By E. P. Menon
When we think of economic freedom, the first and foremost simple question that comes to mind is: “whose freedom are we talking about?” Recently I read a statistical report of the UN which said that of the five billion total people inhabiting the world the top segment of ONE billion humans own, control and enjoy 82.7% of the total wealth of the world. The bottom section of ONE billion people have access to only 2% of the total wealth of the world. Thus the middle THREE billion people have only about 15% of the total wealth of the world at their disposal.
So the argument that I put forward in this paper will have two angles. (1) It is basically in favour of the freedom of the FOUR billions, that is, 80% of the world’s population. (2) It will look from a futuristic point of view; in the context of the present liberalised -globalised-economic syndrome.
Any economic theory should begin with very simple four questions. Who owns, who controls, who decides and enjoys the natural and produced wealth of the society? Ever since human civilization began, ‘might is right’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ theories have dominated all economic activities, production processes, administrative patterns and social relationships. So one particular girl of nature -land – has fallen into the hands of the mighty, and the cunning in every society. All other instruments also fell in line with the consequential requirements of that segment of the people who grabbed that important gift of nature. Therefore land became the primary source of generating and maintaining economic injustices among individuals, families and societies.
Geography determines economics; geography and economics determine politics; geography; economics and politics determine history; geography, economics, politics and history: determine culture. Humanity climbed on this ladder of civilizational growth and reached a cultural stage today on which the main actors are violence, sex-trade, envy, hatred, conflicts, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, poison gases, drugs and AIDS.
Against the above background if we have to design a new economic paradigm which will give true freedom to 80% of humanity, we must take two streams of thoughts propounded by two great men. One lived and worked in the 19th century’ and the other in the 20th. Probably Karl Marx was the first ever scientist who maintained human beings as his top most concern and who did such a thorough study of human life from every angle and then brought out a theoretical conclusion which began shaking the whole world from the middle of the last century. As a truly detached scientist in the laboratory who pronounced the theory that two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen created water. Marx drew up certain basic conclusions about human behaviour patterns, value attachments, psychological and philosophical attitudes towards development of material and spiritual relationships that govern the whole mystery called life. In this process he spent his whole life time.
Similarly the 20th century-prophet Gandhi, learning greatest lessons of life from purely experimental contexts, also came to certain theoretical conclusions. While Marx’s was more rational conclusions, Gandhi’s was more intuitive. Both were totally committed to the cause of entire humanity. Both were uncompromising advocates who stood firmly on the side of the oppressed and suppressed, exploited and neglected. Economic justice and social equality were the two primary- objectives for which both of them focused their entire attention.
In the final analysis as the relationship between matter and energy determine the whole course of the universe, thoughts and actions of human beings determine the whole course of life. Therefore, the future of humanity in the ext century should be guided by a confluence of ideas and actions derived from the spirit of Gandhi and Marx.
One cannot ignore the debate over the concept of ends and means. While Marx looks at human relationships more realistically and gives credence to certain inevitabilities in the process of civilisational advance, Gandhi would insist on the essential goodness of humans and therefore reject the inevitability of coersion or violence for constructive social change. However, the task in front of us is to synthesise the rational and intuitive and create a balanced approach and commitment in order to reach the essential objective of justice, welfare and happiness of all.
Science and technology have helped human beings a great deal by enabling and equipping them to be more productive and creative in every aspect of life, liberating them from several drudgeries and monotonies and enriching them in their material conditions of life. But the problem lies in the exclusivity of the enjoyment of the fruits of science and technology. Instead of doing distributive justice to all human beings from the gains of science and technology, some people decided for themselves the total control, ownership and enjoyment of science and technology, against the interest of all. As long as this pattern and relationship remain, science and technology will increasingly be made use of as instruments for inflicting miseries and destruction on the majorit3′ of people. Thus we ended up in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The owners and manipulators of science and technology have invented several justifications for retaining their exclusivity. Also unthinking academics and the defenders of the so-called freedom and democracy have made it a fashion to accuse science and technology rather than accepting their responsibility to make conscious changes. In simple terms, science and technology must be like a knife in the hands of the doctor. Then humanity will have no problem from science and technology.
Unfortunately today in most part of the world the production-distribution of wealth is not in favour of ALL. It is mainly serving the minority. Therefore, the majority continues to suffer, they get more and more angry and dissatisfied. Increasing tensions, violence and wars become inevitable curse on mankind.
The entire eco-system, environmental balance, morals and values get affected by the above situation. Less and less number of people are prepared to go into the root causes and find solutions. They would rather have cosmetic solutions.
In this context when we look at the latest trends in economic relations and concerns for independence and inter-dependence, it can be seen that the objectives and intentions behind the creation of new international organizations like UNO, ILO, WTO etc. are laudable; but the real practices go exactly against those very intentions. So they are incapable of generating mutual trust among peoples and nations. Philosophies like ‘globalisation’ and ‘marketisation’ always work against the interest of the man..
Therefore, in conclusion when we look at the ‘role’ of Gandhi in the 21st century, one can doubtlessly say that his ‘role’ is becoming more and more relevant and meaningful. But if humanity must really enjoy that ‘unto-this-last’ state of transformation, achievement and happiness in life, Gandhi must inevitably join Karl Marx for a joint-venture’. This will ensure the survival and progress of the whole of mankind. In other words, let us try and create an alloy made up of the softest of rose petals and the hardest of steel. That alloy will constitute the brick and mortar for the future of human civilization.
Source: Mine & Metal Worker, Gandhi Jayanti Number, 1998