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The Confluence of History, Economics and Politics

History is like the hidden Saraswati. Unseen, it too plays a major role and is affected by technology, geography, climate and human psyche with its need for survival and glory. Economics and politics are so intimately intertwined that they should be considered like the Einsteinian unification of Newtonian space and time. Some experts claim that politics is nothing but a recipe for dividing the economic pie. Thus history and the unified econopolitics behave like entangled quantum particles whose properties are interdependent and reflect each other ad infinitum like the jewels of the mythical 'Indrajaal'. It is this quantum behavior that has led some western writers to compare it to the Dance of Shiva or the Buddhist interconnected universe, in the books 'The Tao of Physics' and 'The Wu Li Dancing Masters'. The connections are false and farfetched. Genuine enthusiasts should read Brian Greene's 'The Fabric of the Cosmos'.

The particular point I wish to address in this article is about the history of corporations and how they are the main source of misery. I am not a closet communist or a visceral opponent of free enterprise, but I wish to elucidate the long term consequences of greed, an incurable fault of human nature and the crucial necessity of restraining it for the benefit of general welfare and the necessity of doing so without stifling human progress or suffocating innovation.

The word confluence derives from the Latin prefix 'com' meaning with or together and fluence or flowing. The prefix 'com' changes to con in some English words like conscience deriving from scio meaning knowledge, but remains com in other words like company and companion, both derived from 'com' plus 'panis' meaning bread (hence the name of the bread chain store Panera). The change from 'm' to 'n' follows the rules laid down by the great Indian grammarian Panini in his brilliant succinct treatise 'Dhatupada'. The Sanskrit word for confluence is 'sangam' from 'sam' meaning together and 'gam' meaning to go. Notice once again that 'sam' changes to 'san' in the above word but remains unchanged in other words like 'sampaadak' and 'sambodhan'. The prefix 'sam' is common to Greek and Sanskrit and from the former we get English words like sympathy, symposium and the same alteration to 'san' in synchrony, synthesis and syntax.

The sangam of the Ganges and Yamuna is overt but the hidden or underground Saraswati is invisible. Its disappearance or alteration of course from the Indus (Sindhu) is due to the recurrent earthquakes resulting from Indian tectonic plate's (separated from Africa and migrating to the underbelly of Asia) thrusting collision. The vanishing of Saraswati and resultant water scarcity is perhaps the basis of the collapse of the Indus civilization.

Partnerships with no cap on profits or liabilities constitute the capitalistic utopia that Adam Smith envisaged with the understanding that monopolies should be barred and there should be a strong regulatory power to police the greed of human nature. His words stand out as a serious warning that 'People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public'. This is not to strangle greed which is the catalyst for innovation, as the Karma theory of India has done to the extent of pacific unconcern or fatal acceptance of misery. It has only led to exploitation by more pragmatic Muslims and the West. As Adam Smith, the father of capitalism has emphasized, neither the butcher, the baker or the candle stick maker strives for public good. They are all motivated by selfishness and any good to society is done by the invisible hand. Modern economists have raised serious doubts about the invisible hand and Darwinian theories have raised doubts about the good of the species or groups, and emphasized that natural selection works to the benefit of the individual, oblivious to the survival of the species or group benefits. The only reason that altruistic behavior survives is because Homo Sapiens was a weak species that needed it for individual survival, Most of the time it is practiced in the form of kin altruism (benevolent behavior towards genetic relatives) or reciprocal altruism (doing favors with the hope of future returns or demanding reciprocity for past favors, which if unreturned lead to malignant animosity).

Corporations initially in the Netherlands and particularly in Britain had a limited life span. In Britain their charter was for a limited span of years which needed to be renewed periodically and was at the mercy of the government at that time constituted by the Parliament and the Crown. Please try and understand that the criticism of corporations is not an anti-capitalist tirade. Free enterprise allows a free rein for unlimited profit and thus should fairly and reciprocally permit unlimited loss. What the legalization of corporations did is to allow unlimited profit but restricted the loss and liability thereof to the assets and shareholder capital of the corporation. Thus it encouraged greater risk taking and limited liability. This is a guaranteed prescription for evading morality and responsibility. In the early phases of the birth of corporations in Britain, their charter was limited to a few years and needed to be renewed periodically subject to the whimsies of the Parliament and the Crown, which could be suborned by bribes or appeal to the betterment of the nation.

In this article, I am concerned with the origins of the East India Company and the consequences for India and how corporations have led to the foreign policies of nations like Britain and the US to spread misery to the world. In the year 1600 CE, before the industrial revolution, the GDP of India constituted 22.54 % of the world GDP, China had 29.14% of the world GDP and Britain had 1.80% of the world GDP. By 1870, the % had changed to 9.10 for Britain, 17.23 for China and 12.25 for India. The current share of India is dismal. From the misconceptions of Herodotus' history of the world, where his false fantasies ascribed convenient derogatory attributes to the unknown east ( interested readers may want to read Edward Said), still continued in the myths of false propaganda of Hollywood's movies like Alexander and the new movie 300. 

The kernel of truth accepted by all is that India, partly out of its geographic location and other unrecognized talent, had learnt to cultivate cotton and sugarcane. It, thus provided a critical necessity for comfortable garments and the first high for humanity of sugar. Even in the first century AD, Pliny of Rome was complaining that the importing of cotton fabrics from India was draining the Roman treasury of gold. Rome was too strong, rich and not worried about the drain on its treasury because of the tribute it received from its colonies, but history has other lessons to teach us. History tells us that when similar problems occurred with Britain in its textile trade with India and porcelain trade with China, it used unethical means to de-industrialize India and make the Chinese drug addicts to balance the trade deficit. This lesson should worry present day China with its trade surplus and huge reserves, that its policy of cheap slave labor will not result in any significant benefit, despite its policy to provide employment to its migrant and desperate masses to forestall its monopoly on power by its unrepresentative and oppressive communist dictatorship.

The problem started when the Turks conquered Constantinople. They deprived Venice of its spice trade. Before refrigeration, it was critical to have pepper in Europe to make rotting meat edible. Thus, after the conquest of the Turks, Europe needed a way to get Eastern spices. That lead to Vasco De Gama to find a way to India, Portuguese colonies in India and the Dutch rule over Indonesia. He traveled mostly along coastline and with the help of an Indian navigator found a way around the Cape of Good Hope. This is why Europeans needed stations along the way. Thus the Portuguese colonized Angola and Mozambique and Britain colonized South Africa. The Portuguese who were the first, due to the talents of Henry, the navigator established conclaves at Goa, Daman and Diu in India and were the terror of the seas. The Moghul Empire of India without any naval power made terms with the Portuguese to protect its seafaring trade and trips for Hajj. This is why it took a long time for Jehangir to finally sign a trade treaty with the British at Ahmedabad. The Portuguese were nasty and Gama mutilated hundreds of Indians and sent their body parts to the ruler. The petty differences between Indian rulers in Kerala led to the accommodation to Gama. The Portuguese in Goa under the exported Inquisition, carried out a genocide against Hindus and forced conversion, which is a problem India faces in the Northeast due to the policies of the British goaded by Wilberforce.

The reality of trade is that when the British government understood the drain on its treasury and the trade deficit balance, it directly or indirectly changed policies to allow the East India company to de-industrialize India by oppressive and unjust means to become a legalized drug cartel to addict the Chinese. No ethical or decency considerations stood in its way and many of the Boston Brahmins of America and present day US investment houses owe their fiscal security and power to the drug trade with China. When the trade with China became unfavorable due to import of porcelain and silk, the British forced China to import opium grown in British India. They decimated the crops of Indian farmers and forced them to grow poppies, which they bought at below market price and sold at above market prices clandestinely to China to cover their import of tea. Eventually they farmed tea in India in Assam and the Nilgiris. It is indeed poetic justice that the current day drug problem in the US and Europe can be attributed to chickens come home to roost. The British government was the largest and most immoral narcotic purveyor in the world.

The East India Company began as a trade organization for the benefit of its stockholders to profit from the trade of India's technology in textiles. In its earlier history, it was a drain on the national exchequer because it imported cotton textiles paid for in silver or gold to import textiles desirable in Britain. It made a profit to the detriment of the national treasury and the trade balance. Sir Joshua Childs, the early CEO of the company was farsighted but premature before Clive and Hastings in his use of military might to conquer India. The real worrisome point is that Indian soldiers for survival sold their allegiance to the British, a unique mass sellout, never ever seen in the history of the world. It still persists for economic reasons in the recent traitor behavior of Indians in the navy war room scandal. Long before Clive and Hastings, he tried to use the hired and betraying Indians, to establish a hegemony, but he circumstances were not convenient. The company suffered setbacks and was in dire straits, It bribed the crown (there was a civil war in England and uncertainty in the Cromwellian era) and managed to survive because it had been an exclusive and legally uncontested monopoly in trade with India.

The situation changed with times, but the company continued to bribe the powers in Britain to maintain its monopoly. It realized that the profit from monopoly trade was not enough. Thus Clive exploited the differences between power hungry and greedy corrupt individuals like Mir Jaffar, Mir Kasim, Jagat Seth and Amir Chand to defeat Siraj-au-Daullah to put a puppet in rule of Bengal, the richest province in India. It profited and encouraged regime change to extract money, power and monopoly in trade. The indifference of the population and the weakness of the Moghul Sultanate helped. The current US strategy of regime change and exploitation in Iraq and other places is a variation on the same theme. The weak Moghul Emperor, whose main concern was revenues to sustain his decrepit and corrupt lifestyle, then offered the Company the Diwani of Bengal. It became the collector of taxes and garnered a legitimate power with greater corruption and oppression of the common man.

It was still garnering more money from trade of textiles, but saw an opportunity to squeeze greater profits by using its monopoly of power to force weavers to a lower price, since it was now both a merchant and the government in Bengal. Many weavers constrained by this slavery slashed their thumbs to escape the constraints of their captive status and the company allegedly pursued this maiming of artisans to create a scarcity of product to increase its profits. The epitome of perfidy of the East India Company was at the time of the First Bengal famine , when the Company which was ruling Bengal, allowed its British employees to hoard grain for higher profits in a scarcity situation. From three to ten million Bengalis died of the famine to the profit of the Company employees and corporate malfeasance.

When the Company realized that there was greater profit in ruling India than in trade, it morphed its strategy to expropriate kingdoms by unfair rules and laws as in the case of Jhansi, which was one of the causes of the 1857 rebellion. Throughout its history the East India Company was amoral and received financing and support from the British Government by bribery and illegal and unethical means by playing the Parliament and Crown. Similar means have been used by corporations by bribing the Congress electoral candidates and the presidential candidates in the US. The greed of multinational US companies has led to the enrichment of China and near bankruptcy of the US due to the connivance of the elected legislature and executive branches of the US. They like Amir Chand and Jagat Seth have sold their nation for financial gain or to retain their power. The story is no different in the world and India currently. By current finances, the UK siphoned approximately 49 billion dollars from the Indian Raj and divided it into Pakistan by fomenting religious differences., William Wilberforce, much touted for abolishing slavery in the British Empire was also responsible for proselytizing Christianity in India which has now become a fissiparous force. Much of the East India Company Data is from the honest book by Nick Robbins titled 'The Corporation That Changed The World'.   


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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