Friday, February 29, 2008

Sri Aurobindo had clearly and unambiguously defined our nationalism

THE RIGHT VIEW The blessed path TOI 28 Feb 2008, Tarun Vijay

Life revolves around ideas. Bricks, mortar, reproduction and sumptuous meals play a supplementary role: essential yet not the whole. A stream of ideas encompassing a world view, woven around ennobling values and defining the relationship between the known and the unknown often forms an ideological way. Those who have chosen one are blessed.

Today the battle is ideological being fought by ill-equipped warriors of different hues. Some understand it a personal play and keep their organization a private limited corporate business trading votes for some considerations. The long-term players with ideological commitments can wait patiently to find the opportune time for the final victory. That alone will help and not the impatience leading to unsavoury compromises. There has to be a paradigm shift in our approach and idioms that we use to address the youth. That alone is going to lead the war of ideologies.

The myth of Aryan invasion, a Dhimmitude directing our polity and actions, intense hateful assaults on anything Hindu and spineless responses by an ill-informed crowd that represents the durbari class of Raibahadurs of the colonial period, absence of unity of purpose and the threat of barbaric intolerance can be faced with an uncompromising and unapologetic pride in being Indian inheritors of a great Hindu civilization. Being a Hindu should be an elevating and enriching factor of our life instead of making us feel embarrassed.

Sri Aurobindo had clearly and unambiguously defined our nationalism as Sanatan Dharma, the eternal righteousness that defines what people understand as Hinduism.

  • None has ever said that Sri Aurobindo was communal, so why do have fear today?
  • He believed in the great destiny of India and gave us a path that was universal yet distinctly Indian. Why hesitate to redefine it and adopt for contemporary polity?

Defeating ideologies incompatible with the contemporary values of egalitarianism and plurality should form our foundation of nationalism which strives for material progress and ecological safeguards too as an essential part of Hindu dharma. As much as 1.25 lakh sq km of our land is in enemy possession; this, as well as two flags for Kashmir fluttering over Srinagar Secretariat and the killing and uprooting of patriots should hurt us, give us sleepless nights and steel our resolve to undo the wrongs.

Our entire approach to science and technological advances has to be tested on the touchstone of ecological safety and human happiness with an integral approach to all creations, overwriting the consumerist approach. Those who fear war get war and those who are ashamed at being what they are get nothing but shame from everyone. Never say yes when you ought to say no and never compromise on basic issues. That's what those who have an ideological commitment declare. Rest, simply pass time. The author is the Director, Dr Syamaprasad Mookerjee Research Foundation. The views expressed are his personal. <>12

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

In some areas of politics, however, emotions run high and irrationality can be bliss

Marginal Revolution Tim Harford's chapter eight, a contribution from Sahar Akhtar
Today's guest blogger is the very impressive Sahar Akhtar, who has a Ph.d. in both economics and philosophy; she is currently at Brown University. As I read her post on Tim, she is saying that most people really do act -- at least in part -- as if their votes count. I now turn "the mike" over to Sahar:

In Chapter 8, Harford illuminates a large chunk of life with a single insight. Borrowing from Schelling once more, along with a little Bates and North, he shows us that individually rational behavior doesn’t always add up to collectively rational results. But this time the domain is politics, and it might be a stretch to say people always behave rationally.
The analysis he provides on issues where there are high stakes, like revolutions and trade barriers, is pretty great. So I’m going to instead focus on the issue that’s been so hashed out that the marginal contribution of any additional discussion is almost as low as the marginal impact of my vote. But I’m not fully rational...
The fact that people don’t simply vote, but vote for a particular candidate, at best suggests that if people feel duty-bound it’s not to some abstract ideal but to particular parties and groups, which raises another, and not incompatible, potential motivation for voting.
Some might think that their votes count not individually, but as part of a group. Harford and other economists aside (including this one), people don’t always act on their (individual) self-interests. (for just some examples, see Fehr and Fowler on altruistic punishment)
There are good evolutionary reasons to think that we frequently adopt the perspective of “what is good for us”. You don’t have to believe in the group-selectionist theories of people like Sober and Wilson.
If that makes you feel dirty—selfish gene will get you there if there are enough genes shared in common among a group. And, a la Robert Frank, what starts out as emotional incentives to act on behalf of a fairly specified, narrowly defined, and kin-based group gets co-opted and extends (irrationally?) to larger, less cohesive groups. The group in this case would simply be the class of people thought to share the same values and beliefs.
Of course, like all evolutionary explanations, this is a just-so story and needs to be tested, but so does the rational voter idea. We still don’t have very good insight into the motives of voters, and until we do we should remain skeptical of any one model.
I’m not a hater--in many (maybe most) areas of life, the rational choice model makes damn good sense. In some areas of politics, however, emotions run high and irrationality can be bliss, and these may be areas where dynamic writers like Harford should resist the model a little. 12:17 PM

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Our irrational behaviours are neither random nor senseless — they are systematic

Home > Edits & Columns > PRINT LINE All too human Indian Express: Friday, February 22, 2008 How our wackiness upsets the standard assumptions of economics

From the perspective of neoclassical economics, self-punishing decisions are difficult to explain. Rational calculators are supposed to consider their options, then pick the one that maximises the benefit to them. Yet actual economic life, as opposed to the theoretical version, is full of miscalculations... The real mystery, it could be argued, isn’t why we make so many poor economic choices but why we persist in accepting economic theory.
In ‘Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions’, Dan Ariely, a professor at MIT, offers a taxonomy of financial folly... In pursuit of his research, Ariely has served beer laced with vinegar, left plates full of dollar bills in dorm refrigerators, and asked undergraduates to fill out surveys while masturbating. He claims that his experiments, and others like them, reveal the underlying logic to our illogic. “Our irrational behaviours are neither random nor senseless — they are systematic,” he writes. “We all make the same types of mistakes over and over.” So attached are we to certain kinds of errors, he contends, that we are incapable even of recognising them as errors. Offered FREE shipping, we take it, even when it costs us.
As an academic discipline, Ariely’s field — behavioural economics — is roughly twenty-five years old. It emerged largely in response to work done in the nineteen-seventies by the Israeli-American psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman... (who) found that there were consistent biases to the responses, and that these biases could be traced to mental shortcuts, or what they called “heuristics.”... Though Tversky and Kahneman’s research had no direct bearing on economics, its implications for the field were disruptive. Can you really regard people as rational calculators if their decisions are influenced by random numbers?...
If there is any consolation to take from behavioural economics — and this impulse itself probably counts as irrational — it is that irrationality is not always altogether a bad thing. What we most value in other people, after all, has little to do with the values of economics. (Who wants a friend or a lover who is too precise a calculator?) Some of the same experiments that demonstrate people’s weak-mindedness also reveal, to use a quaint term, their humanity. One study that Ariely relates explored people’s willingness to perform a task for different levels of compensation. Subjects were willing to help out — moving a couch, performing a tedious exercise on a computer — when they were offered a reasonable wage. When they were offered less, they were less likely to make an effort, but when they were asked to contribute their labour for nothing they started trying again. People, it turns out, want to be generous and they want to retain their dignity — even when it doesn’t really make sense. Excerpted from ‘What was I thinking?’ by Elizabeth Kolbert in the current issue of ‘The New Yorker’

Friday, February 22, 2008

Unimaginable poverty would result from a life of economic isolation

A Review of Don Boudreaux's Globalization By John Tamny February 21, 2008

Due to the unfortunate rebirth of economic nationalism in recent years, commentators of the libertarian and conservative persuasion have had to sharpen their arguments in favor of free trade. Amidst the ongoing debate against Lou Dobbs and his not-so-merry collection of protectionist cohorts, George Mason’s Don Boudreaux has been an indispensable source of broadly understandable talking points that have shown the undeniable good that free exchange brings to the world. Thanks to his recent publication of Globalization, commentators and interested people alike can now access a book containing all the salient facts supporting a concept that can only enrich us.

Boudreaux makes what might seem difficult sound easy, and it begins with his definition of globalization: the advance of human cooperation across national boundaries. Boudreaux could have stopped right there, but goes on to explain that every “man-made thing you see is something no one person could possibly make alone.” That being the case, the shirts we wear and the food we eat are the happy result of millions of people around the world engaging in their narrow economic specialties such that we’re clothed and fed.

The above helps the reader to understand the unimaginable poverty that would result from a life of economic isolation. Absent the cooperation he describes, rather than doing what we do best in exchange for the best offered by others, we as individuals would be wholly self-reliant, and tragically poor. That we’re mostly able to freely exchange our individual output with the world’s citizens means our lives get easier and cheaper every day. In short, as the world’s division of labor broadens, and as tariffs fall, we’re the beneficiaries of frequent non-monetary “raises” due to economic specialization that makes goods more plentiful, and as a result, cheaper.

Importantly, the book offers clear answers to the many objections raised to globalization over the years; from its impact on the environment, wages, job growth, deficits in trade, and with the rise of sovereign wealth funds, foreign investment. Those who emotionally support free trade but sometimes doubt its wonders will likely be won over by Boudreaux’s explanations. And for those violently opposed to the freedom he espouses, let’s just say this book will make them think...

The above helps explain why Boudreaux is sanguine when it comes to foreign investment. He welcomes it for increasing the number of potential bidders who might have designs on our assets. The existence of foreign investors not only means we might sell what we own at a higher price, but it also means we’ll then have access to the knowledge of a broader range of investors who might have a better idea of how to get the most economic value out of the asset purchased. When foreigners buy our government debt, that just means they lower the interest costs on debt incurred in our name.

Boudreaux’s long-term outlook when it comes to globalization is positive. While it’s certainly possible that countries around the world could revert to the impoverishing economic isolation of the first half of the 20th century, he notes that socialism has happily been discredited, and at the same time the increasingly mobile nature of capital means a country’s citizens will quickly feel any negative shift away from economic freedom.

In concluding his excellent book, Boudreaux reminds us that prosperity results when we refuse to let political boundaries define economic boundaries.” His words are simple and powerful at the same time. If we let others do for us what’s not in our economic interest so that we can achieve our individual work specialty, we’ll be better off. Easy words for an individual to live by. Now we just have to convince our politicians. John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, and a senior economist with H.C. Wainwright Economics. He can be reached at

Monday, February 18, 2008

Karat and Democrats should read Kipling

Op-Ed Columnist Democrats Should Read Kipling By WILLIAM KRISTOL NYT: February 18, 2008
Browsing through a used-book store Friday — in the Milwaukee airport, of all places — I came across a 1981 paperback collection of George Orwell’s essays. That’s how I happened to reread his 1942 essay on Rudyard Kipling. Given Orwell’s perpetual ability to elucidate, one shouldn’t be surprised that its argument would shed light— or so it seems to me — on contemporary American politics.

Orwell offers a highly qualified appreciation of the then (and still) politically incorrect Kipling. He insists that one must admit that Kipling is “morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting.” Still, he says, Kipling “survives while the refined people who have sniggered at him seem to wear so badly.” One reason for this is that Kipling “identified himself with the ruling power and not with the opposition.”

“In a gifted writer,” Orwell remarks, “this seems to us strange and even disgusting, but it did have the advantage of giving Kipling a certain grip on reality.” Kipling “at least tried to imagine what action and responsibility are like.” For, Orwell explains, “The ruling power is always faced with the question, ‘In such and such circumstances, what would you do?’, whereas the opposition is not obliged to take responsibility or make any real decisions.” Furthermore, “where it is a permanent and pensioned opposition, as in England, the quality of its thought deteriorates accordingly.”

If I may vulgarize the implications of Orwell’s argument a bit: substitute Republicans for Kipling and Democrats for the opposition, and you have a good synopsis of the current state of American politics.

Having controlled the executive branch for 28 of the last 40 years, Republicans tend to think of themselves as the governing party — with some of the arrogance and narrowness that implies, but also with a sense of real-world responsibility. Many Democrats, on the other hand, no long even try to imagine what action and responsibility are like. They do, however, enjoy the support of many refined people who snigger at the sometimes inept and ungraceful ways of the Republicans. (And, if I may say so, the quality of thought of the Democrats’ academic and media supporters — a permanent and, as it were, pensioned opposition — seems to me to have deteriorated as Orwell would have predicted.)

The Democrats won control of Congress in November 2006, thanks in large part to President Bush’s failures in Iraq. Then they spent the next year seeking to ensure that he couldn’t turn those failures around. Democrats were “against” the war and the surge. That was the sum and substance of their policy. They refused to acknowledge changing facts on the ground, or to debate the real consequences of withdrawal and defeat. It was, they apparently thought, the Bush administration, not America, that would lose. The 2007 Congressional Democrats showed what it means to be an opposition party that takes no responsibility for the consequences of the choices involved in governing.

So it continues in 2008. The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of national intelligence, the retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, and the attorney general, the former federal judge Michael Mukasey, are highly respected and nonpolitical officials with little in the way of partisanship or ideology in their backgrounds. They have all testified, under oath, that in their judgments, certain legal arrangements regarding surveillance abilities are important to our national security.

Not all Democrats have refused to listen. In the Senate, Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, took seriously the job of updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in light of technological changes and court decisions. His committee produced an impressive report, and, by a vote of 13 to 2, sent legislation to the floor that would have preserved the government’s ability to listen to foreign phone calls and read foreign e-mail that passed through switching points in the United States...

To govern is to choose, a Democrat of an earlier generation, John F. Kennedy, famously remarked. Is this generation of Democrats capable of governing?

Many voters are ill-informed or even irrational; many economic issues are complex

Economic View It’s an Election, Not a Revolution By TYLER COWEN NYT: February 17, 2008

It has become common wisdom that the battle for the presidency is all about the economy...Fundamentally, democracy is not a finely tuned mechanism that can be used to direct economic policy as a lever might lift a pulley. The connection between what voters want, or think they want, and what ultimately happens in the economy, is far less direct.
Voters may be concerned about the economy, but there is little evidence that the electorate, as a whole, really wants to engage in close consideration of economics. The current campaign season is a case in point...

On the Republican side, the situation is no better. The candidates have generally sought to cloak themselves in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, emphasizing his conservative principles, particularly his disdain for big government. But they might have stressed how President Reagan improved funding for the Social Security system or how he engineered what was then the largest tax increase in American history. In fact, the economic policies of his administration and that of Bill Clinton were marked by more continuity than change — and it is no accident that both administrations were happy to work with Alan Greenspan...

A Democratic president may propose more spending on social services, but most of the federal budget is on automatic pilot. Furthermore, even if a Republican president wanted to cut back on such mandates, the bulk of them are here to stay.
Yes, the election does matter. Even small differences on economic issues affect millions of Americans. But the record of the Bush administration should prove sobering to all those who expect the American political economy to turn around in the next four years.

Many conservative and libertarian economists supported President Bush, thinking they would be getting policy drawn from the work of Milton Friedman and Martin Feldstein, two respected market-oriented economists. Instead, in economics, the Bush years have brought an increase in domestic government spending, and some poorly-thought-out privatization plans. For all the talk of an extreme right-wing revolution, government transfer programs like Social Security and Medicare have continued to grow. And despite big mistakes involving the Iraq war, Mr. Bush wasn’t punished by voters in 2004.
Of course, an administration can make big economic changes. The New Deal brought about a revolution in economic policy — but those were special circumstances. The United States was in a very deep depression, and the concept of economic planning was sweeping the world. That period is an exception; it does not reflect the general tendency of the American political system, which usually operates by checks and balances. Shifts in economic policy are usually quite moderate.

The reality is that democracy is a very blunt instrument, and in today’s environment we are choosing between ways of muddling through. We may hear that the election is about different visions for America’s future, but the pitches may be more akin to selling different brands of soap.
We hear so many superficial messages precisely because most American voters have neither the knowledge nor the commitment to evaluate the pronouncements of politicians on economic issues. It is no accident that the most influential political science book of the last year has been “The Myth of the Rational Voter,” by Bryan Caplan. The book shows that many voters are ill-informed or even irrational; many economic issues are complex, and each voter knows that he or she will not determine the final outcome.
Rather than being cynics, we should be realists. Democracy is reasonably good at some things: pushing scoundrels out of office, checking their worst excesses by requiring openness, and simply giving large numbers of people the feeling of having a voice. Democracy is not nearly as good at others: holding politicians accountable for their economic promises or translating the preferences of intellectuals into public policy.

THAT might sound pessimistic, but it’s not. Many Americans will be living longer, finding new sources of learning and recreation, creating more rewarding jobs, striking up new loves and friendships, and, yes, earning more money. Just don’t expect most of these gains to come out of the voting booth or, for that matter, Washington.
And if you’re still worrying about how to vote, I have two pieces of advice. First, spend your time studying foreign policy, where the president has more direct power, and the choice of a candidate makes a much bigger difference. Second, stop worrying and get back to work. Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Inequities, quorum, and vote

Lead India - A Corporate-Sponsored Circus from Desicritics by C R Sridhar

The so-called free market with the invisible hand of demand and supply guiding the destiny of the nation is a figment of corporate fantasy. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize winner for economics, points that for public good to be realized there must be a strong government enforcement of anti-trust and consumer laws to foster competition and protection of consumer interest. Without strict enforcement of the government private sector would run amuck mulcting the people.

Adam Smith who is endlessly quoted by the corporate class was not such a great devotee of greed and self interest as made out to be. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, he points out virtue and not greed was the most important standard in social life. Adam Smith was quick to point that society should be alive and vigilant to the dangers of ruthless profiteers from holding the society to ransom.

The battle for leadership in India would be fought on the dusty plains of Indian villages. Here majority of the poor Indians live who were betrayed by the state which neglected to deliver them food, shelter and protection from disease. It is this India that would make and break the politicians who failed to deliver them social justice. Here the sound bites of corporate sponsored leaders would have no resonance. The tall claims of the corporate sector that its animal magnetism would be unleashed for the good of the poor would fall on deaf ears and receive the contempt it deserves. It is this Republic of India steeped in ancient inequities that carries both hope and despair in the difficult years to come.


Athenian democracy, much more advanced than our own, had reached the point where the vote was considered as payment for a service, after all other repressive solutions had been tried and found wanting in order to insure a quorum. -- Baudrillard, Jean. "Simulacra and Simulations." Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, ed Mark Poster. Stanford University Press, 1998, pp.166-184. Available:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Random market versus efficient market

Re: The Material Basis for the Phenomenon of Man by RY Deshpande on Wed 13 Feb 2008 03:19 AM PST Profile Permanent Link

Thanks Ronjon, but I’ve a question—about the extension or ‘application’ of quantum approach to non-quantum systems, for instance, Market Dynamics. It could be stated something as in the following:

Not many people would draw similarities between quantum physics and the financial markets, but this type of unconventional thinking can shed light on the random market versus efficient market paradox that Wall Street lives under.

The philosophical basis for this kind of thinking could be provided by saying that each part of a system is intricately connected to the whole. Ilya Prigogine is invoked to assert that an open system has the capacity to respond to change and disorder by free organization of a complex industrial system. When extended, Margaret Wheatley arrives at the concept of a critical mass required for any change to take place.

But I don’t know if Warren Buffet and Bill Gates believe in this “Uncertainty” stuff. For them financial/commercial behaviour is governed by the Efficient Market Hypothesis wherein inherent investment properties only come into play. The bosonic fields in the quantum-physical world are much simpler and of a definite nature which cannot be said for the interactive social systems and therefore such extensions can be spurious or specious.

When it comes to larger issues about the biological aggregates leading to the phenomenon of man the picture becomes, at the best, subjective and hence not dependable for empirical formulations. Unless we define quantifiable forces, as in the case of Newton’s gravity, we cannot bring these matters in the domain of scientific discussions.

What do you say? In the case of this sort of Fluid Dynamics there is no Gauge Theory available. But then the question is: can there be one at all? RYD

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A great framework and training ground for the education of the human mind and soul

Sri Aurobindo

The right order of human life as of the universe is preserved according to the ancient Indian idea by each individual being following faithfully his svadharma, the true law and norm of his nature and the nature of his kind and by the group being, the organic collective life, doing likewise. The family, clan, caste, class, social, religious, industrial or other community, nation, people are all organic group beings that evolve their own Dharma and to follow it is the condition of their preservation, healthy continuity, sound action. There is also the Dharma of the position, the function, the particular relation with others, as there is too the Dharma imposed by the condition, environment, age, yugadharma, the universal religious or ethical Dharma, and all these acting on the natural Dharma, the action according to the svabhãva, create the body of the -Law. The ancient theory supposed that in an entirely right and sound condition of man, individual and collective, - a condition typified by the legendary Golden Age, Satya Yuga, Age of Truth, - there is no need of any political government or State or artificial construction of society, because all then live freely according to the truth of their enlightened self and God-inhabited being and therefore spontaneously according to the inner divine Dharma.

The self- determining individual and self-determining community living according to the right and free law of his and its being is there- fore the ideal. But in the actual condition of humanity, its ignorant and devious nature subject to perversions and violations of the true individual and the true social Dharma, there has to be super-imposed on the natural life of society a State, a sovereign power, a king or governing body, whose business is not to interfere unduly with the life of the society, which must be allowed to function for the most part according to its natural law and custom and spontaneous development, but to superintend and assist its right process and see that the Dharma is observed and in vigour and, negatively, to punish and repress and, as far as may be, prevent offences against the Dharma. A more advanced stage of corruption of the Dharma is marked by the necessity of the appearance of the legislator and the formal government of the whole of life by external or written law and code and rule; but to determine it - apart from external administrative detail- was not the function of the political sovereign, who was only its administrator, but of the socio-religious creator, the Rishi, or the Brahminic recorder and interpreter. And the Law itself written or unwritten was always not a thing to be new created or fabricated by a political and legislative authority; but a thing already existent and only to be interpreted and stated as it was or as it grew naturally out of pre-existing law and principle in the communal life and consciousness. The last and worst state of the society growing out of this increasing artificiality and convention must be a period of anarchy and conflict and dissolution of the Dharma, - Kali Yuga, - which must precede through a redgrey evening of cataclysm and struggle a recovery and a new self- expression of the spirit in the human being.

The main function of the political sovereign, the king and council and the other ruling members of the body politic, was therefore to serve and assist the maintenance of the sound law of life of the society: the sovereign was the guardian and administrator of the Dharma. The function of society itself included the right satisfaction of the vital, economic and other needs of the human being and of his hedonistic claim to pleasure and enjoyment, but according to their right law and measure of satisfaction and subject and subordinated to the ethical and social and religious Dharma. All the members and groups of the socio-political body had their Dharma determined for them by their nature, their position, their relation to the whole body and must be assured and maintained in the free and right exercise of it, must be left to their own natural and self-determined functioning within their own bounds, but at the same time restrained from any transgression, encroachment or deviation from their right working and true limits. That was the office of the supreme political authority, the sovereign in his Council aided by the public assemblies. It was not the business of the state authority to interfere with or encroach upon the free functioning of the caste, religious community, guild, village, township or the organic custom of the region or province or to abrogate their rights, for these were inherent because necessary to the sound exercise of the social Dharma. All that it was called upon to do was to co-ordinate to exercise a general and supreme control, to defend the life of the community against external attack or internal disruption to repress crime and disorder, to assist promote and regulate in its larger lines the economic and industrial welfare, to see to the provision of facilities, and to use for these purposes the powers that passed beyond the scope of the others.

Thus in effect the Indian polity was the system of a very complex communal freedom and self-determination each group unit of the community having its own natural existence and ad- ministering its own proper life and business, set off from the rest by a natural demarcation of its field and limits, but connected with the whole by well-understood relations, each a co-partner with the others in the powers and duties of the communal existence, executing its own laws and rules, administering within its own proper limits, joining with the others in the discussion and the regulation of matters of a mutual or common interest and represented in some way and to the degree of its importance in the general assemblies of the kingdom or empire. The State, sovereign or supreme political authority, was an instrument of co-ordination and of a general control and efficiency and exercised a supreme but not an absolute authority; for in all its rights and powers it was limited by the Law and by the will of the people and in all its internal functions only a co-partner with the other members of the socio-political body.

This was the theory and principle and the actual constitution of the Indian polity, a complex of communal freedom and self- determination with a supreme co-ordinating authority, a sovereign person and body, armed with efficient powers, position and prestige but limited to its proper rights and functions, at once controlling and controlled by the rest, admitting them as its active co-partners in all branches sharing the regulation and administration of the communal existence and all alike the sovereign, the people and all its constituent communities, bound to the maintenance and restrained by the yoke of the Dharma. Moreover the economic and political aspects of the communal life were only a part of the Dharma and a part not at all separate but inextricably united with all the rest, the religious, the ethical, the higher cultural aim of the social existence. The ethical law coloured the political and economic and was imposed on every action of the king and his ministers, the council and assemblies, the individual, the constituent groups of the society; ethical and cultural considerations counted in the use of the vote and the qualifications for minister, official and councillor; a high character and training was expected from all who held authority in the affairs of the Aryan people. The religious spirit and the reminders of religion were the head and the background of the whole life of king and people. The life of the society was regarded not so much as an aim in itself in spite of the necessary specialisation of parts of its system, but in all its parts and the whole as a great framework and training ground for the education of the human mind and soul and its development through the natural to the spiritual existence. Page-344 Location: Home > E-Library > Works Of Sri Aurobindo > Foundation Of Indian Culture Volume-14 > Indian Polity

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Political parties do not have to be causally connected to democracy

analysis: Political parties and democracyMariam Mufti Daily Times Monday, February 11, 2008
As voters gear up to decide once more which political party should represent the country’s interests, it is worthwhile to take a moment’s pause and reflect over the nature of democracy that we want and the kind of parties we would like to see elected to office
Among many students of democracy there is apparent consensus behind E E Schattschneider’s claim that “political parties created democracy and that modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties”. Yet political parties are not always perceived as the most desirable of political institutions by governments and politicians. Some prefer democracy sans parties, fearing that they a source of factionalism and a threat to stability. Behind the apparent dichotomy between these views there is a wide range of definitions for democracy and the nature of political parties.
  • Is democracy about outcomes or about process?
  • If it is about outcomes, are outcomes then restricted by policy or the choices of political actors, or does democracy extend to the social, moral and psychological development of the citizens?
  • Are the political parties autonomous actors in the political process and the voters are called upon to choose from an array of them, or are they channels through which the citizens act politically?
To resolve the debate on whether or not strong political parties are essential for democracy, we need to understand what political parties are — their objectives, their organisation, and what they do. Let’s define democracy in the Dahlian tradition as an apolitical system in which important government posts are decided through fair, competitive elections held on a regular schedule, freedoms of association and speech are protected and franchise is extended to all adult citizens. In such a political system, political parties may function as fundamental conduits of political life — as major agents of representation and institutions that order legislative life.
For the voter, political parties provide critical information about the candidates and what they stand for. For the politician, who is short-sighted and unlikely to think beyond his own self-interest, the political party is more a stepping stone to power — an institution which resolves a variety of coordination problems in pursuit of public office and state resources. Strong parties are also essential to democratic governability because they serve as a bridge between the executive and the legislature and provide a critical mechanism to overcome gridlock. So political parties are endemic to democracy, but they are not part of the fundamental definition of democracy, nor do they find a role dictated for themselves in the constitutions of most democracies. Edmund Burke defines a political party as

“...a body of men united for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they are all agreed”.

There is nothing in this definition that suggests that political parties are inherently democratic or must function in a way that leads to democratic ends. In fact if the world is not ordered around the notion of some public good but around the inevitability of conflicting interests, then parties promote interests that are partial or extremist and have very little to do with the positive outcome of protection of citizen rights, much less democracy. As Susan Stokes puts it,

“it is hard to shake off the intuition that the more political parties are in evidence the more consolidated the democracy appears to be.”

Yet it is also possible to argue that while political parties are characteristic of modern democracy and the inevitable expressions of its consolidation and development, they do not have to be causally connected to democracy.
Let us now turn towards Pakistan to see whether political parties are the “inevitable evil” or institutions that make “democracy more democratic”. Despite the barriers set upon the democratic process in Pakistan, electoral dynamics, election-related activities and political parties have continued to be meaningful. In the past, military rulers in Pakistan, seeking legitimacy as the guardians of democracy, condemned political parties as ill-organised, ineffective and incapable of maintaining political stability. Yet, the military-bureaucratic oligarchy that has retained control of the Pakistani state directly or indirectly since independence has not been able to do away with political parties and has been compelled to coerce or co-opt them, even cooperate with them.
Political parties and electoral processes have become a matter of fact for rulers and cannot be wished away. Under political pressure, military rulers have had to hold elections: Ayub Khan in 1962 and 1965; Yahya Khan in 1970; Ziaul Haq in 1985; and Pervez Musharraf in 2002 and now in 2008. It is worth noting that elected governments have not been overthrown by popular resistance but by extra-parliamentary forces. The fact that political parties in Pakistan have sustained themselves and withstood persecution from extra-parliamentary forces implies that political parties serve functions that benefit some segment of society but do not have to advance democratic outcomes.
On the other hand political parties in Pakistan are criticised for being inefficient and weakly institutionalised. This is evident in weak party roots in society, less legitimacy accorded to parties and elections by political actors and weak party organisations that have been prone to factionalisation and dominated by personalistic leaders.
In Pakistan, when a political party has been elected to government, it has been obliged to look towards the military-bureaucracy rather than its constituency to survive in office. Extra-parliamentary forces have entrenched themselves in the political system using both formal and informal mechanisms to ensure the subordination of elected assemblies. It is therefore not surprising that political parties, instead of relying on populist politics and developing programmatic foundations, have espoused a clientalist mode of party formation. Since clientalist parties compensate supporters through direct exchanges instead of through consensus building, they do not have to mobilise voters in the non-electoral context to ensure legitimacy or re-election.
Apart from that these parties have been vulnerable to factionalism and in-fighting and have splintered several times over the years into opposing factions — MQM-A and MQM-H; PPP and PPPP; PMLN and PMLQ etc. — most often dependent on charismatic leaders belonging to the traditional, landed, political elite.
In Pakistan, political parties are understood to be multifaceted organisations functioning in interaction with each other as they compete for power at both the centre and the provinces in a federal political system. They have served to sustain democracy or even the illusion of it by being major agents of representation during times of general election. They have served the military as co-opted institutions necessary for legitimation in the eyes of the people and the international community. They have served the people by aggregating and solving their collective action dilemmas. They have also served the political elite to attain political office and gain access to public resources.
Now that Pakistan stands at a crossroads again, and voters are gearing up to decide once more which political party should represent the country’s interests, it is worthwhile to take a moment’s pause and reflect over the nature of democracy that we want and the kind of parties we would like to see elected to office. Is the Pakistani polity even ready for a responsive, democratic government in which parties stand at the helm?
Mariam Mufti is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on the party system of Pakistan at the Johns Hopkins University Home Editorial Dichotomy in Electioneering: A Perspective from Desicritics by temporal

The best leaders are not obsessed with themselves

Real personal integrity and character comes from having a consistent set of values and exhibiting behavior driven by those values. Today's classic narcissistically-driven politicians like both Hillary and Bill can only flutter in the political winds, and zelig-like easily take on whatever characteristics their public care to project onto them.
It is easy to be tough and ruthless with political adversaries in the US political battlefield. The kind of threat political adversaries pose is hardly life-threatening (though in other, less civilized nations it may well be). Political bullies like the Clintons, for example, feel perfectly safe in viciously attacking and denigrating those who oppose them. And, when it happens occasionally that a political adversary unexpectedly shoots back and won't go away, the bully easily falls back on the "victim" role and whines about "vast right-wing conspiracies" or sheds a few tears on cue and such.
This is not the kind of person who can face real threats in the real world very effectively because this is not the kind of person who can effectively deal with threats they do not perceive as personal--why should they care much about any other kind, unless the polls indicate they should?.
Hillary Clinton did not get where she is today by being a person of integrity, honesty and courage--she got there by riding on the coattails of her charismatic husband; and by shrewdly altering her opinions to accommodate the prevailing political winds. And, oh yes, by ruthlessly destroying whoever got in her way. And even her base is able to recognize this about her, although she is extremely careful never to dirty her own hands.
Like the Hamas and Hezbollah gunmen who shield themselves with innocent women and children, Hillary and her spouse have always had a ready supply of useful fall-guys (recall Vince Foster's suicide or Sandy Berger's archival exploits, for example) to take responsibility for their misdeeds.
That is why candidates like Obama are so attractive: because this same voting base that once adored Hillary now find her too too obvious and coarse, and have swung over to the unknown, tabula rasa candidate on whom they are able to project their own fantasies without any intrusion by harsh reality...
We have already witnessed Round 1 of Hilary's attack on her opponent. Her grandiosity and ambition match that of her philandering husband ounce for ounce; and she will lash out unmercifully toward anyone who threatens her political ambitions, or send Bill to do it. The only reality you can count on is that she will definitely not lash out at Islamic Jihadists --unless it happens to be politically expedient and popular to do so.
As the campaign progresses, her views will move ever leftward to accommodate whomsoever she decides she needs to co-opt in order to achieve her ambitions.Right now, it is smart for her to play both sides--to speak toughly, and carry a little stick, so to speak, which is the "mommy" alternative, I suppose, to politically incorrect paternalism. She can let Bill do much of the dirtier work and then blame him if it backfires on her.
The best leaders are not obsessed with themselves; with polls; or with accumulating power by pandering to all sides. Those leaders may, in truth, have many other personal flaws--but not particularly of the dangerously narcissistic variety. Whatever those flaws (and we all possess them), they are characterologically able to be more concerned about dealing with external reality; rather than in preserving a distorted and fragile internal one.
Avenging petty slights and insults is not a high priority to a psychologically healthy person. Those healthy individuals are far more likely to direct their psychological energy toward dealing with real-world geopolitical threats that endanger both their country and the people they have the responsibility to protect; rather than using that country or the power of their office to counter threats to their endangered self and act on their grandiose fantasies about themselves.
The latter is the same psychological pathology that is rampant among dictators and dictator wannabes of all stripes. Their concern about others in their group/nation is purely of the “l’état c’est moi” variety. Look at Saddam's behavioral legacy. Observe the recent behaviors of Ahmadinejad or Chavez or Kim Jong Il -- or any of the other despots and thugs that somehow claw their way up to the top of the food chain in their respective countries.
That the needs of the nation, or the people they serve, might be different from their own; or that doing the right thing is often different from doing the popular thing, are foreign and dangerous concepts. The only reality they know--or care about--is the one inside themselves.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Indian political system has been unable to incorporate the multiple stakeholders who comprise our society

Title : Has the political elite failed the people? Author : Ramakrishna Hegde Publication : The Times of India Date : March 1, 1997
Fifty years of independence should be an occasion for joy and celebration, of pride in having accomplished the objectives our statesmen had set for us, and an opportunity for setting our goals for the future. Instead, one is filled with a feeling of apprehension over the results of five decades of independence.
An appreciation of the illness that plagues our nation necessarily implies an appraisal of the objectives and results that successive governments in independent India have followed and the consequences they resulted in. It is important to emphasise that our most valuable asset when compared to the rest of the developing world is our democracy.
It is essential that, as citizens, we are able to appreciate the awesome nature of the enterprise that we undertook at the time of independence, and if that experiment has not been entirely successful, that we do not succumb to the temptation of blaming democracy for the ills that confront us today. The success of the reforms in China can easily lend itself to the view that repressive authoritarian regimes are more efficient in accomplishing the task of macro-economic stabilisation and adjustment.
However, the Hungarian economist, Janos Kornai, in his celebrated work The Road to a Free Economy, decisively refutes this view. He cites the work done by two economists (S. Haggard and R.R. Kaufman on Economic Adjustment in New Democracies) who comparative study of 44 authoritarian and 39 democratic system showed that one of these systems was markedly better in solving these tasks than the other.
It is therefore not the institution of democracy that is to blame but the political elite which interpreted that institution in a manner that has reduced its functioning to the ballot box, vote banks and populism. Democracy only begins with the ballot box, but to institutionalise a system of checks and balances the process should develop through a palpable strengthening of the many institutions that are integral to a democratic society, In our case this would include the system of panchayati raj, regulatory mechanisms, public interest litigation Lokpal, the media, the judiciary, the Election Commission, non-governmental organisations and many others.
But this has not happened because of a variety of reasons that are specific to the Indian context. These include the functioning of the party system which, since the late sixties, has become personality-oriented and has yet to decisively move away from that mould; the polarisation of Indian society along caste fines in which the idea of social justice has been reduced to the ubiquitous system of reservations; the introduction of religion into the political sphere; and the numerous fissiparous tendencies that have crept into the body politic.
This has caused a severe erosion of the credibility of the political system. Self-serving politicians representing groups with vested interests have begun to tear away the threads that were so painfully woven into a beautiful texture in the first two decades following independence. With the influx of money and muscle power into the electoral process, the credibility of the political system has reached an all-time low. The image of the Indian politician in the public imagination evokes feelings of revulsion, indifference and disgust because it is widely believed that the fruits of development in the past 50 years have been appropriated by babus and netas to the deprivation of the people at large.
As a result of these factors, the democratic process in India has not moved beyond the ballot box; the rural and urban poor, on whom much of the political system depends, have remained on the periphery. This is in a large measure caused by the fact that, unlike in Western Europe, the Indian political system has been unable to incorporate the multiple stakeholders who comprise our society into becoming partners in the developmental process. Consequently, while the Indian political system is characterised by a substantial degree of participation, it is deficient in governance and accountability. It grieves me to think of the consequences if this state of affairs is allowed to continue unabated.
There must be a return to the collaborative attitude that characterised Indian society in the two decades after independence when the fervour of national reconstruction was at its peak and when the vast majority of our population was galvanised into the building of a modern industrialised India.
The essence of democracy is partnership. This involves establishing long-term strategies with multiple stakeholders who comprise our polity, economy and Society and on whom the future of our country will be built. We have to create conditions where these stakeholders develop a vested interest in the development of the national interest.
I am reminded of the powerful, euphemism credited to the late J.R.D. Tata: "Find the right man and set him free." That policy is what an enlightened political system in India needs today: identify major stakeholders and release their creative energies into the building of a vibrant Indian future
Accountability, credibility and good governance can only be brought about if the political system makes a concerted effort to establish long-term partnerships with our people. These include farmers, the corporates, the growing Indian middle class, the intelligentsia, women, non-governmental organisations, youth, artists and artisans, the small scale sector, the media, the deprived and labourers. The purpose of partnership lies in the growth of an India that can successfully meet the challenges of the 21st century. This should be our overwhelming concern: all else is secondary.
The Indian voter dearly needs an enlightened vision embedded in unity and growth over division and discord. The voter has a right to know where the country is heading and affirm his right to participate in the accomplishment of those objectives that he deems them worthy of fulfilment. A political regime that either fails to acknowledge this reality or ignores it altogether forfeits its right to represent the electorate.

Everyone ought to have the privilege of expressing opinions which are unpopular or distasteful

Title : Of dissent... Author : Soli J. Sorabjee Publication : The Times of India Date : January 11, 1997
Thirty years ago the Bombay High Court in the case of Anant Karandikar in the context of adverse criticism of Gandhiji in certain articles observed:

"The right to dissent is the very essence of democracy. Conformity to accepted norms and belief has always been the enemy of freedom of thought... everyone ought to have the privilege of expressing opinions which are unpopular or distasteful."

The relevance of these observations cannot be underestimated in view of the rising trend of intolerance of dissent. The right to dissent however does not permit the expression of views which have the inherent potential of incitement to offence or disturbance of public order, as, for example, the vilification or scurrilous abuse of founders of any religion or its tenets, as distinct from sober criticism of the validity of its claims or dogmas.
Title : 'Distortion of history' Author : V Krishna Ananth Publication : The Hindu Date : January 8, 1997
Excerpts from the interview with Prof. Irfan Habib, eminent historian,
Just as an impartial judge must be bound by the law and his perception must be based on the law, a historian cannot be partial on his premises. There are two aspects to this; one is the technical of history particularly that of testing of evidence. This applies to everyone. To that extent, even a communal historian like R. C. Majumdar was very much annoyed when the RSS promoted a theory that the great Delhi and Agra monuments were built by Hindu rulers: He wrote to them saying that since they had given space to such nonsense he was not going to contribute to The Organiser. I respect this stand. What I mean to say is that the sanctity of technical aspects of history must be respected by all historians. Historical linguistics, inscriptions and the canons of archaeological excavations mean nothing to our friends in the VHP and the only thing that matters to them is working up religious sentiment.
One factor is that the nationalist tradition and the historiography handed over by it is running out of steam: not because the evidence has changed but because the environment today dislikes ideals. When ideals do not matter then many aspects which we thought were accepted premises of scientific history, as for instance, hatred against poverty are no longer guiding intellectual thought. You can not look at them clinically or not look at them at all. Well, I would say that the religious cults are trying to occupy the political space increasingly and are being confronted by some values of the nationalist movement already there in the popular consciousness.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Rowan Williams critiques a hegemonic rights-based philosophy to construe legal universality

It has been fascinating to observe all the hullabaloo over Rowan Williams’ recent lecture on sharia law. The press’s infallible capacity for misunderstanding is matched only by the politicians’ spectacular ignorance of jurisprudence – an ignorance best encapsulated in the Home Office minister’s response to Williams: “To ask us to fundamentally change the rule of law and to adopt Sharia law … is fundamentally wrong.” As though Williams had been calling for an overthrow of British law! ...
Anyway, you can read Rowan Williams’ entire lecture for yourself here: it’s a dense, thoughtful, informed, and highly nuanced reflection (prepared for an audience of lawyers and jurists) on the complex relation between law, citizenship, and the identity of religious communities. Williams rightly critiques “a damagingly inadequate account of common life,” in which “particular sorts of interest and of reasoning are tolerated as private matters but never granted legitimacy in public as part of a continuing debate about shared goods and priorities.”
And he rightly critiques the tendency of a hegemonic rights-based philosophy to construe legal universality in such a way that “a person [is] defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties, and the law’s function [is] accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society.” Is it true that wherever a right or liberty is granted, “there is a corresponding duty upon every individual to ‘activate’ this whenever called upon”?
In short, Rowan Williams wants us “to think a little harder about the role and rule of law in a plural society,” and to think more generally about the character of law itself. But thinking is hard work – and it’s neither as enjoyable as a good lynching, nor as satisfying as a posture of moral indignation.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Deshpande discourages India from assimilating the scientific gains of the western world

Towards New Age -- RY Deshpande's book reviewed by Dr Joan Price Ph D
posted by RY Deshpande on Thu 07 Feb 2008 05:32 AM PST Permanent Link
In his essay “A Critique of Social Philosophy,” Deshpande begins with a critique of ancient Greek political philosophy. He then turns to a critique of Kishor Gandhi’s book Social Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the New Age. Part I of Gandhi’s book introduces the reader to Sri Aurobindo’s book The Human Cycle. Part II is devoted to Karl Marx’s theory of social development. Although Deshpande handles this essay skillfully, the reader needs a background in Marx’s dialectic materialism to better understand his point of view. Deshpande agrees with Gandhi that the answer to our social problems lies in Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of the future evolution of humankind.

India’s soul is rich, says Deshpande, but the people have lost contact with their souls, their inner beings. “We are sleeping the sleep of the medieval ages.” In this chapter “India and the New Millennium,” he calls India to awake from the last thousand years and recover her national identity and nobility. He leads the reader through the Indian crises, from losing contact with the meaning of the Vedas to the frenzied adoption of western life’s “commercial buzz.” To rejuvenate India he turns to Sri Aurobindo, who said that to recover her soul India must move from the age of reason that plunged her into materialism to the age of intuition in which “the Spirit shall take up the human play.”

The book concludes with a question: “Can there be an Indian science?” The author discusses the history of science from the early Greeks to the atom bomb that ended World War II. Although atomic energy can be used for peaceful purposes and scientific advances have given us a new world, he asks if science can make it a better world. Deshpande discourages India from assimilating the scientific gains of the western world. She needs, he insists, to rebuild her own values.

Towards New Age is a sympathetic example of scholarship promoting the poetic and spiritual achievements of Sri Aurobindo. Although some of the subject matter is not easy to penetrate, the book is very well done. R Y Deshpande’s presentations are intelligent, well informed, and visionary. Keywords: SriAurobindo, Spirituality, ScienceSpirituality, Science, Savitri, Poetry, Mysticism, Literature, IntegralYoga Science, Culture and Integral Yoga

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Parents are the primary guardians of posterity

Western Civilization and Other Fairy Tales The sad story of the decline of historical sensibility. By Jonah Goldberg February 6, 2008 12:00 AM
Families are civilization factories. They take children and install the necessary software, from what to expect from life to how to treat others. One hears a lot of platitudes about how children are “taught to hate.” This is nonsense. Hating comes naturally to humans, and children are perfectly capable of learning to hate on their own. Indeed, everyone hates. The differences between good people and bad resides in what they hate, and why. And although schools and society can teach that, parents imprint it on their kids.
As a conservative, I’m a big believer in the importance of tradition, which writer G.K. Chesterton dubbed “democracy of the dead.” But tradition can only be as strong as it is in the people who pass it on. And so, when I read that 23 percent of British teens think Winston Churchill is no more real than Spider-Man, it makes me shudder at the voluntary amnesia of society, the wholesale abdication of parental responsibility that represents.
Civilization, at any given moment, can be boiled down to what its living members know and believe. This makes civilization an amazingly fragile thing, and it makes parents the primary guardians of its posterity. Indeed, someone once told me that those who cannot learn from history are condemned to hear George Santayana quoted to them for the rest of their lives. Of course, that joke’s only funny if you’ve heard of Santayana in the first place.
Now, because even my daughter’s minor joys are my greatest ones, I will gladly fork over large sums of money so she can dine with fairy-tale princesses. I will even play along. But she is only 4, and I’ll only be pretending. — Jonah Goldberg is the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. (C) 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Advertising: The Push for Change A speech by Suzanne Keeler
Social change doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't ever happen quickly. Permanent social change usually requires commitment, tenacity and real action on several levels - the public, government and industry. It requires attitudinal change at all these levels as well and that doesn't take place overnight either. I would like to talk to you today about how I believe that, first of all, social change is already happening in advertising and secondly, how it is being furthered by the industry and lastly, that I believe the development of guidelines for the media may not be the way to go.
The first thing we need to remember here is: advertising is a business. Advertising is created to sell products, change ideas, gain new customers. Advertisers will use the approach that works with the majority of their target audience. Advertising is indeed a reflection of our society. The argument that an advertiser is marketing a secondary message - the environment, the people, the relationships - within their primary message continues to rage...
Encourage young people in your community to train to work in journalism, the broadcasting industry, in advertising, in any area of the ever-expanding media world. We, as a country, must have the best and brightest working in the media to allow the rest of us to understand the world around us. And the best and brightest of all races means we'll all get to look beyond our own fences. Lastly, talk to members of the media with which you're concerned...
Throughout history, the cycle of change has always been too slow for some. Let's be sure though, that as we try to affect the change, we applaud the change that has happened, and we stop, and take a look a those beside us. They're on a different track, but they're going in the same direction. Thank you. Source: Presented at Racism in the Media, a conference sponsored by the Toronto Community Reference Group on Ethno-Racial and Aboriginal Access to Metropolitan Services, October 1995.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Double standards can undermine leadership

Army goes back to epics for moral lesson Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times New Delhi, February 06, 2008 Home News India
The Army has invoked the Mahabharata and the Vedas to check sliding morality and ethics in its ranks. An honour code circulated to soldiers across India quotes Bhishma’s advice to the Pandavas, asking them to control passion for wealth, promotion and luxuries as these “frailties” erode leadership.
Drafted by the Shimla-based Army Training Command, the code dubs sycophancy and manipulation deadly diseases caused by the “virus of ambition and selfishness”. It also makes the point that a morally bankrupt force, even if effective, risks alienation from the community it serves. Officers say the code, or ‘army training note’ in military jargon, is as honest as a self-appraisal can get.
The code carries case studies of a unit involved in selling rations meant for troops to civilians and that of a captain who stole his colleague’s ATM card and withdrew money, reflecting a decline in army values.
Officers have been warned that double standards can undermine leadership. “Accountability for officers should not be lower, and consequences for infractions should be fair, if not equal,” the code says.
Citing the Bhagwad Gita, it says, “The army draws its inspiration from the high moral ethics of our civilisation, which considered it righteous to take up arms against evil.”
Soldiers have been asked not to ease the way for others to do wrong and stand up for their beliefs. Hard task masters have been advised against the typical approach: “I don’t care how you get it done — just do it” or setting impossible goals for juniors.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Like a loyal servant to his royal people

What Kautilya would say from Pragati by Balbir S Sihag
Some aspects of the relevance of the Arthashastra in the contemporary world
Kautilya understood some basic human tendencies and limitations inimical both to national security and prosperity—such as bounded rationality, time inconsistency and shirking (or moral hazard)—and devised measures to handle them effectively, efficiently and ethically. He was also aware of the problems caused by budgetary constraints. National security demanded expansion in spending on infrastructure and in military capability. But an increase in taxes was considered counterproductive, as that would retard long-term economic growth, make taxpayers discontented and prone to be turned against the king.
That meant a poor nation with a smaller tax base could not finance the building of the requisite military capability. It certainly could not match the power of a rich nation and consequently would become an irresistible target for attack by stronger nations. He argued that power breeds more power but the challenge was: how to initiate the process with limited resources. His genius lay in offering insights for meeting the challenge—that is of maintaining independence and becoming prosperous.
  • First, according to Kautilya, economic prosperity strengthened national security and brought happiness to people, but it was not sustainable unless the gains were distributed fairly.
  • Second, he emphasised the role of good institutions for internal stability. He considered rule of law (and not rule by law), essential for protection of private property rights and constraining the predatory or extortionary behaviour of rulers and bureaucrats. Internal stability, in turn, was essential for acquisition of knowledge and accumulation of capital.
  • Third, he emphasised good governance, which meant clean, caring and competent administration so that resources were not siphoned off from building infrastructure to personal uses.
  • Fourth, according to him, a judicious blend of moral and material incentives was necessary to elicit optimum effort from the king at the top to the herdsman at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • Fifth, changes could be brought only through co-operation and co-ordination and not through confrontation and coercion.
  • Sixth, it was a king’s moral duty and in his self-interest to behave like a loyal servant to his royal people.