16th April 2011
B.R. Ambedkar – a great Indian classical liberal
Here's a truly useful piece of research on B.R. Ambedkar by Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran, published in Pragati today. I've learnt a lot from this, and so, I'm sure will readers of this blog. I'm copying it entirely on this blog, for my own record. I trust Pragati won't have violent objections.
Well done, Balakrishnan! I'm delighted to learn about Ambedkar's economic ideas, and look forward to further studies on Ambedkar (and others) from you.
By all standards, Ambedkar was a classical liberal, and despite controversies about his life and influence on India, he was rightly honoured as the chairman of the Drafting Committee for India's constitution, a kind of Indian Jefferson. Highly trained in economics, from Columbia University, [Ambedkar received a scholarship to Columbia from the Maharajah of Baroda. He earned his MA in 1915 and then obtained a DSc at the London School of Economics before being awarded his Columbia PhD in 1927]
Through this post, may I also invite the "Dalits" of India (and others!) to study Ambedkar carefully and understand that what he and I are saying was basically the same thing. It is important that we recover the political and economic views that Ambedkar represented, and give everyone in India – including the "Dalits" – a chance to succeed.
The protagonists of globalisation have tried to project him as a proponent of the free-market, indeed, as a neoliberal, and have even gone to the extent of painting him as a monetarist (monetarists are supposed to be the intellectual initiators of neoliberalism) to claim him in support of their propaganda. In any case, how many Dalits, even among the educated ones, know what monetarism is? Ambedkar, who publicly professed his opposition to capitalism throughout his life, was thus wilfully distorted to be the supporter of neoliberal capitalism, which globalisation is!
…one finds the widespread ignorance regarding Ambedkar’s contribution as an economist unfortunate. This lack of awareness, to an extent, could be explained by his phenomenal contributions in other spheres such as law, religion, sociology, and politics, which might have overshadowed his contribution to economics. Yet it is surprising that even the so-called expert studies on the evolution of Indian economic thought…do not seem to take much cognisance of Ambedkar’s contributions.
I do not share Mr Ambedkar’s hostility to the system, nor accept most of his arguments against it and its advocates. But he hits some nails very squarely on the head, and even when I have thought him quite wrong, I have found a stimulating freshness in his views and reasons. An old teacher like myself learns to tolerate the vagaries of originality, even when they resist “severe examination” such as that of which Mr Ambedkar speaks.
Trade is an important apparatus in a society, based on private property and pursuit of individual gain; without it, it would be difficult for its members to distribute the specialised products of their labour…But a trading society is unavoidably a pecuniary society, a society which of necessity carries on its transactions in terms of money.In fact, the distribution is not primarily an exchange of products against products, but products against money. In such a society, money therefore necessarily becomes the pivot on which everything revolves.With money as the focusing-point of all human efforts, interests, desires, and ambitions, a trading society is bound to function in a regime of price, where successes and failures are results of nice calculations of price-outlay as against price-product.
One of the evils of the Exchange Standard is that it is subject to management. Now a convertible system is also a managed system. Therefore by adopting the convertible system we do not get rid of the evil of management which is really the bane of the present system. Besides, a managed currency is to be altogether avoided when the management is to be in the hands of the Government. When the management is by a bank there is less chance of mismanagement. For the penalty for imprudent issue, or mismanagement is visited by disaster directly upon the property of the issuer.But the chance of mismanagement is greater when it is issued by Government because the issue of government money is authorised and conducted by men who are never under any present responsibility for private loss in case of bad judgement or mismanagement.
By centralisation all progress tends to be retarded, all initiative liable to be checked and the sense of responsibility of Local Authorities greatly impaired…centralisation conflicts with what may be regarded as a cardinal principle of good government.Thus, centralisation, unless greatly circumscribed, must lead to inefficiency. This was sure to occur even in homogeneous states, and above all in a country like India where there are to be found more diversities of race, language, religion, customs and economic conditions.In such circumstances there must come a point at which the higher authority must be less competent than the lower, because it cannot by any possibility posses the requisite knowledge of all local conditions. It was therefore obvious that a Central Government for the whole of India could not be said to posses knowledge and experience of all various conditions prevailing in the different Provinces under it. It therefore, necessarily becomes an authority less competent to deal with matters of provincial administration than the Provisional Governments, the members of which could not be said to be markedly inferior, and must generally be equal in ability to those of the Central Government, while necessarily superior as a body in point of knowledge.
…the utility of an object varies according to the varying condition of the organism needing satisfaction. Even an object of our strongest desire like food may please or disgust, according as we are hungry or have over-indulged the appetite. Thus utility diminishes as satisfaction increases.