Thoughts on economics and liberty

India the over-developed country

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high …- Rabindranath Tagore (Gitanjali)

Contradictory though it might sound, India is in many ways an overdeveloped, not an underdeveloped country – somewhat like an over-ripened fruit. Our history has fostered great complexity and conflict which needs to be reviewed and redirected. We need to freshen up India for a new journey that lies ahead.

India (as a conglomeration of hundreds of kingdoms) was one of the world’s greatest free markets in the past. And 2500 years ago it allowed, even promoted, wide ranging philosophical discourse. But Dark Ages overtook this openness with the rapid entrenchment of the caste system which excluded large sections in India from educational opportunity. Rigid practices grew strong and freedoms declined precipitously. Our mind grew full of fear – of authority. 

The consequent societal decline made India vulnerable to foreign attack. Things did not change after power shifted to Islamic kings, since many of them similarly imposed rigid worldviews (albeit different) and displayed little interest in new learning – for Islam had lost its early spurt of intellectual vigour by then. Since everyone in India believed that everything important had already been said and done, no one bothered to think any more.

While India still remained technologically advanced compared to the rest of the world, its tradition-bound approach made it extremely vulnerable to the new kid on the block – the British: a people freshly groomed in the ideas of freedom. The British had been groomed on the ideas initially thought up by St. Thomas Aquinas who reconciled pagan Greek thought (once shunned) with Christianity and made it possible to think once again. Invention, innovation and technological breakthroughs poured from the West, soon shifting the world’s balance of power. 

Unfortunately India remained reluctant to imbibe this new spurt of freedom. After all, Indians thought: what did these barbaric pale-skinned beef-eaters know? 

It is true that India must look backward, but only to rediscover the great vigour and freedom that launched our great career 2500 years agoOnce we have found that freshness of approach, we must add to it the modern ideas of freedom and scientific inquiry, and re-assert our thought leadership in the world.

Freedom means the freedom to trade, freedom to think, freedom to innovate. Freedom means building governance mechanisms compatible with human incentives. The Freedom Team of India (FTI) is determined to rejuvenate India through new freedoms to think critically, without fear. 

(From my editorial in Towards a Great India, 15 March 2009)

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