Thursday, April 3, 2014
Gandhi's Economic Thought
_Gandhi's Economic Thought_ by Ajit K. Dasgupta
NY: Routledge, 1996
(6) Gandhi wrote: 'I must confess that I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics.'
(7) Gandhi insisted that the relationship between economics and ethics works both ways. While economic concepts were laden with ethical implications, ethics too must descend from the clouds and become 'good economics'....
'Whatever is basically harmful on economic grounds is also certainly harmful from the religious point of view. Untainted wealth can never be opposed to religion.'
(20) And again, 'Everyone must have balanced diet, a decent house to live in, facilities for the education of one's children and adequate medical relief.' For the same reason, spinners' wages should be adequate for ensuring 'wholesome and nutritious food, necessary clothing, comfortable houses and other amenities necessary for a happy home'. The tiller of the soil should have a 'sufficiency of fresh, pure milk and oil, fish, eggs and meat if he is a non-vegetarian, adequate but not fine clothing (what would fine clothes, for instance, avail him if he is ill-nourished and underfed?)' facilities for sanitation, comfortable housing, clean drinking water, dirt-free roads and a sense of participation in decisions that affect his daily life.
(21) The [moral] principle that he invoked most often for this purpose was that of neighbourhood. Gandhi defined swadeshi as 'a principle which is broken when one professes to serve those who are more remote in preference to those who are near'. A teaching that is shared by all humankind, states Gandhi, and one that is common to all religions alike, is that one must be kind and attentive to one's neighbours. The duty of helping one's neighbours is at the core of the ethics of Swadeshi.
(27) The test of swadeshi 'was not the universality of the use of an article which goes under the name of swadeshi but the universality of participation in the production or manufacturing of such article'. Judged by this test spinning had a potential unmatched by other contenders....
On one occasion, he found that a number of women had been spinning who were not without occupation or means of making a living. 'Perhaps they spin in response to our appeal and because they realise it is for the good of the country.' Nevertheless, Gandhi remained firm in his resolve that their spinning should stop, for the charkha movement had not been conceived with such people in mind but only for able-bodied people who were idle for want of work.
(31) 'It is a grave delusion to say that one cannot preserve truth while earning wealth.'
(36-37) First, the term bread-labour in Gandhi's sense was inapplicable to work motivated by economic compulsion. Grinding toil for the sake of eking out a miserable livelihood, which is the lot of millions of poor peasants and factory workers throughout the world should not, he thought, be dignified by the name of bread-labour....
Second, it must be performed in a spirit of service to others rather than solely to please oneself. 'If a young man who has trained his body with rigorous exercise spends eight hours every day in doing such exercise, he is not doing bread-labour.'...
Third, there must be scope for exercise of the mind. This depends not so much on the nature of the task itself as on its context and milieu and on the spirit in which it is performed.
(40-41) On the whole, however, bread-labour does not play an important role in Gandhi's social and economic thought and there are few references to it in his later writing.
(46) 'When you do your duty the rights will drop into your lap.'
(71) Gandhi's stand against the adoption of mechanised techniques for industrial development in India need no longer be seen as advocacy of a 'return to nature'. Gandhi himself makes this quite explicit In the course of justiyfing his opposition to the grinding of corn by a mechanical process in the mills he states:
'I have no partiality for return to the primitive method of grinding and husking for the sake of them. I suggest the return because there is no other way of giving employment to the millions of villagers who are living in idleness.'
His plea was not so much for using capital less as for using labour more. The same concern underlies his opposition to methods of production which involve utilising natural resources more intensively than labour. Any plan which exploited the raw materials of a country to the full while neglecting utilisation of man-power was lopsided and could not lead to equality...
'I am against machines just because they deprive men of their employment and render them jobless. I oppose them not because they are machines but because they create unemployment.'
(73) Gandhi: 'Organisation of machinery for the purpose of concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few and for the exploitation of the many I would hold to be altogether wrong. Much of the organisation of machinery of the present age is of that type.'
If that kind of organisation were to spread in India it would lead to further encroachment of the cities on villages, making the villages even more dependent on the cities than they already were...
'If you multiply individual production a million times would it not give you mass production on a tremendous scale?' This he describes as 'mass production in people's own homes'. Income distribution, he believed, could be equalised only when production was localised, in other words when the distribution and production of goods were simultaneous.
NB: cottage industry
(79) He described as ideal villages those which are self-reliant in food, which have not a single flour-mill and in which the residents grow all the cotton they need and manufacture their own cloth right up to the stage of stitching garments in their own homes. If he was in charge, he would reward such villages by giving them prizes and exempting them from all taxes.
(79-80) In the same spirit, he defined as a helpful machine 'any machine which does not deprive masses of men of the opportunity to labour but which helps the individual and adds to his efficiency and which a man can handle at will without being its slave.'
(91) Elsewhere Gandhi argues that the acceptable degree of inequality in society should be seen in terms of differences in consumption, life-style and the standard of living rather than just income.
(99) In order to remove untouchability a programme of action was required. His programme included such things as organising the untouchables, especially in the villages, so that they were better able to protect their human rights; offering satyagraha in order to secure their rights of entry to hotels and restaurants and places of worship ('But not a single Hindu restaurant should be allowed to function which does not permit the entry of Harijans'), and making the abolition of untouchability an election issues. Some of these techniques were later adopted by the Civil Right movement in the United States during the 1960s.
(119) 'The rich man will be left in possession of his wealth, of which he will use what he reasonably requires for his personal need and will act as a trustee for the remainder to be used for the society.'
Gandhi adds: 'In this argument honesty on the part of the trustee is assumed.'
(125-126) Gandhi's theory of trusteeship: What I expect of you therefore is that you should hold all your riches as a trust to be used solely in the interests of those who sweat for you and to whose industry and labour you owe all your position and property. I want you to make labourers co-partners of your wealth.
(131) 'I never said that there should be cooperation between the exploiter and exploited so long as exploitation and the will to exploit persist.' His point rather was that the exploited themselves cooperated with their exploiters 'All exploitation is based on the cooperation, willing or forced of the exploited. However much we may detest admitting it the fact remains that there would be no exploitation if people refused to obey the exploiter.'
(142) Gandhi's own ideas on what constituted a proper curriculum for elementary education were spelled out in a number of articles on Nayee Talim and also reflected in his school in Wardha. Handicrafts, which included spinning, weaving, carpentry, horticulture and animal care were to provide the foundation. Music, drawing, arithmetic, citizenship, history, geography, science and languages were also to be taught, both directly and through the crafts, a learning-by-doing approach being used wherever possible. Schools would also give lessons in practical sanitation and hygiene, including efficient use of water and the repair and maintenance of village wells, knowledge which students would take back to their parents, taking on the role of silent revolutionaries. Cooperation between home and school would be encouraged by operating primary schools on a shift system, with two half-day shifts so that the children could also work in the field or help in household tasks. This, Gandhi, believed, would go some way towards reducing the reluctance of parents to send their children, especially their daughters, to school.
(158) Gandhi opposed the movement for birth control with much vehemence. He regarded the use of artificial methods for preventing births as morally unacceptable and he held fast to this opinion to the very end of his life though the topic itself appears less and less often in his later writing.
(164-166) Early in his political career Gandhi entered into a controversy with Tilak on the relationship of politics to ethics. Was the absolute commitment to truth and non-violence that Gandhi wished to impose on the Indian national movement really appropriate to the political arena? The Lokamanya thought not. It might be more appropriate, he suggested, for sadhus. But politics was a game of worldly people, not of sadhus. In a spirited rejoinder to Tilak, Gandhi insisted that the Buddhist maxim that non-anger wins over anger lays down an eternal principle and that this was the law not for the unworldly alone but essentially for the worldly. 'With deference to the Lokamanya, I venture to say that it betrays mental laziness to think that the world is not for sadhus.' Ethics, according to Gandhi, was essentially a worldly enterprise and at its core was a desperate attempt to become sadhu. This debate has an ancient parallel in Indian political thought. According to Kautilya's _Arthasastra_ each sphere of action had its own appropriate rules of conduct which represented its own morality. In politics 'reasons of state' were therefore to be regarded as binding. Buddhism on the contrary stood for the over-riding authority of moral law. While different types of activity might, indeed, be conducted by their own rules, these remained subject to the claims of ethics. 'Buddhism', notes Ghoshal, 'with its stern and unbending code of ethics stood for the unqualified supremacy of the moral law over governmental affairs.' So did Gandhi. And this applied just as well to economic affairs.
Buddhism does not, however, regard economic activity as such as unethical. On the contrary it gives economic, and in particular business, enterprise an honoured place. For a proper perspective on Gandhi's economic thought, certain specific elements in the Buddhist approach to economics are especially relevant. First, a persistent theme of Buddhist texts is that the worldly and the spiritual spheres of activity are not different in kind. They are, as it were, cut from the same cloth and the conditions required for success in them have large overlap. In the Majjjmanikaya, for instance, one who is successful in spiritual enterprise is likened to 'a rich and wealthy man on a long journey through the woods who should eventually emerge safe and sound without a loss of goods'. Gandhi thought in much the same way. In formulating economic concepts such as swadeshi or trusteeship Gandhi often used a 'saintly idiom'. This, I believe reflects not so much his religiosity as a belief that material and spiritual considerations can be described in much the same language.
Second, the general principle of economic conduct for the Buddhist layman is appamada, which translates roughly as paying attention and taking care. The basic virtues that this principle invokes are attention, carefulness, conscientiousness and diligence. The householder who seeks to follow the _Dhamma_ must therefore work hard, avoid wasting resources, cultivate his skills, practise thrift and, without becoming possessive, take good care of his possessions. The householder who succeeds in acquiring wealth by honest means and through his own energy and effort, who does not run into debt and retains ownership of his property, who enjoys both material well-being and independence and who uses his wealth for the public good is commended by Buddha; and the wealth of such a man is described as 'wealth that has seized its opportunity, turned to merit and is fittingly made use of'. Gombrich sums up: 'Buddha _never_ suggests that laymen should eschew property, he _commends_ wealth which is righteously acquired by one's own effort.
Gandhi's concern with appamada runs through his writings on economic topics. It underlies his praise of productive power as a form of godliness: 'There is no separate species called gods in this universe, but all who have the power of production and will work for the community using that power are gods-labourers no less than capitalists.' The same concern explains his emphasis on the crucial importance of personal effort. Even his own favourite project, khaddar, would, he said, be quite useless if it could be obtained without effort. 'Khaddar has the greatest organising power in it because it has itself to be organised and becase it affects all India. If khaddar rained from heaven it would be a calamity.'
For the same reason, bettering one's economic condition by one's own active effort was superior to having the same outcome brought about by the state. 'It is one thing to improve the economic condition of the masses by state regulation of taxation and wholly another for them to feel that they have bettered their condition by their own sole personal effort.'
The principle of appamada also provides a moral justification for being concerned with economic efficiency. Unlike many other who have criticised capitalist enterprise on moral grounds, Gandhi never rejected efficiency as a worthy norm. Whatever the project, be it a school or a khadi shop or a rural health care system or even arranging a marriage ceremony Gandhi always insisted on costs being reduced to the absolute minimum required to achieve a desired outcome. His persistent refusal despite criticism from the left, to condemn the acquisition of wealth, expresses the same spirit: 'my advice that monied men may earn their millions (honestly of course) but so as to dedicate them to the service of all, is perfectly sound.
Likewise, while condemning exploitation of workers by capitalists, he refused to condemn all businessmen as individuals: 'My relations with the rich will continue. I don't look upon the rich as wicked and upon the poor as angels.' Statements of this kind are consistent with a Buddhist attitude to wealth which is in sharp contrast to that of the Christian Fathers who culd see 'no possibility of acquiring great riches without resort to evil practices or inheritance from those who had resorted to the', and for this reason called on all Christians to avoid seeking riches.
(168) The only other 'predecessor' of Gandhi whom I shall discuss is John Ruskin. Gandhi is commonly described as a disciple of Ruskin whose book _Unto This Last_ he rendered into Gujrati in a series of articles under the title _Sarvodaya_ (literally, the welfare of all)
(175) Gandhi's insight that his erstwhile fellow-workers who were now in charge of the Government did not believe in Gandhian economic policies and had no wish to put them into practice was entirely correct.
(177) Last, Gandhi is concerned not only with what ethics can do for economics but also with what economics can do for ethics. The latter concern, which is quite unusual among moralist critics of the economic approach, leads him to suggest that if a project, however good it may be from an ethical point of view, requires continuing economic loss, it is unsound and should be avoided.
(178) As we have seen Gandhi's over-riding concern was the decentralization of production, which was to be achieved through village industries. He was also opposed to centralised state control of the distribution of foodgrains or other necessary items, and spoke out against price-control and rationing which were being used as techniques of food planning in independent India.
(179) Three-quarters of the Indian people lived in villages, but the villagers no longer had the self-respect they had once enjoyed...
Economic development was a means of bringing self-respect to the individuals who lived in villages and thereby to village society as a whole. It was not just a matter of money: 'You cannot bring a model village in being by the magic wand of money.'
(182) In both economics and ethics it is the individual who is, for Gandhi, the relevant unit of account.
(183) 'If the individual ceases to count what is left of society?' That one can be a determined enemy of the inequality and injustice that are characteristic of societies driven by 'possessive individualism' without giving up a commitment to the individual is a valuable part of the legacy of Gandhi.