Thoughts on economics and liberty

Category: Liberty

Flag burning – the test of a free society

(This is a small extract from 'Discovery of Freedom'. I will publish a few of these extracts periodically to test my ideas. Look forward to your response.)

Must a free society tolerate the burning or desecration of its national flag as a political act of civil disobedience? We begin by asking: if this act was banned, would it maximise equal freedom subject to accountability? Clearly, no one comes to the stage of burning their national flag unless they feel that a great many freedoms have been already trampled upon. And so the general environment of the society would need to be considered. If someone burns the flag without any reason, though, then that person’s intellectual ability is surely too feeble, and could ask: what harm could such a mentally feeble person do by burning the flag? After all, to that person it is merely a piece of coloured cloth he is burning without any reason. If that person doesn’t understand the value the flag represents, then so be it. Such an action is not a crime. In other words, if someone is seriously burning the flag, then the society needs to examine itself. If someone is stupidly burning it, it doesn’t matter.

India has not taken any chances, though, and has enacted The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971 providing for imprisonment of up to three years, or fine, or both, for anyone who, in public view, mutilates, defaces, defiles, disfigures, destroys, tramples on or otherwise brings the National Flag into contempt. In addition, The Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act forbids the use of the flag in any trade mark or design.

Unlike India, though, which has a fragile sense of identity, and virtually no sense of freedom, the US has ruled that while desecrating its flag is deplorable, people are free to burn the flag as part of their freedom of expression. Its citizens are free to even make underwear bearing the flag’s image. Since many people’s patience with flag burning for political purposes was running thin in the USA, a flag burning amendment to the United States Constitution was proposed in 2006. But the US Senate rejected it, albeit narrowly. Senator Daniel K. Inouye – who lost an arm in World War II, and whose patriotism was unquestioned – said that flag burning ‘is obscene, painful and unpatriotic’, … ‘[b]ut I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves – even those who harbor hateful thoughts.’ Such a resounding commitment to freedom defines the US of America, the world’s only major bastion of freedom today. Three cheers to this brave land which seriously respects freedom by allowing its people to burn its own flag! Liberty expects no less.

India must aim to become a free country and learn to tolerate political protest including peaceful flag burning. Burning symbols, no matter how offensive and distasteful, does not amount to violent expression (it is not exactly non-violent, but it is not violent either, not affecting the human body). If freedom and equal opportunity were available to all, then flag burning would become thing of the past, anyway. It is only if India has something to hide that it will prohibit protest. In any event, it is preferable to let protests be public than to force them underground, for at stage terrorism can become a distinct possibility. More generally, it is inappropriate for a free society to invest any symbol with a hallowed status, for then there would be no end to such encroachments on our freedoms.


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Unbridled capitalism?

The following article was published in Freedom First, October 2008.

Sanjeev Sabhlok

This month I want to focus on a topic on which great confusion prevails in India: the issue of capitalism. I wrote to an eminent Indian economist seeking comment on my draft manuscript of The Discovery of Freedom ( Without yet reading the manuscript, he wrote to me that “completely unbridled capitalism has rarely been followed. I am not sure whether it should be followed. It needs an overarching architecture based on local culture, traditions, history and legal system, among other things.”

I though this response was unwarranted. My manuscript already discusses the institutions of freedom at great length. So that couldn’t possibly be an issue. We both agree that good institutions like tolerance, democracy and justice are crucial. Thomas Hobbes showed why we need a strong state to defend our life and liberty; capitalism is therefore founded on the rule of law and the enforcement of justice. But I find unwarranted and gratuitous the suggestion about not following “completely unbridled capitalism”. Since this perspective reflects widely held misconceptions, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine it more closely.

Whatever else is true about capitalism, this much is clear that never did John Locke, David Hume, Adam Smith, J.S. Mill, Ayn Rand, F.A. Hayek, or Milton Friedman advocate unbridled capitalism or freedom. It seems that socialists like Marx and Nehru have badly sullied the reputation of liberty. The socialists have repeatedly alleged that capitalism caters to so-called ‘capitalists’ and gives them unbridled powers to exploit the weak. But that is totally false. Philosophers of liberty have always insisted that freedom comes with responsibility and justice. Adam Smith opposed mercantilism and monopolistic industrial interests. David Ricardo wanted more competition and free trade. Adam Smith and J.S. Mill advocated labour unions to face the economic power of the owners of industry.

By repeating lies against liberty long enough, socialists have made it appear that the system of natural liberty encourages corruption and things like the sub-prime crisis. But what are the actual facts? Capitalism begins by looking at human nature. The fathers of capitalism, Hobbes and Locke, pointed out that since human nature is far from perfect, some people will always try to cheat, mislead, and misuse their powers. So if anyone cheats, then systems of justice should catch and punish the cheats. Thus everyone must be held equally to account and no one is to be above the law. In this manner, by ensuring all crimes are punished, capitalist societies are today among the most ethical on this planet.

Capitalism is also a system of continuous improvement. Lessons from events like the sub-prime crisis are quickly learned and such events prevented from happening again. Some events are complex and finding their causes can take time; but overall, capitalism is a political and economic system founded on democratic choice, law and order, and continuous improvement. And since the governance of capitalist societies is built on the system of checks and balances advocated by Montesquieu and Thomas Jefferson, the concept of capitalism being unbridled simply does not arise!

We know from history that the rulers of the West did not like capitalism one bit since it insisted on equal freedom for all. Many people like Locke, Voltaire, Burke and Mill had to fight the vested feudal interests to win freedom for ordinary peoples everywhere.

And so our quarrel cannot possibly be with capitalism. Our quarrel must be with socialism. In socialist societies, based as the spurious concept of economic equality, state-sanctioned corruption is the norm. After having worked in the Indian and Australian bureaucracies for a total of 26 years I can say with confidence that there is almost no corruption in the West today. On the other hand, corruption is endemic in socialist India, where not one politician is completely honest and few bureaucrats completely so. For very fundamental reasons, no society can run ethically on the ideas of socialism. But did this eminent economist express concerns about ‘unbridled’ socialism? No! For capitalism has become the customary whipping boy. Protect the criminal and point fingers at the saint: that seems to be the norm.

Consider and compare, for a moment, how life is defended in India and in the West. Employers in India are, for all practical purposes, unaccountable for the safety of their workers. Hundreds, if not thousands of lives are lost in India every year in preventable workplaces ‘accidents’, even as capitalist societies like Australia have astonishing low rates of worker injury. While working for the safety regulator in the state of Victoria I found that not only are safety laws in the West strongly focused on employer accountability, but negligence is punished severely. If I was a mine worker I would be scared to work in socialist India but would happily work in capitalist Australia where my life is well protected.

So who is really unbridled? Who is really immoral? Is it socialist India – where the governments are totally corrupt, where industrialists are gifted monopoly powers by the corrupt state, and where lives of workers are treated with disdain – or is it the capitalist West where governments wage a systematic battle against all forms of corruption and irresponsible behaviour? Clearly, it is not capitalism but socialism we must be afraid of.

It is time that India looks at the facts. We must not be afraid to use the system of natural liberty which was invented by the Englishman John Locke just because it was invented in England. After all, the West happily takes advantage of Indian thinking by using the number system we invented. So let us listen to what Locke said.

Freedom Team of India
Without security of life there can be no freedom. One of the strongest indicators of a free society is therefore the absence of organised killings of citizens. The endless spate of killings in India is telling us that we are not yet free. When Muslim and Maoist terrorists momentarily pause their mayhem, fascist Hindus appear on the scene to kill Christians; and so on… until it has become hard to distinguish what is happening and who is killing whom. Life and liberty are on the back foot, fighting for survival.

Our education system has clearly failed to imbibe the basic virtues of good citizenship. In a democracy those who have grievances should participate in the political process and change things they don’t like. If that doesn’t work, they can lodge their protest through non-violent civil disobedience. But there is a total absence of good leaders in India today to guide the people. In this situation, if liberals don’t unite to lead India then they or their children could well get caught in the crossfire of misgovernance. Why is it that in 1959 an old man aged eighty could start a major political party (Swatantra Party) and give battle for our liberty, but people today have given up without trying?

I would like to thank those who have written to me in support of the Freedom Team ( For those who have not yet got involved, I suggest that you to do so. Working together, we can defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone in India.

Contact Sanjeev at sabhlok AT yahoo DOT com

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Why socialism can’t work for India

While searching for some data from my old records, I found this draft article on socialism in one of my early 'computer writings'. Never attempted publication. It is dated 25 October 1992, when I was studying in Curtin University. I’ve made no attempt to edit it or polish it up except to get rid of a couple of obvious spelling errors using Word. It was a draft anyway. Also, a wide range of my writings on policy are found at the IPI archives at (1998-2001). Sanjeev 22 Feb 07.

In 1977 (check) India passed the amendment to the Constitution, making India a socialist republic. Practically from the time of our independence we have followed socialistic practices, though in a less draconian manner than the true socialistic countries.

But in each and every endeavour where we have applied the tenets of socialism, we have failed. The ruinous public sector, instead of reaching the commanding heights of the economy, actually reached all the depressing depths which could possibly be conjectured. They sank like a heavy anchor into the depths of losses and have almost pulled the entire ship of India along with them to disaster.

The bureaucracy, given a cosmetic facelift (by browning its face and calling it the IAS and allied services), was expected to maintain its trust-worthiness and hard-working spirit to help the country achieve its socialistic goals. Bureaucrats got busy in creating more and more wasteful programmes, arrogating to themselves the entire wisdom of the Indian people and recruiting more and more lowly qualified and politically supported people into government. Their fundamental premise was that the businessman who can produce is an enemy of the people, since he may become rich. There could perhaps be no greater crime in their eyes than a person becoming rich. They wanted to be the richest of all themselves. After the ministers, perhaps. So all kinds of laws and rules were invented in the name of socialism to curb production, both in the private and in the public sectors. The net result was an unprecedented increase in corruption. Almost everything that has been created by governments in the past forty-five years has bred corruption. And ever-increasing innovations have been made in this field of "knowledge".

By attempting to do everything itself, while at the same time aggrandising itself, the bureaucracy (including its lowest rungs), effectively became anti-socialistic: look at the practice of having a large bunch of peons both in the office and at home: bureaucrats love servants. And servants are often treated as inhumanly as can be expected in the old-fashioned Marxian capitalistic societies where the bourgeoisie discriminates against the working classes. Even feudalism is perhaps better. We should modify our Constitution to state that we have socialistic republic for the ruling class and feudalism for the poor. Could no one get rid of the system of peons in the past forty five years of socialism? What kind of society are we trying to achieve? Where one human being has to serve the petty needs of another human being? Will that be termed a civilised society? And at the same time this is a system which destroys the productivity of a large body of people. What, after all, does a peon produce? Does a peon's work go into the GDP of a country? Is a peon efficient? Why cannot the "officers" clean their rooms, and carry their files and briefcases? If at all someone is required to be provided, perhaps he can be a common office boy, rather than a personalised peon.

Thus much of the "respect" given to working classes is hypocritical. In a so-called capitalistic developed country such as Australia, on the other hand, one is forced to respect the working classes. All kinds of blue collared workers work with sophisticated machines which increase their output nearly thirty to forty times of that of an average Indian worker. Even sweepers sweep the roads with special machines which blow the dirt to particular areas from where it is removed.

Consider the garbage lifter. Each household is provided with a large plastic black bin with a cover, which is supposed to be filled up with the garbage of the house. This garbage bin is kept in a particular place outside the house, where a garbage collector can reach and collect. The garbage collector comes in a huge truck fitted with complicated mechanical devices, and picks up the garbage bin with the machine and empties it without touching the bin at all, before putting the bin back, with the help of the machine, to its original place. This garbage collector performs his work at an amazing pace, and one such garbage collector with his machines would be able to pick up the garbage of more than one thousand households in a given day.

Then there is an employee who waters the public lawns. Now, there are a huge number of public lawns, and since Perth has almost no rain in its very hot summer (where temperatures reach nearly 50 degrees centigrade), there would be no possibility of grass growing on the lawns unless there were special machines which are available for this purpose. And so there are. One "gardener" or "lawn-engineer", as I see him, is capable of watering huge bodies of lawns, and mowing them too, with his machine, yielding an output which exceeds by over ten thousand times the efficiency of an average Indian gardener. Keeping a city of the size of Perth clean would require thousands of employees if it were located in India, but it takes surprisingly few employees to keep it the cleanest city in the world (Perth has won many international shields as the cleanest city of the world).

These workers are paid at very high rates, and often the manual worker earns more than his white-collared counterpart. Does that mean that Australia is more socialistic than India? After all, the main purpose of uplifting the working classes to the level of the bourgeoisie has been achieved here. Further, social security offers huge benefits for unemployment, and disability.

So what is this illusive socialism that we are running after, so hypocritically? Can we not be honest with ourselves now at least, after the great fall of the Humpty Dumpty (USSR)? What do we need this futile stupidity called socialism for? To produce more clerks and servants for our pampered ruling classes? To create public sector undertakings whose raison d'atre to exist is the amount of money the politicians can make from them? To have electricity undertakings which provide power only to the chosen few, and a great amount of illegal money to its officials? What has socialism done for us except to impoverish us both physically and mentally?

India exported two percent of the entire world's exports in 1947, but today we export only one half of one percent of the world exports. We had Nobel Prize winners even in Physics in the first half of the century. Now we are incapable of even mimicking the Nobel Prize winners in science, not to talk of achieving a Nobel Prize of our own. We did somewhat well in the Olympics in the first half of the century, but now we are reduced to the most pathetic position which even the worst enemies of India could not have imagined for India. We have been made almost impotent in the world stage. This great country, with great people, and great potential – ruined, corrupted and destroyed – all by itself, internally. By socialism. The scourge of mankind. The diseased look at human beings. We even lost our sense of human decency, and allied with the terrible empire of the Soviets which systematically got rid of its best people, and we did not condemn its shoddy trampling over human rights as done by Stalin.

We have become afraid. I am sure that is not what Gandhiji wanted us to become. We have to reaffirm our capacity as a great
people; we have to regain our self-confidence and hew a great country once again from start: only, this time we are in a worse position relative to the world than we were in 1947. We have lost forty five years in stupidity. Let us learn from our blunders and at least now think of the tasks before us.

There is no alternative to capitalism.

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