Marx And Spencer TOI 25 Oct 2008, DIPANKAR GUPTA
Society must always come before the market.
We have to decide what kind of society we want before we let loose the market...The political decision that North Europeans, and even Canadians, took was to first devise their society and then let the economy arrange itself around it. They never seriously contested America’s boast that its profit and productivity were higher than theirs. They may have objected to the ways Americans calculated unemployment figures, but even that was inconsequential. Scandinavian countries took a clear and conscious political decision that what mattered most was that mothers not neglect their children, that old people not lie in gutters and that the sick have medical care. Once these conditions were agreed upon, the market was allowed freedom...
When one plans for society, one plans for the long run. The muscular sprinter is useless when it comes to running uphill, as only a marathon specialist can. If one were to think long distance then policies that fundamentally encourage equality need to be at the base of every political decision. Nietzsche once said that if a priest and a convict were made to climb mountains they would end up as equals. They would both be exhausted.
Democracy needs resolve and it must place society first. This is where planning plays a role, and all planning need not be of the slothful Soviet type. Interestingly, so many of those who till recently praised the poise and gift of the market have had a sudden change of heart. Earlier, only laissez faire and Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” figured. But today they are overeager to condemn the bosses of Wall Street and of every other crooked street in the world. The short term not only encourages painful social philippics, but also fair-weather friends.
But when bullies get beaten they run to the teacher for help. This is exactly how financial bosses are behaving, though they were actually walloped by their own swing. Even so, the message is clear. To favour the market and blow the whistle on society only perpetuates the Marx & Spencer brand of politics. Do we really want that? Should not the dead rest in peace? The writer is professor of sociology at JNU.