Of Economic Freedom and Bondage
This is the concluding part of my re-write of PM Dr Manmohan Singh’s speech to the CII. (Previous part on Social Contracts here.) The PM in his speech had quoted from Tagore’s Gitanjali. I suppose the irony of quoting Tagore in the context of the government’s sustained effort to divide the country along caste and religious lines is lost on him. Severe cognitive dissonance perhaps. I have critically examined the PM’s speech for what it was, an attempt to browbeat the Indian industrialists into further crippling the Indian economy. It is all very sad.
Ladies and gentlemen, our society is not today that heaven of freedom which Tagore prayed for, where “the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls. . .” The industry did not create these walls. The fragmentation of our society along caste and religious lines is the doing of political policies. Our policies of favoring special groups arise out of “the dreary desert sands of dead habit” of dividing the country for narrow-minded mean political gains.
The industry did not create the divisions in society, it cannot be expected to correct these distortions, and it must not be commanded to perpetuate these odious divisions by hiring based on caste and religious categories. The destruction of whatever Indian industry has accomplished must not be lost in the cesspool of communal politics. Industry did not create the deep social inequalities. The government by raising the specter of violent social revolt to force industry to assume responsibility for the divisions in society is guilty of blackmail, criminal negligence and gross dereliction of duty.
The government has failed so far to address the real concerns of its citizens. Universal primary education, although guaranteed by the constitution, is still not a reality after 60 years of independence. It is shameful that half the world’s illiterates are Indian. Surely, the failure of the Indian education system cannot be laid at the doorsteps of Indian industry. Indeed, Indian industry itself suffers as a consequence of the massive failure of the government in providing education. If Indian industry can build world-class corporations, surely it is quite capable of efficiently educating the population – provided of course that it is allowed to do so.
Indians are as talented a people as any other. Wherever they have enjoyed economic freedom, they have been among the best, in everything from steel manufacture to high technology. Let’s ask ourselves why Indians in the US do so well, to just take one example out of scores of places where Indians shine. They succeed more often outside India than within India because in India they are denied economic freedom. They are forced to leave India to concentrate their entrepreneurial and innovative skills in building things rather than stay and fritter away all their energies in fighting our impossible bureaucracy. Our laws and regulations are so onerous that it can sap the strength – if not kill – the most talented and dedicated of our entrepreneurs. We have to radically change our regulations and our labor laws.
Indians thrive when they are free to get into the rough and tumble of the competitive marketplace. But our socialistic policies have crippled India’s industries. Allow me to quote Pranab Bardhan, one of India’s foremost economists at UC Berkeley (India loses fine academicians and researchers as well, not just engineers and doctors, due to a lack of freedom). “Leftists are understandably wary of the ‘wastes of competition’ and of the ‘anarchy of the market-place.’ But the last several decades of socialism have shown us unmistakably that the waste and anarchy of the bureaucratic command system are far more injurious to the health of the economy. Without competition in the sense of rivalry among firms (public or private) and a mechanism for exit for chronically sick firms, no economy can attain or retain its vigour and dynamism.”
The market rewards excellence and punishes underperformance. The government does not have to worry about whether you are doing your job to the best of your abilities or not – you would not be here if you were incompetent. But in government and politics, competency is not that much of a barrier to entry. The ability to manipulate the system is more valued. It appears that it is politics, not patriotism, which is the last refuge of the Indian scoundrel. Hardened criminals sit in our legislative bodies and we all are apparently powerless to change it. But there is a way out, I believe. If you, the captains of the Indian industry, were to support clean political candidates, you can make a difference. It is choice that you can exercise as citizens of this great democracy.
In conclusion, thank you for helping build the nation. You have my gratitude and you have my promise that I will do everything I can to help you create wealth so that no Indian is poor. Let’s make India a great nation.