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The question of morality



On Wed, 5 Aug 1998 prabhu.guptara@ny.ubs.com wrote:

>      It seems that you allow a liberal fallacy space in your mind when you 
>      attribute the advances of the US system to liberalism, because 
>      liberalism can only work where there is a minimum moral framework. 

Dear Professor Prabhu,

Please revert to the history of USA for a minute. The battles that
Jefferson fought against Hamilton, the continuous debates on checks and
balances, the intense study of economic behavior and bureaucratic
behavior, all show that Weber's point on the Protestant ethic is relevant,
but perhaps over-touted at the key cause of the honesty found in the West.
Please note that on the international ranking scale of honesty, there are
many societies with Catholic beliefs which are ranked rather high on
honesty. Good multiple regressions will surely indicate other significant
causal variables too.

I do believe that liberal thought and most importantly, the struggle for
transparency, has helped USA to at least some extent. In India, we have
never had the struggle for transparency, never seen the struggle to ensure
checks and balances between various branches of citizenry and government.
A lot of collusion operates at all levels in India. If we perhaps help out
in that direction, we might reach honesty, wealth and power, despite the
absence of the Protestant ethic. All is not lost, I believe, simply
because India is not a Christian nation. One cannot now recommend that we
become Protestants. That might not be a practical option, perhaps, even if
regressions show that the dummy variable: "being Protestant" has a
significant positive marginal effect on honesty. 
 
>      As social structures in India disintegrate with the impact of 
>      modernisation and industrialisation, we have no body providing a moral 
>      framework any more, and the result is the corruption we all deplore.  

Moral framework: Please note that, ab initio, there is nothing in the
study of Ethics (starting from Aristotle onwards in the West and from
various philosophical streams including Vedic streams in India) that
requires non-modernization and non-industrialization, as a basic
necessity in order for the society to be ethical.

My humble point: data show that modernization and industrialization are
perhaps compatible with ethical behavior, as seen from the ranking of
honesty in which the West - most modern societies - get high ranking on
honesty.  Please also trust me that village societies can also be highly
unethical, such as buring off the live widows of departed gentlemen. Raja
Ram Mohan Roy and others had to virtually single-handedly contest problems
in non-modern societies. Then let us not forget thuggery. 

Second, as Prof. Nirvikar Singh pointed out some time ago (before you came
on this list: pl. check archives), there was corruption well before
indepenence, and also immediately after independence. What has happened
now is all this has become so excessive that there is no longer any place
for honest folk in India. Well, I might be exaggerating a bit, but that is
more or less the truth.  This, in the analysis (not consensus) so far, is
largely attributable to the system design of India: a society based on
utopian principles of socialism and swadeshi. We are trying on this list
to design a new India where there will be no utopias, only real systems
based on a real understanding of human behavior, and where human beings
will be motivated to be honest through various mechanisms.

>      But I come to a more basic point: MOST systems can be made to work, at 
>      least after a fashion, where the majority of people are honest, 
>      hard-working, and have some sense of their responsibilities to others 
>      and to the overall society (or country or State or World).  

Unfortunately, nobody has the time to wait for the majority of Indians to
become honest.  They will simply be what they have always been: humans. I
do not believe that Indians are genetically more corrupt than those in the
West. They have no choice but to be corrupt in the system in which they
exist today.  Give them a better system, and they will be honest. I think
(please correct me if you have proof or data otherwise) that appeals to
people to become honest have never have never worked in the past and will
never work in the future. Set the right incentives in place and honesty
will flourish. 

(Someone told me about the Indian kingdom of Vaishali.  Please illuminate
the principles on which that society ran. I believe those principles were
very similar to the way USA runs today.) 

>      It could be argued that the present system in the US is breaking	
	down because 
>      the US has become morally a two-tier society, with "grass-roots" 
>      mentality still shaped by Protestantism, but the "commanding heights 
>      of the society" now shaped by no sense of morality at all, except the 
>      values of money, personal greed/comfort and power.

With due respect, I would like to report that, living in the USA for four
years, studying all the statistics and data, seeing the rigorous inquiries
on campaign finance irregularities, seeing the active citizens groups
challenging misue of power, seeing millions of dollars in damages being
awarded to women who complain of harrassment at work, seeing honest people
all around, seeing a nation which has now become the de-facto No.1 in the
world in power, knowledge and in sports, I do not see any of that
'breaking down' cited above. But maybe I am wrong. I would like to be
shown statistics and information on the breakdown of USA. That would help
me a lot since I do believe a lot in the study of data. 
    
Thanks,

Sanjeev

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