Sunday, October 30, 2011

West's collapse a warning to India

By Swapan Dasgupta

When the main news of the day happens to be the unnecessary
cancellation of a pop concert in the National Capital Region and
speculation over the likelihood of Anna Hazare reshuffling the
so-called Team Anna, you can be assured that India is still recovering
from its annual Diwali celebrations. The momentary respite from the
over-hyped and occasionally contrived celebration of politics is well
and truly welcome. Indians too need to re-focus on facets of life that
are truly meaningful and move away from the purposelessness of
mid-season politics.

The weariness, fortunately, is not confined to India alone. In Europe,
the seemingly endless bickering over the future of the Euro is on the
verge of completing its present season—the drama will doubtless
reappear after Christmas and the New Year. In the US, the comical
facet of the presidential primaries is on show courtesy an
advertisement of Republican challenger Herman Cain that shows an
aide—yes, wait for it—smoking a cigarette! I wonder which is worse for
the morally vulnerable: a flamboyant dictator being dragged out of the
gutter and then getting his brains blown out by his own golden pistol,
or some unknown guy smoking a cigarette. Is hate more acceptable to
the legions of the politically correct than a self-indulgent smoke?

It is probably an ethical question which defies a single answer.
However, you know that things aren’t as bad as they seem when society
becomes agitated thinking about the number of angels that can be
accommodated on a pinhead.

The allusion is to a puerile movement called Occupy Wall Street that
began with thousands of angst-ridden trumpets blowing in the US and
now seem to be on its final stages—hardly surprising because camping
out is not terribly comfortable as autumn gradually gives way to
winter. In many places, the OWS has fizzled out, in other places a
gentle nudge by the authorities has been sufficient to clear public
spaces, and in some of the remoter outposts of capitalism the
protestors are still being egged on by subversive clergymen.

Actually, the London version of the OWS has proved to be the most
interesting since it has produced an exotic khichdi of economics and
Christian theology. Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, the Canon Chancellor of
St Paul’s Cathedral, resigned from his post because he could not
countenance the idea of using either force or the law to evict those
who earnestly believed that pitching their tents and blocking access
to the Cathedral would—as the banners demanded—“End Capitalism.”

Rev Fraser is a sanctimonious simpleton. He was so overwhelmed by the
Christian piety of the protestors that he proclaimed “I could imagine
Jesus being born in the camp.” He also declared that it was fitting
that a tented community had sprung up around St Paul’s because the
Saint had been a tentmaker in real life—a factoid that should answer
why the BJP feels it has St Paul’s on its side.

Most practicing Christians obviously disagree with Rev Fraser’s
misplaced benevolence. The OWS hasn’t captured the public imagination
in the same way as the anti-Vietnam protests did. In fact, even
compared to the Tea Party movement against high taxes and federal
intrusiveness, its impact appears to be minimal. The pious
proclamation of a Warren Buffet that he should be taxed more hasn’t
endeared him to those ordinary people who believe that bloated
governments, far from resolving problems, actually prevent individuals
and communities to empower themselves financially.

There is obvious concern in the West that the logic of capitalism is
displacing them from the top of the pile and shifting the centre of
gravity eastwards—to China, to India and even to Australia. But this
unease hasn’t been sufficient to create a revolutionary movement
against advanced, as Karl Marx hoped it would. The West has just too
much to lose by allowing an economic system that it helped nurture to
go out of control. This is why the focus in Europe is over how to
prevent countries with responsible government such as Germany from
being dragged down by the profligate spending habits of countries such
as Greece.

The tremors in the world’s financial and capital markets have precious
little to do with yearning for the true Christian spirit or nostalgia
for 1950s style socialism. There is an awkward truth that is
manifesting itself all over the world: societies can’t go on living
beyond their means indefinitely. Sooner or later the non-viability of
high debts begins to be felt.

The West is concerned that its economies are no longer generating the
wealth that is needed to sustain a standard of living it become
accustomed to. Some are trying to meet the challenge by upgrading
skills and by attracting capital with the assurance of rule-based
societies. Yet others are unwilling to tolerate even temporary
hardship and see their salvation in silly protests such as OWS that
simultaneously help people salvage their conscience.

India doesn’t have too many moral dilemmas. This Diwali saw a downturn
in consumer offtakes but didn’t dampen the overall celebrations.
That’s because the people have a long history of adjusting to
temporary hardships. They know that corruption isn’t a moral issue but
a practical one involving fiscal adjustment. The Government, however,
thinks differently. This is why it should open its eyes to what is
going on in the world before undertaking pre-election splurges with
yours and my money.


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