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So- called economic growth and malnourished people

3 July 2013 04:54 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne

There was a time in the past when everybody had agreed on the concept of socialism. Even the JR regime which introduced the Open Market Economy to the country claimed to be committed to democratic socialism.

The ethical sense that obviously prevailed in the past was a semblance of social equality. Even in the Open Market Economy the social welfare structure was essential. That was the logic in calling the society as democratic and socialist.

Prior to that, we had had different values. There was less emphasis on social welfare, and elites had different political developmental and socio-cultural values.   Child labour was common even though free education had been announced.

The Sama Samaja concept was considered vulgar, and all thugs and bandits were considered to be followers of socialism. But all these changed, and within a decade or so even the top bourgeoisie wanted to be identified as some kind of socialist and Sama Samajists were invited to cultural and social gatherings to improve the intellectual discussion.

The collapse of so-called socialist states in Russia and other counties combined with the failure of coalition governments created again a different political climate in Lanka. Then the world started experiencing a counter-revolution in ideas and attitudes.

" If the ‘development’ of a country goes hand in hand with the worsening of the living conditions of the people, it will not be tolerated by the people. A developed country for a malnourished people is an insane  society "

 A key component in this regression is the return to certain economic beliefs, once abandoned as unethical and damaging. For example, the triumphant return of the old – and historically invalidated – theory of ‘inequality as the driving force of capitalist growth’. The polarization between the rich and the poor is no longer seen as undesirable, or dangerous. The rich becoming richer while the poor become destitute is a temporary necessity.

Less welfare with anti-Robin Hood tax policies have become synonymous with ‘good economics’. The obscenely conspicuous consumption by the mega-rich, even in times of general economic distress, has become socially acceptable.

Refusing to learn from the past is a characteristic of not just the new bourgeoisie but also the corrupt politicians. Inequality was the great social-de-stabiliser that started all modern revolutions from French Revolution onwards. Even before the French revolution, the Radical Enlightenment thinkers warned about the political dangers inherent in socio-economic inequality:



“The man discriminated against is aggrieved. The man who possesses nothing lacks any stake in society”, warned one such thinker. In the recent past, those who studied riots in Europe concluded that societal violence is inevitable when people do not have a ‘stake in society’. Class divisions inherent in the capitalist societies and class contradictions make the society unstable; particularly when social welfare is negated. Stable societies are cohesive societies. Cohesion is impossible when a society is racked by inequality. Social welfare was a mechanism to reduce class conflicts and sense of inequality.

 On the other hand, if some people feel that they are marginalised for ethnic, religious, or national reasons or that development is something that happens to others, disenchantment sets in and socio politico- fissures develop. Instead of the necessary common national perspective, ethnic, religious or nationality perspectives become predominant. Instability breaks out, even in the midst of spectacular growth, as the ongoing events in many developing countries show.

Social, economic and also national equality is not an automatic outcome of growth. Like general freedom and political equality it must be aimed for and worked at, by governments and by political movements. Societal pressure and political will are important requirements for any real movement towards greater national equality, just as much for socio-economic equality where governments do not make extra efforts to promote equality and inequality.

This contradictory atmosphere breeds the socio-political movements which eventually prepares the overthrow of the system in spite of the so-called growth-march of the economy. This almost happened in Sri Lanka, in the second half of the 1980’s.

 Today we are headed in the same direction. According to a latest International survey on Salary Differentials, Lanka is among the five lowest-paying countries for para-professional employees in the world. This is one more indicator of a development path which has not really developed the people.

 If the ‘development’ of a country goes hand in hand with the worsening of the living conditions of the people, it will not be tolerated by the people. A developed country for a malnourished people is an insane society.

Inequality’s destabilising impact can assume particularly deadly forms in a country with an unresolved national problem, especially if the rulers use the racial or religious campaigns to impose an artificial cohesiveness on the majority community. Sinhala petty bourgeoisie, marginalised by prevailing developmental values and deprived of benefits of growth, can be mobilised to build a suppressing regime for a period, but inevitably it will lead to an explosion.
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