Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: FTI – leadership, team building

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:


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! 


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.


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.


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!


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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The importance of forming a deep understanding of freedom

The Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEE) was founded in 1946 by Leonard E. Read in the USA. Its work still continues, and you can subscribe to its journal, Freeman, and periodic updates through email (click here for options).

I found an excellent book on their website, called The Freedom Philosophy which is only available as PDF. I've now converted it into Word (click here) and will periodically update this Word version and publish extracts from it. This Word version does not contain three articles since these are not freely publishable – but you'll can read them from the PDF version.

Here's the first article, by Leonard Read. Though published in 1961, it has great relevance even today, not only in US but in India. I'd particularly commend this to FTI members.

The Essence of Americanism, by Leonard E. Read

 Delivered as a speech in 1961.

Someone once said: It isn’t that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; it has been tried and found difficult—and abandoned. Perhaps the same thing might be said about freedom. The American people are becoming more and more afraid of, and are running away from, their own revolution. I think that statement takes a bit of documentation.
I would like to go back, a little over three centuries in our history, to the year 1620, which was the occasion of the landing of our Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth Rock. That little colony began its career in a condition of pure and unadulterated communism. For it made no difference how much or how little any member of that colony produced; all the produce went into a common warehouse under authority, and the proceeds of the warehouse were doled out in accordance with the authority’s idea of need. In short, the Pilgrims began the practice of a principle held up by Karl Marx two centuries later as the ideal of the Communist Party: From each according to ability, to each according to need—and by force!
There was a good reason why these communalistic or communistic practices were discontinued. It was because the members of the Pilgrim colony were starving and dying. As a rule, that type of experience causes people to stop and think about it!
Anyway, they did stop and think about it. During the third winter Governor Bradford got together with the remaining members of the colony and said to them, in effect: “This coming spring we are going to try a new idea. We are going to drop the practice of ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need.’ We are going to try the idea of ‘to each according to merit.’” And when Governor Bradford said that, he enunciated the private property principle as clearly and succinctly as any economist ever had. That principle is nothing more nor less than each individual having a right to the fruits of his own labor. Next spring came, and it was observed that not only was father in the field but mother and the children were there, also. Governor Bradford records that “Any generall wante or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”
It was by reason of the practice of this private property principle that there began in this country an era of growth and development which sooner or later had to lead to revolutionary political ideas. And it did lead to what I refer to as the real American revolution.
I do not think of the real American revolution as the armed conflict we had with King George III. That was a reasonably minor fracas as such fracases go! The real American revolution was a novel concept or idea which broke with the whole political history of the world.
Up until 1776 men had been contesting with each other, killing each other by the millions, over the age-old question of which of the numerous forms of authoritarianism—that is, man-made authority—should preside as sovereign over man. And then, in 1776, in the fraction of one sentence written into the Declaration of Independence was stated the real American Revolution, the new idea, and it was this: “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That was it. This is the essence of Americanism. This is the rock upon which the whole “American miracle” was founded.
This revolutionary concept was at once a spiritual, a political, and an economic concept. It was spiritual in that the writers of the Declaration recognized and publicly proclaimed that the Creator was the endower of man’s rights, and thus the Creator is sovereign.
It was political in implicitly denying that the state is the endower of man’s rights, thus declaring that the state is not sovereign.
It was economic in the sense that if an individual has a right to his life, it follows that he has a right to sustain his life—the sustenance of life being nothing more nor less than the fruits of one’s own labor.
It is one thing to state such a revolutionary concept as this; it’s quite another thing to implement it—to put it into practice. To accomplish this, our Founding Fathers added two political instruments—the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These two instruments were essentially a set of prohibitions; prohibitions not against the people but against the thing the people, from their Old World experience, had learned to fear, namely, over-extended government.
Benefits of Limited Government
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights more severely limited government than government had ever before been limited in the history of the world. And there were benefits that flowed from this severe limitation of the state.
Number one, there wasn’t a single person who turned to the government for security, welfare, or prosperity because government was so limited that it had nothing on hand to dispense, nor did it then have the power to take from some that it might give to others. To what or to whom do people turn if they cannot turn to government for security, welfare, or prosperity? They turn where they should turn—to themselves.
As a result of this discipline founded on the concept that the Creator, not the state, is the endower of man’s rights, we developed in this country on an unprecedented scale a quality of character that Emerson referred to as “self-reliance.” All over the world the American people gained the reputation of being self-reliant.
There was another benefit that flowed from this severe limitation of government. When government is limited to the inhibition of the destructive actions of men—that is, when it is limited to inhibiting fraud and depredation, violence and misrepresentation, when it is limited to invoking a common justice—then there is no organized force standing against the productive or creative actions of citizens. As a consequence of this limitation on government, there occurred a freeing, a releasing, of creative human energy, on an unprecedented scale.
This was the combination mainly responsible for the “American miracle,” founded on the belief that the Creator, not the state, is the endower of man’s rights.
This manifested itself among the people as individual freedom of choice. People had freedom of choice as to how they employed themselves. They had freedom of choice as to what they did with the fruits of their own labor.
But something happened to this remarkable idea of ours, this revolutionary concept. It seems that the people we placed in government office as our agents made a discovery. Having acquisitive instincts for affluence and power over others—as indeed some of us do—they discovered that the force which inheres in government, which the people had delegated to them in order to inhibit the destructive actions of man, this monopoly of force could be used to invade the productive and creative areas in society—one of which is the business sector. And they also found that if they incurred any deficits by their interventions, the same government force could be used to collect the wherewithal to pay the bills.
I would like to suggest to you that the extent to which government in America has departed from the original design of inhibiting the destructive actions of man and invoking a common justice; the extent to which government has invaded the productive and creative areas; the extent to which the government in this country has assumed the responsibility for the security, welfare, and prosperity of our people is a measure of the extent to which socialism and communism have developed here in this land of ours.
The Lengthening Shadow
Can we measure this development? Not precisely, but we can get a fair idea of it by referring to something I said a moment ago about one of our early characteristics as a nation—individual freedom of choice as to the use of the fruits of one’s own labor. If you will measure the loss in freedom of choice in this matter, you will get an idea of what is going on.
There was a time, about 120 years ago, when the average citizen had somewhere between 95 and 98 per cent freedom of choice with each of his income dollars. That was because the tax take of the government—federal, state, and local—was between 2 and 5 per cent of the earned income of the people. But, as the emphasis shifted from this earlier design, as government began to move in to invade the productive and creative areas and to assume the responsibility for the security, welfare, and prosperity of the people, the percentage of the take of the people’s earned income increased. The percentage of the take kept going up and up and up until today it’s not 2 to 5 per cent. It is now [1961] over 35 per cent.
Whenever the take of the people’s earned income by government reaches a certain level-20 or 25 per cent—it is no longer politically expedient to pay for the costs of government by direct tax levies. Governments then resort to inflation as a means of financing their ventures. This is happening to us now! By “inflation” I mean increasing the volume of money by the national government’s fiscal policy. Governments resort to inflation with popular support because the people apparently are naive enough to believe that they can have their cake and eat it, too. Many people do not realize that they cannot continue to enjoy so-called “benefits” from government without having to pay for them. They do not appreciate the fact that inflation is probably the most unjust and most cruel tax of all.
Inflation is the fiscal concomitant of socialism or the welfare state or state interventionism—call it what you will. Inflation is a political weapon. There are no other means of financing the welfare state except by inflation.
So, if you don’t like inflation, there is only one thing you can do: assist in returning our government to its original principles.
One of my hobbies is cooking and, therefore, I am familiar with the gadgets around the kitchen. One of the things with which I am familiar is a sponge. A sponge in some respects resembles a good economy. A sponge will sop up an awful lot of mess; but when the sponge is saturated, the sponge itself is a mess, and the only way you can make it useful again is to wring the mess out of it. I hope my analogy is clear.
Inflation in the United States has ever so many more catastrophic potentials than has ever been the case in any other country in history. We here are the most advanced division-of-labor society that has ever existed. That is, we are more specialized than any other people has ever been; we are further removed from self-subsistence.
Indeed, we are so specialized today that every one of us—everybody in this room, in the nation, even the farmer—is absolutely dependent upon a free, uninhibited exchange of our numerous specialties. That is a self-evident fact.
Destroying the Circulatory System
In any highly specialized economy you do not effect specialized exchanges by barter. You never observe a man going into a gasoline station saying, “Here is a goose; give me a gallon of gas.” That’s not the way to do it in a specialized economy. You use an economic circulatory system, which is money, the medium of exchange.
This economic circulatory system, in some respects, can be likened to the circulatory system of the body, which is the blood stream.
The circulatory system of the body picks up oxygen in the lungs and ingested food in the mid-section and distributes these specialties to the 30 trillion cells of the body. At those points it picks up carbon dioxide and waste matter and carries them off. I could put a hypodermic needle into one of your veins and thin your blood stream to the point where it would no longer make these exchanges, and when I reached that point, we could refer to you quite accurately in the past tense.
By the same token, you can thin your economic circulatory system, your medium of exchange, to the point where it will no longer circulate the products and services of economic specialization.
Those of you who are interested in doing something about this, have a right to ask yourselves a perfectly logical question: Has there ever been an instance, historically, when a country has been on this toboggan and succeeded in reversing itself? There have been some minor instances. I will not attempt to enumerate them. The only significant one took place in England after the Napoleonic Wars.
How England Did It
England’s debt, in relation to her resources, was larger than ours is now; her taxation was confiscatory; restrictions on the exchanges of goods and services were numerous, and there were strong controls on production and prices. Had it not been for the smugglers, many people would have starved!
Something happened in that situation, and we ought to take cognizance of it. What happened there might be emulated here even though our problem is on a much larger scale. There were in England such men as John Bright and Richard Cobden, men who understood the principle of freedom of exchange. Over in France, there was a politician by the name of Chevalier, and an economist named Frederic Bastiat.
Incidentally, if any of you have not read the little book by Bastiat entitled The Law, I commend it as the finest thing that I have ever read on the principles one ought to keep in mind when trying to judge for oneself what the scope of government should be.
Bastiat was feeding his brilliant ideas to Cobden and Bright, and these men were preaching the merits of freedom of exchange. Members of Parliament listened and, as a consequence, there began the greatest reform movement in British history.
Parliament repealed the Corn Laws, which here would be like repealing subsidies to farmers. They repealed the Poor Laws, which here would be like repealing Social Security. And fortunately for them they had a monarch—her name was Victoria—who relaxed the authority that the English people themselves believed to be implicit in her office. She gave them freedom in the sense that a prisoner on parole has freedom, a permissive kind of freedom but with lots of latitude. Englishmen, as a result, roamed all over the world achieving unparalleled prosperity and building an enlightened empire.
This development continued until just before World War I. Then the same old political disease set in again. What precisely is this disease that causes inflation and all these other troubles? It has many popular names, some of which I have mentioned, such as socialism, communism, state interventionism, and welfare statism. It has other names such as fascism and Nazism. It has some local names like New Deal, Fair Deal, New Republicanism, New Frontier, and the like.
A Dwindling Faith in Freedom
If you will take a careful look at these so-called “progressive ideologies,” you will discover that each of them has a characteristic common to all the rest. This common characteristic is a cell in the body politic which has a cancer-like capacity for inordinate growth. This characteristic takes the form of a belief. It is a rapidly growing belief in the use of organized force—government—not to carry out its original function of inhibiting the destructive actions of men and invoking a common justice, but to control the productive and creative activity of citizens in society. That is all it is. Check any one of these ideologies and see if this is not its essential characteristic.
Here is an example of what I mean: I can remember the time when, if we wanted a house or housing, we relied on private enterprise. First, we relied on the person who wanted a house. Second, we relied on the persons who wanted to compete in the building. And third, we relied on those who thought they saw some advantage to themselves in loaning the money for the tools, material, and labor. Under that system of free enterprise, Americans built more square feet of housing per person than any other country on the face of the earth. Despite that remarkable accomplishment, more and more people are coming to believe that the only way we can have adequate housing is to use government to take the earnings from some and give these earnings, in the form of housing, to others. In other words, we are right back where the Pilgrim Fathers were in 1620-23 and Karl Marx was in 1847— from each according to ability, to each according to need, and by the use of force.
As this belief in the use of force as a means of creative accomplishment increases, the belief in free men—that is, men acting freely, competitively, cooperatively, voluntarily—correspondingly diminishes. Increase compulsion and freedom declines. Therefore, the solution to this problem, if there be one, must take a positive form, namely, the restoration of a faith in what free men can accomplish. The American people, by and large, have lost track of the spiritual antecedent of the American miracle. You are given a choice: either you accept the idea of the Creator as the endower of man’s rights, or you submit to the idea that the state is the endower of man’s rights. I double-dare any of you to offer a third alternative. We have forgotten the real source of our rights and are suffering the consequences.
Millions of people, aware that something is wrong, look around for someone to blame. They dislike socialism and communism and give lip service to their dislike. They sputter about the New Frontier and Modern Republicanism. But, among the millions who say they don’t like these ideologies, you cannot find one in ten thousand whom you yourself will designate as a skilled, accomplished expositor of socialism’s opposite—the free market, private property, limited government philosophy with its moral and spiritual antecedents. How many people do you know who are knowledgeable in this matter? Very few, I dare say.
Developing Leadership
No wonder we are losing the battle! The problem then—the real problem—is developing a leadership for this philosophy, persons from different walks of life who understand and can explain this philosophy.
This leadership functions at three levels. The first level requires that an individual achieve that degree of understanding which makes it utterly impossible for him to have any hand in supporting or giving any encouragement to any socialistic activities. Leadership at this level doesn’t demand any creative writing, thinking, and talking, but it does require an understanding of what things are really socialistic, however disguised. People reject socialism in name, but once any socialistic activity has been Americanized, nearly everybody thinks it’s all right. So you have to take the definition of socialism—state ownership and control of the means of production—and check our current practices against this definition.
As a matter of fact, you should read the ten points of the Communist Manifesto and see how close we have come to achieving them right here in America. It’s amazing.
The second level of leadership is reached when you achieve that degree of understanding and exposition which makes it possible to expose the fallacies of socialism and set forth some of the principles of freedom to those who come within your own personal orbit. Now, this takes a lot more doing.
One of the things you have to do to achieve this second level of leadership is some studying. Most people have to, at any rate, and one of the reasons the Foundation for Economic Education exists is to help such people. At the Foundation we are trying to understand the freedom philosophy better ourselves, and we seek ways of explaining it with greater clarity. The results appear in single page releases, in a monthly journal, in books and pamphlets, in lectures, seminars, and the like. Our journal, The Freeman, for instance, is available to anyone on request. We impose no other condition.
The third level of leadership is to achieve that excellence in understanding and exposition which will cause other persons to seek you out as a tutor. That is the highest you can go, but there is no limit as to how far you can go in becoming a good tutor.
When you operate at this highest level of leadership, you must rely only on the power of attraction. Let me explain what I mean by this.
On April 22 we had St. Andrew’s Day at my golf club. About 150 of us were present, including yours truly. When I arrived at the club, the other 149 did not say, “Leonard, won’t you please play with me? Won’t you please show me the proper stance, the proper grip, the proper swing?” They didn’t do it. You know why? Because by now those fellows are aware of my incompetence as a golfer. But if you were to wave a magic wand and make of me, all of a sudden, a Sam Snead, a Ben Hogan, an Arnold Palmer, or the like, watch the picture change! Every member of that club would sit at my feet hoping to learn from me how to improve his own game. This is the power of attraction. You cannot do well at any subject without an audience automatically forming around you. Trust me on that.
If you want to be helpful to the cause of freedom in this country, seek to become a skilled expositor. If you have worked at the philosophy of freedom and an audience isn’t forming, don’t write and ask what the matter is. Just go back and do more of your homework.
Actually, when you get into this third level of leadership, you have to use methods that are consonant with your objective. Suppose, for instance, that my objective were your demise. 1 could use some fairly low-grade methods, couldn’t I? But now, suppose my objective to be the making of a great poet out of you. What could I do about that? Not a thing—unless by some miracle I first learned to distinguish good poetry from bad, and then learned to impart this knowledge to you.
The philosophy of freedom is at the very pinnacle of the hierarchy of values; and if you wish to further the cause of freedom, you must use methods that are consonant with your objective. This means relying on the power of attraction.
Let me conclude with a final thought. This business of freedom is an ore that lies much deeper than most of us realize. Too many of us are prospecting wastefully on the surface. Freedom isn’t something to be bought cheaply. A great effort is required to dig up this ore that will save America. And where are we to find the miners?
I think we will find these miners of the freedom-ore among those who love this country. I think we will probably find them in this room. And if you were to ask me who, in my opinion, has the greatest responsibility as a miner, I would suggest that it is the attractive individual occupying the seat you are sitting in.
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Shantanu Bhagwat’s interview in the League of India

For those who do not subscribe to Shantanu's blog (which I thoroughly recommend), I'm reproducing his 16 December 2010 interview in the League of India – directly copying the material on his blog – so as to radiate it just a little bit further. Let me also take this opportunity to invite you once again to join the Freedom Team – if you've not already done so. 

An earnest “endeavour of heart” 

*** Interview Begins ***

1. When and why did you decide to cut down on your life of a global business professional and immerse yourself into ideas aimed at improving political systems and governance in India? At the same time, talking in management terms, does this earnest endeavour-of-heart include an intrinsic exit plan too?

The change happened in the early months of 2008. There were several triggers…

The first was probably the shameful perversion of democracy on the floor of the house on 22nd July. In response to my post on this subject, Sanjeev Sabhlok challenged everyone to either rise and do something about it or shut up.

That shook me to the core….it hurt..but it probably hurt even more because it was true…

The second trigger were the blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad…Ironically, I had been to both these cities just a few days before…But strangely it did not feel like I had cheated death.

Other events and things happening around me, helped make the decision…I watched with awe and fascination as the Obama campaign changed the paradigm of fund-raising in the US by reaching out at the grassroots…and I began to read about interesting experiments that were happening around “crowd-funding”.

The process was more complex and not quite as straight-forward as what I have outlined above. And of course NONE of this would have been possible without the whole-hearted support and commitment from my wife and family. Without her support, this would have been impossible to do. The whole story is here, for those of your readers who wish to read more about the background to this transformation.

As for an exit plan, there is no exit plan here.

The only exit is a better India – far better than what we have today – a better country with a healthy, prosperous populace that has its basic necessities covered and provides equal opportunities to progress to all its citizens. An India, where in the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “the mind is without fear and the head is held high...”


2. How far is the political activist in you from becoming an active politician, one who fights elections i.e.? Or, do you believe that it is not necessary for the former to evolve in to the latter?

I believe the transition from being an “activist” into electoral politics is not a sharp, linear process (after all candidates fighting at elections are activists too).

I believe standing (up) for an election should be a carefully thought-through move and the culmination of a process that necessarily includes developing at least a basic understanding of the issues that plague us, developing an ideological paradigm to frame the issues and having some thoughts on how to confront the major challenges that face our nation.

I wish I could give you a time-frame for the transition but I am unable to.


3. A lot of, what seems to be, your angst and earnestness comes out clearly in your blog Satyameva Jayate. Tell us a little about it, especially about its origin and the place it holds in your overall road-map of life from here on?

The story of the blog’s origin is here but very briefly it was a reaction to the feelings and emotions I felt following the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and several acts of terrorism since then.

I became convinced that we were fighting an enemy so deadly and so ruthless that our whole value system and the fundamental principles of humanity were at stake.  My early posts led some to the conclusion that I was a “Hindu fascist” – or more charitably, a “neo-conservative”. I am actually neither. I would like to think of myself as a liberal who is prepared to fight to defend his ideals, his beliefs and his principles.

The blog remains my main method of communication. It is my preferred medium for having a dialogue with my readers and expressing my opinion…I have learnt from it enormously…It has been a very rich, intellectually rewarding and deeply satisfying experience. It has also taught me a lot of things – such as patience and being careful with words. You can read more on my lessons from blogging here.

The blog continues to evolve but I believe it will remain an important part of my activities in the years to come.


4. Apart from exchanging thoughts via Satyameva Jayate, what are the various ways in which someone can become an active part of your battle against status-quo– both on and offline?

The best way to engage online and become more active is to participate in the Skype conference calls, Live Chats and various events that I host and coordinate periodically.

A lot of events and meetings happen offline too (such as recent meetings in Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai in early December). Almost all of them find a mention on the Facebook page – under the eventstab (Those of you reading this in Bengaluru, please join us for a discussion on North-East India tomorrow, 21st Dec).

Separately, I am working on an offline initiative that should help us get more active on the ground and increase our sphere of activities. Please stay tuned.


5. In your lecture series, you have said that “the root cause of all problems in India is its dysfunctional middle class”. Can you please elaborate on that?

I think Kanchan Gupta put it best. In his article on “Three Myths and an Election”, he wrote  about a middle class that is: “least bothered about corruption in high places, the relentless loot of public money, the sagging physical infrastructure …the repeated terrorist attacks…”

I labelled it as “dysfunctional”. I could not think of a more apt description.

The middle class needs to be at the forefront of this process of change and reform…and I can see some signs of that happening around me. I am optimistic and I remain hopeful.


6. Assuming that the rich have got no stake in changing the status quo and agreeing that it is unreasonable to expect empty stomachs to start a revolution, don’t you think that expecting the middle class to shoulder ALL is akin to making a general quota student sit for an examination not just for his own self, but also on behalf of the one who gets his seat on account of reservation and the one who wrests his seat via capitation money?

The analogy is compelling but not accurate. This is not an examination.

What we are attempting could make the difference between a country that survives, prospers & becomes a model for heterogeneous societies around the world and a country that is breaking apart, in the throes of a civil war, with woeful infrastructure and extremely restive population.

I am afraid that we really have no choice. As my friend Surendra Shrivastava of Loksatta mentioned in an email some days back: “We are not born politicians like many, we are in politics not by choice but because of compulsion”


7. How do you see the make-up and the present state of the Indian democratic landscape – both from the perspective of governance and the various political players?

It is depressing, to be honest – both from the perspective of governance as well as the various entities.

The Congress is a party run by a single family, that is increasingly devoid of any ideology and moving from one populist measure to the next.  The “Left” are on their way to becoming a footnote in India’s political system. And the BJP – although strongly differentiated on policies with the Congress – is unfortunately a confused organization that appears to be unwilling to focus and cannot make up its mind on priorities. It does not help that its leadership appears increasingly bereft of any moral superiority. That said, this is the group that appears to be most amenable to change.  The “Left” will find it hard to jettison their ideology – it is their raison d-etre after all and the Congress (I) will find it next to impossible to become a more “normal” party of several leaders, rather than just one unchallenged head.

About governance, the less said the better…Everything you see around you – everything that is broken, leaking or does not work – is the result of poor governance – a large part of which is due to ineffectual leadership and bad choices (in terms of polices).


8. Which aspects of the present political system, in your opinion, require urgent revision? How can that be brought about by people like you and me?

Let me briefly enumerate the aspects that need urgent revision and are do-able provided there is sufficient political will:

  • Stricter monitoring of election expenses and make false declaration a cause for debarring from contesting for 6 years
  • Mandatory disclosure of source(s) of income of candidates standing for elections
  • Allowing citizens to vote anywhere in the country (not just permanent place of residence) – with appropriate identification
  • Mandatory disclosure of audited accounts of political parties and expenses
  • Constitutional amendment to remove clause demanding adherence to socialism

People like you and me can help create pressure for these changes – by talking about this, discussing these points and writing to their local newspapers, demanding these moves. There are a few other things that people like you and me can do:

  • Demand accountability from our candidates (by evaluating them against the promises made in their election manifestos)
  • Vote en-bloc for credible and transparent candidates
  • Create pressure groups for campaign financing reforms and to reveal source(s) of income of candidates
  • Push for the “Right to Recall


9. Do you believe that rabid rise of language-induced regionalism (or sub-nationalism) in various Indian states stands endangers the very idea of India? In any scenario, in your opinion, how should we address the issue?

Yes it does. This worries me deeply although I sometimes feel I am in a minority who worry about the “Idea of India”.

I think this notion of identity – what it means to be an Indian – is a question we have never answered satisfactorily. And this is something that we grapple with even today, 60+ years after independence. This is the reason why the havoc caused by rains in TamilNadu does not find any mention in New Delhi just as the news about blockade of Manipur is hidden somewhere in the last pages of a “national” newspaper in Mumbai.

How does one address this issue?

The main thrust has to be on creating a sense of national identity – and promoting shared history through a national curriculum in history and the social sciences. There are a couple of other things that we should consider: Rigorous implementation of the three language formula and promotion and encouragement (including subsidies) to educational exchanges. This topic is far too complex to be dealt with in a few paragraphs though. I hope to have a online discussion on this soon.



10. Finally, all the four pillars of Indian democracy seem to be facing credibility crisis owing to corruption scandals of varied nature. How can a ‘non-aligned’ (to any ‘pillar’ or security net) Indian citizen ever believe that he can not only survive the – often fatal – ‘chakraavyuh’ laid by the poisonous concoction of state & non-state actors, but also bring about a change?

We need to believe we can win this battle.

The road we are on is not for the faint-hearted. This is going to be a long battle.

In the words of Shri Chandra Prakash Dwivedi (Director of Chanakya, the serial):

…पर ध्यान रहे,

स्वतंत्रता का यह यज्ञ यौवन का बलिदान मांगेगा, स्वार्थ का बलिदान मांगेगा…

और तो और,  जागृत हो रही रण-चंडिका जीवन का बलिदान मांगेगी |

…the “yagya” of independence will demand sacrifices, it will demand the sacrifice of our selfish desires…And the fierce “Ran-Chandi” that is being aroused will demand we sacrifice our lives. (loose translation)


But we need to believe we can win…And I firmly believe, we can.

Jai Hind, Jai Bharat!

*** End ***

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FTI is a journey of intellectual leadership, not just political representation

One other  reasons why FTI is not meant for everyone is that FTI is a philosophy-based organisation. It is founded on the principle of classical liberalism, and not, say, on the idea of communism or socialism. That means a lot. It means a fundamentally different way of looking at the world.

The idea of freedom underpins the Freedom Team. That is crucial point. The word "freedom" is not used in an idle sense. It is used in the sense that is underpinned by centuries of discovery and conceptual evolution.

It is crucial that all FTI members (and potential FTI members) fully understand the foundational principles of classical liberalism.

They must actively seek to read and understand the work of the thinkers of liberty – thinkers such as Locke, Adam Smith and Hayek. Not actively reading up these thinkers would amount to being a communist who refuses to read Marx or refer to Marx. Not having a very sound understanding of the foundational ideas will ultimately lead to severe policy disagreements, and diminish the potential of FTI. By all means customise and tailor these fundamental ideas to India's needs, but without a rigorous understanding of the meaning of freedom, we will lurch across self-contradictory policy positions. We will then be asked to take resort to our "gut feelings" and that will lead us to 1500 different world-views on every topic under the 

I've written BFN to elaborate the policy impacts of this ideas. I'm now writing an entire book, DOF, to explain this idea. If I had ever thought that "everything goes" and that my intuitive thought is enough for India then I would not have bothered to do a PhD and thereafter read up hundreds of books and articles to understand the functioning of the world at a level of detail needed to offer a well-considered opinion.

Learning is a lifelong process, and we should not offer India half-baked ideas. Being masters of the philosophy of freedom is our first obligation. We must build on what has been achieved. Surely we have value to add, but we can't be presumptuous enough to claim that we know intuitively whatever there is to be known on this topic.

FTI is above all an intellectual movement for freedom.

It is not a reckless unthinking effort to impose our "views" of the world on others – or even to adjust our views to the demands of the people of India.

We are here as friends, philosophers and guides to India, not merely persons wanting to be its political representatives. A true leader guides the entire nation. We are not aiming to be mere representatives. We offer India a totally new vision for its future: and that can't be articulated by repeating what the people say. We have to raise their vision about India as well.

There is a huge risk that without obtaining personal clarity on fundamentals, many FTI members will leave after years of working on FTI – when they find that classical liberalism is not what they thought it is. For instance, those who want to impose their religious views on others, should not join FTI in the first place. FTI is not for them.

FTI members must use a trained and tutored mind, not an intuitive mind, to drive policy.

We should each be reading at least 20 books on freedom and related topics each year. Without that we'll face the problem that Swatantra Party soon faced: that except for a couple of people, no one knew what it stood for. When Rajaji died the effort collapsed, since he had not built strong theoretical foundations among his party members.

I've provided a starting point for the resources on freedom through a link at the top of this page. Please explore these initial resources, and then go well beyond them. Good libraries are our dearest friend.

Let us FULLY UNDERSTAND the concept of freedom. We owe it to ourselves and to India to offer it the best ideas.

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