Thoughts on economics and liberty

The touchstone of policy: Rajaji’s March 1959 essay where he erroneously links trusteeship with capitalism


WHAT was the reason for this flop ? The easiest way out would of course
be to shrug our shoulders and say that State policy is not authentic,
that you can’t always find where the mistake in the sum is, and hence
the reason why it didn’t ‘ come off ‘. But it is no good doing that, because
in most cases you can find the mistake, and if you can, it means you must.
—Adapted from Sergei Obraztsov’s My Profession

Socialism cannot produce wealth. It can only distribute what is produced. The prior problem in India now is not how to distribute, but how to make wealth. The question is, therefore, before any policy is adumbrated, whether it will help increase honest hard work which alone can make wealth. No other consideration is so urgent and so important as this. The problem of India is how to produce more. The answer to this must decide all policy, what should be done, how it should be done, and at what pace it should be done. I maintain that what Gandhiji called the doctrine of trusteeship is the best creed of distribution for our country and it stands the test of the question which I have said should command priority. Not intolerably high taxes, nor confiscation, nor egalitarianism can solve the problem of India.

A question may be asked whether there is any instance of a country whose well-to-do people have been practising such a difficult doctrine as the doctrine of trusteeship. This doctrine issues out of the inherent limitations on the personal value of worldly possessions and the faith most people in the world have about God and what God expects of man. You may clothe this faith in any form, but it is the sustaining core of human life. Although it is not generally realized, it is a fact that in America —from whom we have already borrowed over Rs. 400 crores and from whom we are going to borrow yet further huge sums, all to be repaid in dollars, i.e., in goods produced such as America would buy—the well-to-do believe in and practise this doctrine of using wealth to help others without being forced by the State to do it. This is being interpreted occasionally as aimlessness by cynics and sell-righteous critics of the American way of life. But it is really a case of the natural law of trusteeship solving the problem of the motive of lite. Dharma is not only an ethic, it is a law of nature.

So much and so well is the doctrine of trusteeship established in America without being given that name, that it has been generally acknowledged, even by adverse observers, that in that country in this materialistic age and under capitalism, better and more equable social conditions prevail than in many countries whose governments are declaredly egalitarian.

The lesson to be drawn from American life is, first, produce before you seek to distribute equally or unequally ; secondly, get the full value of your possessions by treating yourself as a trustee of your superfluous wealth for the benefit of others who evoke your compassion ; you are master of what you possess but your mastery is expressed altruistically. [Sanjeev: the problem with Rajaji is that he never read Adam Smith: the very POINT of the system of natural liberty is that you CAN’T prosper without helping others]

What is possible at the very high levels of wealth of American citizens is also possible at lower levels. The quality of it can be the same whatever be the measure or the total quantity. But if there is no wealth which overflows one’s own needs, mere socialism cannot create additional wealth. What creates wealth is hard toil, human labour with labour-saving gadgets if you have them, or can get them from somewhere without suicidal cost,—without them if you do not have them, and if especially there is an excess of population who can employ themselves in that labour.

The real problem in India is how to increase labour, chiefly bodily labour. In China they have no compunction in getting it done by compulsion. But even State compulsion cannot succeed unless supported by a revolutionary voluntary urge. It is no good ignoring this task and confusing or exciting people over the inequalities of possessions, or any other matter that diverts popular attention from the real task. Whatever policy is proposed in any field, be it education or land or industry, it should be such as will evoke the desire, or at least the willingness, to put forth more bodily work, and create fruitful opportunities for such work. This is the supreme touchstone. It is such policies that should really be called Left or Radical and advanced. Right and Left are wrongly understood by men whose eye is only on the impossible distribution of the inadequate wealth we have among an enormous population and who mistake confiscation and expropriation, and the ignoring of fundamental rights of individuals, as in themselves a praiseworthy advance towards progress.

A strong government and a loyal people no doubt make a good State. But a deaf government and a dumb people do not make democracy. Democracy is not just a statutory entity. A knitting together of people’s hearts makes democracy, the hearts being not of sheep but of men.

I have had forty years of contact with the saint who came to show a new way of life and an altogether new way of resistance against evil. The sieve of time has of course dropped many impressions and many details but what remains has by that process become all the clearer and firmer :

That happiness, either of the individual or of the body of thinking and feeling men and women called the nation, depends on character, not on material possessions or on the prospects of getting them later on.

Again, that reform must always come from within ; and that loyal devotion to God is the spring of all reform from within and compulsion or violence, of any sort, makes no reform.

The problem of national happiness consists in nothing so much as in a change of heart. That should be our real ten-year plan. It does not need any annual confirmation by parliamentary vote at budget time. It calls for a nation-wide movement, for it is based on something more than a majority vote, the nature of man, something permanent.
Happiness does not depend on competition either among ourselves or with other nations. We cannot `catch up’ when we are behind other nations by centuries. Indeed why should we catch up’ if our aim is not show but welfare and happiness ? And if catching up depends on external aid, it is a temptation and a trap ; we shall be entangled in a voluntary moral subjection worse than military occupation.

We have to conserve what we possess of virtues. We must keep off new attractions that do not add to, but undermine old virtues. The inner urges and the unquestioned religious convictions which form the framework of action are far more important and effective than laws and regulations which the State may seek to impose. Nothing should be done to sabotage those urges and those convictions that have issued out of age-long co-operation and experience and the climate of a particular national life. As in art, so also in government, the artist or the ruler must fully feel and put himself in harmony with one’s land and people. Then only can good results be achieved.

Today our rulers have strayed away from this axiom. They feel as if they belong to a higher race and have a mission to impose their convictions on the people. Their language is far too reminiscent of foreign autocracy. The musicians of India are even now in perfect tune with the land of their birth and its people. So the music of the musicians continues to give joy. In contrast with this, the disharmony of the Government is striking. The activities of the Government being in disharmony have brought into being a sense of uncertainty and insecurity and have destroyed initiative. They have created disincentives for work and thought, which alone add to national wealth. Men and women have come to look upon the State as they look upon the stars and planets whose decrees of fate decide and which they cannot hope to change.

Two things are essential, a movement to make all people work hard whatever their place or their job, and a movement to make the rich feel they are trustees of what they hold beyond what they need for themselves. These can be sought to be brought about by extreme compulsion, but by far the most efficient way is by a movement for voluntary acceptance of these essential and right conditions for progress and happiness. They are in the tradition of our people. They will preserve the graces of life and spread joy both spiritual and material.

Whatever the nature or the system of government may be, the two essentials—work and compassion—make for prosperity and true happiness. A BBC Panorama recently broadcast a lot of important facts about China. Human labour can hardly ever have been employed since the days of the Pyramids with such insect-like profusion as in modern China. ” Forty-five thousand Chinese, men and women, toil from sunrise to sunset on the building of a new dam, and they do it all without any kind of earth-moving machinery or equipment—in fact practically with bare hands,” said Mr. Richard Dimbleby in this BBC programme. ” Men and women are working like this all over China,” said Mr. Gerald Clark, London editor of the Montreal Star, in confirmation of Mr. Dimbleby’s statement.
” The same methods of mass, unskilled labour that are putting up these huge twentieth-century earthworks are being employed also in other aspects of the drive for more industrial power,” added Mr. Dimbleby.

What are we doing? We thirst and hunger for foreign exchange to import machinery and run family planning propaganda, and distribute contraceptives among girls who mix with ardent boys. Manual labour, the tortoise, wins the race in China against the hare, foreign machinery, in India. [Sanjeev: Obviously I have MANY significant issues with Rajaji’s vision – which is not founded on economic theory but on Gandhian confusion]

” The backyard blast furnace is really the symbol of modern China. It is her industrial revolution, the great leap forward into the twentieth century,” said Mr. Gerald Clark.

We in India are planning to invest astronomical figures of rupees in the founding of an atomic power station.

” The Chinese communist philosophy is ‘ Don’t wait for the big factories, use your millions, let industrialization rise in the cottage and the village workshop ‘,” said Mr. Dimbleby in this BBC Panorama. ” There are from 3 to 7 lakh backyard furnaces throughout China,” confirmed Mr. Gerald Clark.

” Thirty years ago it was Japan that sold cheap consumer goods to the world. Now China is competing with much lower prices, in the markets of South-East Asia,” said Mr. Richard Harris of the editorial staff of the London Times.

We are constantly and irrelevantly reminded that we are in the atomic age. What has the atom got to do with our progress ? Nothing. Our large population of two-handed human beings is relevant and that is either ignored or deemed to be a handicap. In China they use these hands.

May be, it is there done by compulsion and indoctrination. But that is not an essential. Our men can and must be made work-minded. Our rulers must be liberated from the machine obsession. [Sanjeev: I guess it was inevitable that Rajaji’s views were outclassed by the weird Indian model of socialism: he was simply too Gandhian] If together with this we have the doctrine of trusteeship, that is, of compassion and a sense of reality, we can solve the antinomy of individual and society. We can make a paradise of free men in India.

March 28, 1959

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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