in the real well-being – even when measured in the narrow terms of material well-being – is an impossibility because it depends crucially on the quality of the goods and services that became available and in this respect the declining trend in the quality of these cannot really be reversed unless people’s selfish attitude towards each other – a byproduct of an increasing concentration on the surface being brought about by the materialistic outlook and pursuits – begins to undergo a basic qualitative improvement. Such an improvement can be brought about only when mankind begins increasingly to turn towards the fist member and the base of the triangle of the triple godhead of Fraternity, Liberty and Equality brought into the forefront by the French Revolution. Fraternity is the base of the triangle and Liberty and Equality are the two sides which meet to make its apex. The triangle cannot stand on its apex – the futile and painful exclusive European pursuits of Liberty or Equality during the past one hundred years should have made that abundantly clear to all those who can look behind the surface appearances of things. The triangle can stand only on the base of true Fraternity which exists only in the soul and cannot be brought into prominence unless humanity begins to progressively turn inwards towards the soul.
A. The Triple Godhead of Fraternity, Liberty and Equality and the Past One Hundred Years’ Record of the Attempts to Move Towards It
The experience of past one hundred years clearly shows that the fundamental issue before us is not of the right form of the government – we have seen the working of every possible form of government (democratic, authoritarian or some form in between) – but of the spirit of governance, which means that those who would rule would not do so just formally in the name of the people using some outer machinery (elections, voting, parliaments) to sanctify their authority but would actually be very sensitive to the feelings of the common masses – not in appearance only (like in the modern democratic forms of government) but truly. And the time has come when people can no longer be fooled by the appearances or the talk of the sanctity of the sacred written documents (constitutions) or elected bodies (parliaments, assemblies, etc). A beginning in this direction seems to have been made in the consciousness of the people and the march towards this must commence. It may come across some detours but it will not be stopped or reverted because, at present, the future of humanity hangs in the balance and nature can no longer afford the luxury of one more round of partial victories followed by defeats. Europe’s failure in truly giving form to the triple godhead of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – brought to the forefront of European consciousness by the French Revolution – is perhaps one of the most important causes that led to the last two World Wars and fortunately the present state of defence technology is such that humanity can no longer afford a third one which may very well prove to be the last. Fraternity is the only base on which both equality and liberty can be built and it is because of the absence of the true spirit of this godhead (which exists only in the soul) that all attempts steeped in the spirit of Western Culture and based on taking either equality (Communistic or Socialistic forms of authoritarianisms) or liberty (capitalistic democratic forms) as their starting point or base have failed to establish the triple-godhead.
The basic reason behind this kind of difficult equation is simple. Men are created equal in the spirit but not in their outer nature and are endowed with varying assortment of abilities, capacities and qualities. People who are endowed with a strong vital nature, and consequently a powerful will, have always been able to stamp their will on all those around them. Such people will always come to occupy positions of importance and authority in any walk of life – especially in the political and economic fields because of the special attraction these have for the human vital ego – regardless of the nature of the outer form of a government or society. The past experience of humanity amply bears it out and the European experience of the last century only confirms it beyond any shadow of doubt. The crux of the matter is that the wolves will always dominate the sheep no matter where and in what kind of physical arrangement or structure they are put together. We all know how nature has put them together in humanity with a perfect similarity in the outer appearance and with no other distinguishable features. They differ only in capacities and force, the things which become visible only in action and manifestation and then who – except perhaps some other wolves who would have their own axe to grind – can stop them, certainly not the sheep. The only approach that can possibly tame the human wolf is the approach through the heart – not from its surface parts but from its depths where the soul has its station and where all feel oneness. Once the deep and inherent feelings of Love and Brotherhood are awakened in human hearts, the discords automatically begin to dissolve and humanity can smoothly advance towards the triple-godhead because it is only Love that can prevent the misuse of Liberty and it is only Brotherhood which can make Equality tolerable.
B. How Science and Technology are Ineffective in Redressing the Peril
In fact not only that they cannot redress but, mostly, they even speed up the process leading to the precipice. We should be under no illusion that there is an alternative to a change in consciousness. As gross human beings, we suppose that if technology, infrastructure and equipment get better, then the service rendered is better. This is not true. Science and technology are double-edged swords whose use depends entirely on the consciousness that is using them. There are numerous examples all around us that prove this. For instance, at present things have reached such disgustingly low levels that one hears of big drug companies producing and having ready large stock of necessary medicine for containing an epidemic before they secretly disperse the microbes that would spread it. It is the same in other fields as well. It is quite commonplace to hear that big software companies not only create anti-virus programs for computers, but also create new viruses so that computers get infected and people are forced to buy upgraded and more expensive anti-virus programs. With technological advances, more and more sophisticated and expensive equipment is available to doctors, who in an effort to cover costs, or worse, to generate more income, create an atmosphere of fear and insecurity among their patients in order to make them undergo unnecessary but expensive tests and treatments.
How can one take such things as contributing to one’s well-being? In fact, such things are clearly leading to a loss of real income and well-being as people have to spend more and more time, energy and material resources on alleviating artificial human-made ills like crime, pollution and progressive adulteration in food leading to poor health and costly treatment of illnesses resulting from this. As things stand at present, the loss of real well-being resulting from these ills requires greater and greater spending of money to partially mitigate these. All such spending (done to mitigate the evil effects of problems generated largely as a by-product of the process of development) is counted as addition to the GDP which, therefore, must invariably grow as spending on such things grows. In such a scenario an increasing proportion of the growing GDP will be contributed by the growing human deprivation.
C. The Misplaced Efforts of Modern Economists for the Alleviation of the Problem
The above issues have provoked some re-thinking among the welfare economists. They have reached a general consensus on why there is a lack of well-being. Unfortunately, their thinking is based on the assumption that there is a problem only with the current ‘measures’ of national well-being, like the GDP and the GNP.
At a superficial level, the following general problems have been identified:
GDP is simply based on quantitative addition and subtraction. It cannot capture the quality, the well-being or the real benefit to the people. There are numerous everyday examples around us that bring home this fact. For instance, if parents care for their children themselves, they are not contributing to the national income. But if they hire and pay a nanny to do so, they are contributing to the national income, even though the result is that they are becoming more selfish and chieldren are not so well taken care of. To take other examples, traffic jams, invariable, contribute to the GDP, because of the extra expense of vehicle fuel people have to bear, and, murderers contribute directly to the GDP by buying a knife or a gun and other equipment and indirectly by making it necessary to increase the size of the police force and the administrative machinery including the number of courts and judges.
Similarly, in the health sector, the rising number of diseases contributes more to the national income by increasing people’s expenditure on medical services. But if people were to lead a healthy life, the GDP would effectively go down. In other words, the modern society significantly contributes to the GDP both in creating and then in its attempts at solving the ills created by it.
Although not amounting to much, still there are attempts that are being made in various countries to devise ways to objectively measure qualitative changes. Such attempts cannot get very far because of the fundamentally subjective and psychological nature of the real human well-being. Regardless of whether it grasps the problems with the way economic development is measured, the folly of the current economic thinking lies in its belief that it can actually find solution to these problems within the framework of the present system. This belief (and the reasoning based on it) is completely misplaced. If we analyse deeply the causes of the lack of well-being, we will understand that, under present conditions, no matter what measure is used and what policy and institutional interventions are put in place, there can be no real increase in income and welfare. In fact, the way things are going, there will certainly be a fall in income as time passes, because this fall in income and welfare is related to something deeper than material deprivation and has psychological roots. It is the very crisis of the consciousness that is causing it.
(To be continued…….)