Ever since Columbus landed in the Carribean in 1492, a string of colonies were set across the world, all founded on violence, genocide and dispossession of the indigenous people. We were ourselves victims of colonialism for four and a half centuries.
After World War II, the colonies attained political independence but many of them remained economically subordinated through supranational finance and trade bodies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Most of the former colonies remain the backyard of the developed countries – a resource base (natural, cash crops, cheap labour), a recipient of arms and a venue for recreation and distraction of tourists bored with the industrial routine.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has become politically correct, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom to enunciate the “new imperialism”. Robert Cooper, who was one of Tony Blair’s closest policy advisers, rationalizes the need for unity of the Western World in order to ensure their collective domination over any potential rivals even if they are just regional powers at present. In his book “The Postmodern State and the World Order” he cautions that powerful States such as India, China and Brazil have the capacity to become “destabilising actors” and a threat to “global stability”, hence the objective should be to keep these countries in a state of constant instability and dependence.
In our time, the United States leads the West and takes Britain in particular under its wing as a “junior partner”. Prof Edward Said of the Columbia University asserts that “the primary objective of the US strategy is to ensure a favourable climate for investment including unimpeded access to resources. Its military expansion is designed expressly to allow the US-led West to enforce the stability of its global hegemony anywhere, anytime, without obstruction and on the slightest sign of an emerging threat. The source of these objectives is the US corporate military-industrial complex probably the ultimate center of power in the new world order”. The war against Iraq was an example. It was an assertion of America’s “vital interest” in controlling the nationalized oil industry of Iraq which is the second largest reservoir of oil in the world and accounts for more than ten percent of the global oil reserves.
Prof. Said is a foremost expert on the Arab and Muslim worlds. He says “Every empire including America, regularly tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires and that it has a mission certainly not to plunder but to educate and liberate the peoples and places it rules directly or indirectly. Yet, these ideas are not shared by the people who live there and whose views are in many cases directly opposite”.
India’s economy is growing but economic inequality is also growing. This is certainly better then the reality in most Latin American countries where there is economic stagnation coupled with growth of economic inequality. We are doing better but not well enough. Economic growth does stimulate human development in the key areas of education and health yet determined efforts are essential for the required level of advancement.
Whilst we must be aware of global and other threats to our freedom, we should also recognize that the road to liberty and prosperity lies first and foremost in our own commitment to the values and attitudes that shape a forward moving and progressive society.
Lawrence Harrison who co-authored with Samuel Huntington “Culture Matters. How Values shape Human Progress identifies ten such values or mindsets that distinguish progressive cultures from static cultures.
1. Progressive cultures emphasize the future; static cultures emphasize the present or past.
2. Work is central to the good life in progressive cultures but is a burden in static cultures. In the former diligence, creativity and achievement are rewarded not only financially but with satisfaction and self-respect.
3. Frugality is the mother of investment and financial security in progressive cultures.
4. Education is the key to progress in progressive cultures but is of marginal importance except for the elites in static cultures.
5. Merit is central to advancement in progressive cultures; connections and family are what count in static cultures.
6. Community. In progressive cultures the radius of identification and trust extends beyond the family to the broader society. In static cultures, the family circumscribes community. Societies with a narrow radius of identification and trust are more prone to corruption, tax evasion and nepotism. .
7. The ethical code tends to be more rigorous in progressive cultures. Every advanced democracy, except Belgium, Taiwan, Italy and South Korea, appears among the twenty five least corrupt countries on Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Chile and Botswana are the only Third World countries that appear among the top twenty five.
8. Justice and fair play are universal, interpersonal experiences in progressive cultures. In static cultures, justice, like personal advancement is often a function of whom you know or how much you can pay.
9. Authority tends towards dispersion and horizontality in progressive cultures; towards concentration and verticality in static cultures.
10. Religion. The influence of religious institutions on civic life is small in progressive cultures; its influence is often substantial in static cultures. Heterodoxy and dissent are encouraged in the former, orthodoxy and conformity in the latter.
The above factors offer an insight as to why some countries and high achieving ethnic/religious groups like the Mormons, Sikhs, Basques, Jews and East Asian emigrants do better than others not just in economic terms but also with regard to consolidation of democratic institutions and social justice. These factors explain as to why for a substantial majority of the world population prosperity, democracy and social justice have remained out of reach.
The above values and mindset should permeate the national ethos. They should be taught at school and at home so that we ensure a prosperous community free from oppression of any sort, where justice and fair play do indeed prevail.
(The writer is a former Union Minister)
(Published on 11th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 46)