Liberals must dump gandhi
The Economic Times, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 2002
ADAM Smith, in 1776, in the very first chapter of The Wealth of Nations, outlined how wealth is created by human beings: through the division of labour, or specialisation. A very good example of the division of labour is my colleague, Bonny Thomas, who has created the illustration that accompanies this article. What does Bonny do for a living? He makes a lot of the funny illustrations that appear in this newspaper every day. Still, Bonny has a house, television, food, booze and what not. He does not produce any of these things himself. He, on his part, just draws cartoons and illustrations all day. With this he gets money - a medium of exchange. He exchanges this money in the free market for what others produce. This is what the exchange economy is all about, powered by the division of labour. This is what makes wealth generation possible. Note that the division of labour is the very antithesis of 'self-sufficiency'. If Bonny gave up his specialised vocation and attempted to produce all his needs himself, he would be much poorer and would also lose all his leisure. Having understood this, let us see how this principle would operate if Bonny was the patriarch of a very large family. Suppose Bonny had 40 wives and 100 children and, as the patriarch, decided that his family would be 'self-sufficient'. After all, they are so many, they surely do not need to pay their good money to outsiders! So Bonny farms out activities to each of his wives and children. He says, "You, my good son Sunta, you make shoes for everyone; and you, my good son Bunta, you stitch everyone's clothes. You, my daughter Dimple, you spin cloth for the clan; and you, my daughter Simple, you look after the fish pond - and so on." In effect, Bonny, as patriarch, would be telling his large family that they should never go to Connaught Place, Brigade Road, Crawford Market, Chandni Chowk or Orchard Street. Never go to the market would be the motto of his self-sufficient family. Produce for each other and never exchange and integrate with the large market economy outside. What would be the result? Actually, Bonny's family would be the poorest family in the world. And Bonny, as patriarch, would soon get overthrown. It is this that has to be done to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who, as Father of the Nation, dreamt of an India of 'self-sufficient villages'. Simple economics says that self-sufficiency is economic suicide. All animals and birds are 'self-sufficient' and they possess no wealth whatsoever. They cannot participate in the division of labour because they do not have the ability to trade and exchange. That is why weaver birds do not operate construction sites for early birds in exchange for the worms the latter are so adept at collecting. Gandhi's 'village vision' is also not based on economics. Simple economics says that the division of labour is maximised in cities and towns: you cannot be a taxi driver, plumber, electrician, or Thai chef in a remote, sparsely populated village. The future of India lies in 400-500 free trading cities and towns - all the strange names in the STD codebook should become little Singapores, Hong Kongs and Dubais. The Gandhian vision must be dumped. I am writing this in a particular context. I heard a talk on liberalism by Babu Joseph (who heads the Kerala Chapter of the Indian Liberal Group). He laced his talk with Gandhian quotations. I also attended a presentation by Jayaprakash Narayan of Lok Satta. This liberal too had many quotes from Gandhi to buttress his views. I asked Babu whether liberals need to quote Gandhi who, after all, is responsible for prohibition, liquor deaths, liquor mafia, khadi (Indian Luddism), swadeshi and the village vision. Babu said we should 'use' him if we could. I disagree. For one, the greatest enemy of liberalism in India is the Congress, whose 'core ideology' is what liberals must demolish. Gandhianism is essential to this core. Second, we have our own heroes of that era. A book entitled Profiles in Courage: Dissent on Indian Socialism has just been published by The Centre for Civil Society. I think Rajaji, Masani, Piloo Mody, Shenoy - these great men of Swatantra should be our heroes, not a corny Congressman. We do not need a Father of the Nation. At best, the free India of the future, comprising 400-500 free trading and self-governing cities, will need many City Fathers. We have no City Fathers today, and all our cities are in ruin. The state keeps pursuing 'rural development' guided by the false Gandhian vision. The trouble with Gandhi is that, if you leave behind you a large volume of sufficiently ambiguous work, anyone can rummage through it and find some quotes to justify himself. A socialist, a liberal, a communist - all can find quotes from Gandhi to justify their positions. If you go into the ET archives, you will find that on a Gandhi Jayanti many years ago, I too had contributed an article entitled 'The Forgotten Gandhi' in which I had compiled many quotes from Gandhi to justify liberalism. This, we should now avoid. The patriarch has failed his family. It is time to dump him.