Thoughts on economics and liberty

The Indian disease of looking backward

What is common between Greece and India? – and the Dutch?

The disease of plenty in something, and absence in another.

The Dutch disease refers to the problems faced by one sector of the economy as another sector (resource sector in this case) receives an unexpected boost. The entire investment of the economy is then sucked into that sector, leaving little behind for other areas such as manufacturing. (or at least that is the simplistic version of the theory!)

In the case of Greece and India a similar effect applies. Both these nations are super-rich in their history, in their past. Therefore a disproportionate amount of resources are applied to studying and preserving the past, at the expense of today and the future. The fascination with the past comes at the expense of today.

Just like I suggested a few days ago that we should burn all books (figuratively), I suggest we should destroy all ancient monuments (figuratively!). Only then can we lead truly independent and productive lives. What WE do in our lives – in the future – matters. What is gone is gone. Sunk cost. History. Irrelevant in determining our future. 

A friend on Facebook asked why the British museum retains artefacts from other nations and why they haven't returned these to the nations they got these artefacts from. Here are my comments (very minor edits) during the conversation:

COMMENT 1

Let's not forget that in many instances the cultures that these artefacts were taken from did not value their own history or culture sufficiently to bother about such things. The science of archaeology and anthropology was advanced in England. 

True, the time has perhaps come to return many of these back to their respective countries – at cost, of course – not free! – provided these countries have stable governments and can secure and respect these valuables. 

In many third world nations like India, these artefacts will likely be stolen and/or melted/ sold in the black market. Gangs of corrupt scoundrels run many of these nations – no point returning anything to them till they learn to govern themselves.

Without the fascination of the British for learning new things many parts of the world would have remained ignorant of their own history and culture. Let's give credit where it is due! 

COMMENT 2

India's greatest historian, Romila Thaper wrote in 1973: "[T]he discovery of the Indian past was initiated under the auspices of the new rulers, the British." Comprehensive histories of India were first written by the British. The modern habit of preserving ancient monuments in India (of which it does a very poor job) was established through the work of British administrators. Before them everything was allowed to decay.

COMMENT 3

Once a nation is capable of handing its antiquity respectfully, the artefacts can be returned. 

But nothing is free in life! There are two bases of acquisition of property: trade or force. The property rights in the artefacts moved to England upon acquisition (either through trade or force). Even if these artefacts were acquired through force, the property rights have passed on. Possession = ownership, particularly across nations. There is no concept of theft across nations. No history applies. Nations are sovereign. They are accountable to none. Definitely not after 200 years.

Remember that England has also incurred the cost of maintenance and care of the artefacts. So now there can be either a market-based negotiation, with a discount if Greece maintains good relations. And Greece (or whoever) should thank English archaeologists and scientists for preserving these artefacts in good condition, knowing that many of them could have been destroyed by local looters who have no respect for the history of their nation.

Alternatively Greece can attack England and recover the artefacts. 

There is no arbitration possible between nations. History moves on. No reversion to the past is feasible.

COMMENT 4

I'm not quite familiar with the details of how each specific artefact was acquired and the precise goals of the Museum in relation to each artefact. Info on that should be available with the British Museum on request (a quick search on the internet may be a good starting point). Thereafter if you are serious about this you'd have to investigate with a legalistic mindset. There are surely international law rulings on this issue (e.g. at the Hague website). I suspect this is not a matter of simply sending an email to the British Museum or writing on Facebook that they are a bunch of thieves and should therefore give back the originals and keep an imitation. Nothing is so simple in life!

It would be useful to find an expert in museums and archaeology. A good textbook on this subject may help. Many free textbooks are available online now (try google books) that may point out the issues involved.

Look forward to an analytical article/study that summarises the problem, investigates it scientifically, and offers a viable solution. I'm sure India would be very interested as well!

COMMENT 5

Greece forgot its own teaching but England became great because the critical thinking of the ancient Greek philosophers was systematically implemented in EnglandIt therefore became the world leader in ALL major fields of knowledge. Hence it earned its right to investigate and document the history of (the by then) primitive peoples like Greece and India.

Greece still remains a primitive nation (like India does). Barely any movement forward. Till today I don't know the name of a SINGLE great Greek in the past 2200 years. No great thinker, scientist, political leader has emerged from the ancient leader of civilisation. 

And today Greece is in the doldrums because of fuzzy social liberal thinking. (and India is a mess beyond description.)

The point being – why care for the trappings of the Greek past? Let the British keep the stones and pebbles. Let Greece recover its thought leadership. Have at least one truly great thinker in the next 100 years. Mankind advances through thought, not through pebbles and rocks that are hewn into beautiful trinkets by talented but common craftsmen. Art is easy. Thinking is hard. 

There is an excess of looking backward in India. Possibly in Greece too. Would it not be more useful for Greece to look forward and create a great nation TODAY! 

If the Dutch disease is a disease created by resources, the Greek (and Indian) disease is of looking backward.

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5 thoughts on “The Indian disease of looking backward
  1. Bhagwad Jal Park

    I’ve been saying this very thing for a long time. Unfortunately, many people will read your post as “We must ignore history completely” and you open yourself up to smart comments like “If you ignore history you’re condemned to repeat it.”
    For example, I often come across people crying about how Muslims came and destroyed stuff hundreds of years ago. As if that has any relevance today! Those who looted etc. are dead and gone and the victims are no more as well. We have no connection with any of them. They were strangers and we can’t take credit or blame for what they did in the past.
    Of course, history is important so we can learn from it when the same situations come up again. But there are no Islamic invaders right now, nor is there any danger of our country being violently taken over again.
    Your points about artifacts are very valid as well. I guess the motto of your post can be “Forgive and forget!” (Not literally “forget” – it just means don’t take it personally. Nothing happened to you. Just a bunch of strangers living hundreds of years ago.)

     
  2. Bhagwad Jal Park

    I’ve been saying this very thing for a long time. Unfortunately, many people will read your post as “We must ignore history completely” and you open yourself up to smart comments like “If you ignore history you’re condemned to repeat it.”
    For example, I often come across people crying about how Muslims came and destroyed stuff hundreds of years ago. As if that has any relevance today! Those who looted etc. are dead and gone and the victims are no more as well. We have no connection with any of them. They were strangers and we can’t take credit or blame for what they did in the past.
    Of course, history is important so we can learn from it when the same situations come up again. But there are no Islamic invaders right now, nor is there any danger of our country being violently taken over again.
    Your points about artifacts are very valid as well. I guess the motto of your post can be “Forgive and forget!” (Not literally “forget” – it just means don’t take it personally. Nothing happened to you. Just a bunch of strangers living hundreds of years ago.)

     
  3. Harsh Vora

    Thanks. It makes sense that different problems require different approach and perhaps new solutions as well. The old system of governmental approach will no longer work. I agree in that unless and until India's governance is improved there is no point in returning our belongings to us for we will lose them anyway to our internally shoddy system. Our first priority therefore should not be to acquire our antique belongings but to set right our governance system. Then, we can focus on this issue.

     
  4. Harsh Vora

    Thanks. It makes sense that different problems require different approach and perhaps new solutions as well. The old system of governmental approach will no longer work. I agree in that unless and until India's governance is improved there is no point in returning our belongings to us for we will lose them anyway to our internally shoddy system. Our first priority therefore should not be to acquire our antique belongings but to set right our governance system. Then, we can focus on this issue.

     

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