Atanu Dey On India's Development

Stealing is a Bad Thing — Part 7

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People value freedom. Actually, not just humans, all sentient beings want to be free. But only in human beings does the impulse to enslave others find expression so widely across space and time. The desire to control others is a primitive instinct which I believe will be with us for a long time. That instinct lies at the foundations of organized religions and organized crime. It is also that same instinct that motivates the power-hungry to promote a command and control government.

Total and extreme control over another is slavery. Slavery is bad for the enslaved but profitable for the enslaver. Slavery is not an end in itself; it exists for its instrumental value that it enriches the enslaver (although one cannot rule out a sadistic component in some people involved in it). Less extreme forms of control over others also serves that same instrumental purpose – profit. Here I argue that command and control form of government is a form of slavery. I think of it as disguised slavery. Like slavery, it too has profoundly negative moral implications. And like slavery, it also has adverse economic consequences.

Outright blatant slavery is outlawed in most civilized parts of the contemporary world. It is no longer permissible to enslave others like they used to do in the past. Nor it is any longer possible since there are too many people around and it would be too hard to outright enslave them. Instead new, more sophisticated mechanisms have to be employed. The latest in this line is what is called “command and control” form of government, which is nothing but a form of disguised slavery.

There has been progress in the slave business, mind you, from the days of chains and whips. They progressed from enslaving people to colonizing them. The British, for example, did not come to India and start wielding the whips. That would not have been, as the English put it, cricket. No, sir. They put in a nice system of command and control where they commanded the population, and to exercise complete control over the people, they put together an administrative system which employed natives who were loyal to their colonial masters.

Since colonialism is an evolved form of slavery, it has more evolved forms of features that existed in slavery. The bureaucracy was the colonial analogue of house-niggers in slavery. The native bureaucrats were the instruments of the will of the colonial masters, and their loyalty was suitably rewarded by appropriate means such as giving them some degree of power and control over the colonized population.

Like slavery gave way to colonialism, so also colonialism evolved when colonialism was no longer fashionable. The colonial masters left. But the system they had built to control and command the people remained, such as the entire bureaucratic enterprise. The new system is called the “command and control” or “central planning” government. Another word for it is “socialism.” In India it is also called the “license permit quota control raj”. However you call it, it is just a more sophisticated form of colonialism, just as colonialism itself is a more sophisticated form of slavery.

It’s a dynamic world we live in. All things, not just biological things, evolve though a mechanism not too different from natural selection. If you consider the colonial government by foreigners as the start, the next stage in the evolution was a government by natives who use the same instruments of control as their predecessors. Being in the government gave people an opportunity to profit personally. So it attracted those who were unscrupulous and hungry for power. Thus came the form of government known as a kleptocracy – rule by the greedy.

As one can reasonably expect, with time the temptation to steal even more takes over. Thus, the degree of command and control increases. More and more of the economy is brought under the control of the government. The license permit quota control raj gets a firmer hold on the economy. Nationalization of various sectors of the economy gets done under the pretext that it is good for the people. Everything is controlled for the good of the people, especially the poor. Airlines are nationalized for the good of the poor people, for example.

Meanwhile, those in control are raking in the big bucks and stashing it away in off-shore accounts. Knowledge of this spreads among the more criminally inclined and the more ruthless in the population. Correctly realizing that there is more money to be made by being in the government than engaging in the risky business of everyday crimes such as robbery and extortion, criminals enter government. Soon enough the legislative bodies are filled with the most ruthless and the most ambitious. Thus the system of governance evolves from colonialism, to neo-native-colonialism, to kleptocracy, to finally where India is now – a kakistocracy which is defined as the rule by the least principled and the most corrupt.

We should note another trend in this evolution: the degree of outright physical violence has decreased. Flogging, whips and chains, the drawing of blood, the lynching – violent means of controlling the enslaved were the favored means during slavery. With colonialism, violence was gentler and administered using rules and courts. The uncooperative ended up in jail. But when the people got political freedom and came under the control of governments run by natives, even jailing was no longer an option. Besides there are only so many jail cells and the population was huge. Control had to be exercised but how? By indoctrination and brainwashing.

Here’s how it works. Convince the people that they are free. Convince the people that they are in control – they can vote. Convince the people that the government is their savior and that without the government’s paternalistic concern and care for the people, they would be lost. Manufacture grievances and convince factions in the population that they have these grievances, and the government is on their side. Divide and rule.

But how to convince a large population of hundreds of millions? Control the education system. Use the license permit quota permit system to the hilt on the education sector. Dictate who is allowed to do what in schools and colleges. Keep literacy as low as possible so that people don’t find out what the government wants kept out of the public consciousness.

Next, control the press. A free press is a nice abstract notion. But the people who work in the abstraction called the press are actually flesh and blood people. They have to eat and live, just like the rest of us. So the government through its patronage controls the press. Those who toe the government line get the government ads, and the owners of the press (or TV stations) don’t get hauled up for tax evasions or some such transgressions.

And control the air waves. Don’t allow people to discuss things that reveal government malfeasance. Get control of all channels of information, especially those that are capable of informing the people of the misdoings of the people in government. Basically, brainwash the people into believing the incredible. The government in a “democracy” governs at the consent of the people, right? Well then, the first job of the governments is to manufacture that consent by controlling what the people know.

A small population can be controlled physically using violence. For large populations of hundreds of millions, that’s not an option. Subtler means have to be used. The people have to be persuaded gradually to give up their freedom voluntarily. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by making them economically dependent. Poverty is an absolutely wonderful way of entrapping people so that they become pliant. And then rob them at leisure.

But you may say, “what’s the point of robbing the poor? You will not get much there. So why keep the people poor?” I think we need to examine those questions more. It seems paradoxical that poverty can enrich some. That’s what I will try to argue going ahead. My contention is that poverty has persisted too long, and this is because poverty is profitable for some. If mass poverty did not in some sense help those in power, it would have been in the interests of those in power to eradicate poverty.

I will argue that the state of the world is such today that things like poverty and illiteracy are entirely eradicable – the only thing missing is the will to do so. The answer is long but can be condensed into one word – freedom. The fact is that freedom is the last thing that the government is interested in handing over to the people.

I end this one with a quote from the great American statesman and political theorist, James Madison (1751 – 1836). The Constitution of the United States of America and the United States Bill of Rights are what they are because of him. In a speech he delivered in 1788 he said, “There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”

Check the newspapers to see how gradually and silently the Indian government is eroding whatever little freedom Indians have. We need to wake up to this reality, for it is already getting too late.

For a list of all posts in this series, click this.