Open economy: Any alternative?

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

Twenty five years after a light blue turban seemingly reversed the pink dogma of the 40 preceding years, India today is a shining example of the fruits of market liberalisation. It stands shoulder to shoulder with such beacons of that heady ideology, of the financialised growth in the domestic product, as Chile, Mexico, Ireland, Vietnam, and South Africa, not to mention the UK, China and the United States, where economic neo-liberalism was born. Indeed, the world economy of the 21st century knows no alternative to growth in the domestic product apart from the pixie dust and mushrooms method of Friedmanomics.

The benefits that have accrued to the privileged from this period of transformation are as obvious to any observer as the stagnation in the quality of the lives of the under privileged and even the decline, in some cases, in the quality of the lives of the poorest citizens of the nation. This is, the neo-liberals will argue, not an unexpected disparity. 

The strength of the ideology of this political economy lies in its non-existent moral and philosophical base. Since there is no need for its proponents to answer questions about the lives of those who don’t necessarily benefit from their prescriptions, all the attention can be focused on those who do. It’s a great gig, if you can get it! Even here, however, in the lap of the luxury of privilege, of the middle classes and the nouveau riche, the brilliant hues of success are diluted by hard realities.

The pleasures of the open economy are, of course, undeniable. Pick up your smart phone on a Friday night to surf the local inter-webs and you will find pleasure – legally guaranteed. Movies, theatre performances, music and dance, classical and modern, home grown or imported it is all there to be consumed and appreciated. It is good and it is bad, and it is quite often mediocre. But it is free from the shackles of the State of the Soviet era. 

Nobody tells Naseeruddin Shah what he can or can’t do on stage, apart from a few extremists whose sensibilities are often offended at the drop of the proverbial hat, and for a quick buck.

And then there are the restaurants and the pubs and the bars, there’s beef and pork and fish. The tastes and colours and textures of multiculturalism have been unleashed by the enhanced purchasing power of the great Indian middle class, and not just on a weekend on the town but also in more practical ways.

Public dialogue

The middle class today can afford a life of relative material comfort in comparison to the more rationed affordability of its past. There are the washing machines and the microwave ovens, the computers and the internet, there are the planes, trains and automobiles that allow us to enjoy more time doing the things we choose to do. 

The few fortunate ones who also enjoy the luxury of a work environment that expands their mental faculties find that extra time extremely valuable. For most of us, however, who have to suffer the intellectually degrading environment of the modern workplace, the frivolity of the boob tube is as good as it gets. 

So, there are many questions that arise for those of us who like to take a holiday from the prevailing thought processes that surround us and cajole us into conformity. Is it not possible to organise our societies in a way that guarantees the pleasures which we have come to expect for ourselves, that also includes the desires of the rest of the population, while making all of our working lives more meaningful and rewarding? 

Is it such a stretch of the imagination to create such a blueprint that we have not even made the attempt to open a public dialogue about what such a world would look like? Is there really no alternative to this political economy of relative, compromised, ephemeral privilege, of fleeting pleasures for the few and continuing misery for the many, albeit a misery that may now be tempered by a school here and a hospital there, which only serve to highlight the missing links in between? The ugly truth is that we have chosen to conform to the profoundly sick society we live in rather than choosing to create one blessed with our full creative capabilities, principally out of our self induced mental lethargy. We remain trapped in a Pandora’s Box of our own making because we can’t muster the energy we need to break out of it. Fortunately for us, there have been many eminent thinkers over the years who have imagined a world better than ours, and articulated their vision of it. We must find the courage to join them. 

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