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Hindu Economics

I found this interesting piece in the Economic Times. It may add a bit of
humor to the debate on Capitalism v/s Socialism.


The essence of Hindu economics 
by Sauvik Chakraverti: 

Trying to understand one's religion is always a difficult task. When one
is a Hindu, the task is more difficult still - for there is no Pope, there
is no ultimate Holy Book, there are a wide variety of cults and sects, and now
we even have a political party promising us Hindutva. However, to the 
political economist, the essential ideas of the Hindus are not hard to find.

We can start with what is called `The Four Ends of Man'. This is a 
doctrine of individual freedom with social responsibility. The four ends
are dharma, artha, kama and moksha. These translate roughly to: worldly duties;
economic well-being; sexual satisfaction; and salvation. As per this 
doctrine, every Hindu is free to pursue his individual `ends' so long as
he  also does his dharma. This dharma is not too well spelt out, and is
not more complex than the Ten Commandments. Hinduism, therefore, stands
for economic freedom. It gives everyone the right to pursue economic gain.
It is also an individualistic religion, denying collectives any power over
free human beings.  The salvation of moksha is to be found by each in his
own way, through his own guru. Thus, spiritual knowledge is to be freely
found: no one person or body can claim to know `the way' for all. To the
economist, this amounts to an endorsement of Hayek's theory of knowledge:
every individual is assumed to be  capable of finding his economic
well-being, and no collective wisdom is recognised as superior. This `Four
Ends of Man' is a close approximation of Maslow's famous  `hierarchy of
needs'. The Hindu doctrine is therefore quite true to the nature of the
human being. But there is more to Hindu Economics.

Many are proud of the fact that Hindus discovered the zero. It is
forgotten that, eons before Adam Smith, we discovered the `invisible hand'.
This whole market economy thing, stressing individual freedom and the right to
pursue economic gain, has never been well received by any major world religion.
Islam still has problems with usury. Christianity, if we read the economic  
thoughts of the scholastics, struggled hard with the notion of `just
price': it could not accept that profits were moral. For the West, the
truth was revealed only in 1776 when Adam Smith published The Wealth of
Nations. Smith asserted that,  if people were left free to pursue economic
gain guided by the price signals of the market, all would be well and
society would benefit. The germ of this idea was discovered by Hindus ages
ago - in two little words: Shubh Laabh. Translated, this implies that
Hindus considered profits to be `auspicious' and therefore moral and
beneficial to society. The words Shubh Laabh can be seen in almost every
trading establishment, scrawled above the safe; almost every private goods  
carrier has these words emblazoned on it. Why then are we socialist? Why
do we not practice and propagate economic freedom?

We have forgotten the wisdom of the ancients and embraced, instead, a new
religion called statism. This places the collective above the individual -
indeed, the state is to occupy `commanding heights'. This also holds that
ordinary people do not have the capability of responding to market prices and
that their decision making must be substituted for by that of an
intellectual-moral elite: planners. Lord Bauer calls this `the denial of
the  economic principle'. No true Hindu should stand for this. Further,
when we come to the thorny question of property rights - which our  
Constitution does not guarantee us - we are forced to accept that Hindus
believed in this, for no economics, not even trade, can take place without
the participants having a clear idea as to what is `mine' and what is not.
Cattle, house, family: these were clearly recognised as property. Statism,
by refusing to recognise property rights - as with rent control laws,
nationalisation, etc. - has unleashed what Bastiat called `legal plunder'.  
These laws are blasphemous to the Hindu faith.

The BJP, regretfully, has not found the essence of Hindu economics. It is,
like the Congress, a party of statism. In Delhi, for many years, this
so-called `party of traders' has converted the most lucrative retail trade -
that for alcoholic beverages - into a state monopoly. Continuing with
statism, it is now making noises about a presidential system. We don't
need that. What we need is the minimal state providing public goods like
law and order, justice and roads. First the state must be cut down to size
and re-oriented. All economic powers must be taken away and people let
free. That will be Hindutva. And, maybe then, I'll vote. Maybe BJP!