Random Thoughts

The Current Golden Rule

The foundation of morality is the golden rule that says, 'As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye to them likewise'. Empathy towards others and behaving in a way that considers the point of view of not only the doer but also the person who is the object of one's action is the base of justice from antiquity to the modern Rawl's theory of justice. The reality is that virtue rarely triumphs in the long run, as much as pragmatic wisdom does.

After seeing the carnage of his victory in Kalinga, Ashoka took a solemn vow that henceforth he would triumph not by might, but by virtue. He proclaimed his new edicts in stone in local scripts at the four corners of his vast Indian Empire and convinced his crown prince to prefer being a proselytizing Buddhist monk rather than rule the vast empire. Ashoka failed to instill his ethic in the population and the rest is India's history. 

The nature of a currency as a store of value and a medium of exchange and trade is so appealing to humans that its acquisition becomes the dominant passion of life. Before coinage, when food was the store of value, one sees it in the accumulation of starch by plants, nuts by squirrels, fat by animals and the genetic tendency towards obesity and resulting diabetes in humans. It is emphasized even by Adam Smith, the founding father of capitalism. His prescient warnings deserve universal and timeless attention. He remarked that division of labor markedly increased productivity due to a single individual doing a repetitive task, and thus acquiring speed and proficiency in this limited repertoire. The Hindus invented division of labor much earlier as mentioned in a verse of the Rig Veda, but it naturally deteriorated into the constraints and oppressive discrimination of the caste system. Adam Smith warned about the dehumanizing and mind numbing effects of repetitive single chores. 

His sayings about traders and merchants are, 'People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public' and 'A merchant is not necessarily the citizen of any particular country. It is in a great measure indifferent to him from what place he carries on his trade; and a very trifling disgust will make him remove his capital, and together with it all the industry, which it supports, from one country to another. No part of it can be said to belong to any particular country till it has been spread, as it were, over the face of that country, either in buildings or in the lasting improvement of lands. No vestige now remains of the great wealth said to have been possessed by the greater part of the Hanse Towns (trading towns of the Hanseatic League of merchants), except in the obscure histories of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is even uncertain where some of them were situated, or to what towns in Europe, the Latin names given to some of them belong'. This is why until recently Chinese civilization ranked merchants last after scholars and artisans in the social hierarchy.

The history of the East India Company which came to trade in India and to profit from India's then advanced textile technology and ended up de-industrializing and ultimately ruling the country is a good example. In the seventeenth century India even under Islamic Moghul rule had nearly 25% of the world GDP. By the time the British left India's share of world output was down to a measly number. China suffered a similar meltdown beginning a hundred years later. Both civilizations missed out on the industrial revolution and became captive markets to dump western products including opium of India in China for the profit of British and American traders and merchants.

Americans went to the native kingdom of Hawaii as missionaries became land owning sugar growers and to sell their sugar free of duty to America engineered a coup with US government backing, to merge Hawaii into the US. United Fruit, an American company orchestrated the overthrow of the legitimately elected governments in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua to continue their tax free looting of the land and resources of those nations. The predecessor of BP with the help of British and US intelligence did the same in Iran in 1953 to exploit Iran's oil. Interested persons should read Stephen Kinzer's book 'Overthrow'. The bogey of spreading Christianity and civilization was used to colonize Africa.

Jeff Faux in his book 'The Global Class War' elucidates how Clinton, a Democratic president elected with the support of American labor unions, sold out to Wall Street and Multinational Corporations, his financial backers, to enact NAFTA. He lied that it would not cause US job losses, knowing fully well that the agreement would be used to move factories to Mexico for cheaper wages and to circumvent environment damaging restrictions in the US. The Mexican President Carlos Salinas Gotari was also catering to the rich industrialists of Mexico and oblivious to the damage to Mexican workers, while his party and some members of his family were knee deep in cross border drug trade in cocaine, marijuana and heroin. He ultimately bankrupted the country by artificially supporting the Mexican Peso and was bailed out by Rubin and Clinton. Thus the Wall Street bankers and US investors were made whole and their losses covered but the cost was borne by the average Mexican whose government programs were cut and prices raised, to pay the debt Mexico had taken to return profit to the US investors.

Mexico did not even keep the manufacturing jobs as the US capitalists moved the facilities to China, the newest WTO member with even cheaper wages and less environmental regulations. The irony is that the Communist government of China forbids independent unions and the right to strike. Of course the Chinese leaders and their families profit obscenely from the bribes and partnerships in these business deals while intimidating their citizens to do slave labor for 80 hours a week at measly wages.

China has now accumulated a trillion dollars in foreign exchange reserves that it is forced to lend back to America at low interest rates to finance the obscenely extravagant spending binge of the US. The sly Chinese leadership has at least gained technology transfer and is able to vastly increase its military spending and modernization and will eventually drive the last nail in the coffin of Pax Americana. American governments Democratic and Republican are oblivious to the military and economic strengthening of China, a potential enemy, that their policies cause in the process of enriching their rich financiers. Yesterday Wilsack, the ex-governor of Iowa and a candidate for the US presidential elections of 2008 had to drop out of the race because he could not raise a hundred million dollars needed to keep going. The successful candidate will spend nearly half a billion dollars. No wonder elected officials are not committed to public service or good. 

The main purpose of these neo-liberal policies known as the Washington Consensus is to unite the interests of wealthy Americans and MNCs to those of the rich of all nations including developing countries, to the detriment of the working class everywhere. India's labor wages are so low that any production from there is not likely to move elsewhere as it did from Mexico. The SEZs that are being created are to emasculate labor, seize small agricultural land as in Singur and give capital an ironclad hand. India like other developing countries is a dumping ground for toxic waste from computers, electronic instruments and ship breaking as in Alar, Saurashtra. Some studies highlight the potential of lead poisoning of the environment and children to permanently stunt their mental development creating a society of morons capable of little beyond hard menial labor. I am not suggesting a conspiracy theory, but a total disregard by elected leaders of their responsibility to the electorate.

One sees this in the support for the US war in Iraq by the tyrannies and dictatorships of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan etc. by providing military logistic support for the US forces, despite overwhelming opposition by the citizens of those countries. The so called democracies are no different. Over 60% of the UK population is opposed to the Iraq War, yet the government still wages it. The same is true for the US now. Just last week the Italian government of Prodi fell because it wanted to continue the war in Afghanistan against the wish of its population and Senate.

The real reasons for the Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia wars are oil as is the current condemnation of Russia. Far from the triumph of democracy and end of history touted by neo-conish Francis Fukuyama, democracies are becoming oligarchies of the rich and powerful. Vajpayee foolishly wasted a billion dollars by mobilizing the Indian military after the terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. It served no purpose and failed to deter Pakistani terrorism. He had to temporarily demote General Vij for his aggressive policy and back down due to pressure from the US applied directly by diplomats and indirectly by the Indian software export companies, whose business relationships were threatened by the much publicized US warnings on travel to India. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and an oracle of the US State Department, publicly announced this and took credit for the business lobby averting a war between India and Pakistan.

No one is proposing isolationism or a hermit status, but one must realize that over-dependence on foreign trade and foreign investments comes with a price of restriction and constraints on national policies. Vajpayee and Singh had announced that India will refrain from nuclear tests. The latter stalled on the Iran-Pakistan- India gas pipeline. The lessons of the failing civil nuclear agreement is a second lesson for a slow learner like the Indian leadership. The best advice for Manmohan Singh and Vajpayee is that it is always better to keep quiet and be considered a fool, than to speak and be proved one. Similarly, diminishing small agricultural holdings due to generational transfer and division are not conducive to better yields, but this does not mean encouraging confiscation by government for agribusinesses at below market prices and turning small farmers to laborers and sharecroppers without safety nets or alternatives. Similar mistakes have been made in rural displacement for dams and mineral extraction projects without adequate compensation or relocation. Economic dead-ends breed terrorism, insurgencies and violence amongst the poor. The need for water for cities takes a greater priority because cities have larger numbers of voters. I am not against the idea and progress, but one has to provide for the displaced and not ignore them like the Bhopal victims of Union Carbide.

The current golden rule has become he who has the gold makes the rules. In the past it led to the French Revolution by the sans culottes (without shoes), the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia by the serfs, the Chinese Revolution by the peasants, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and this is why it is important to study history and not just memorize dates like 1526, 1757, 1857 or 1947. Those who do not study history and profit by it are condemned to repeat and relive it. To counter the prevalent golden rule, my advice is follow the money to find the reason for a policy, law, war or any event.   


More by :  Gaurang Bhatt, MD

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