thinking aloud…free markets, poverty reduction and materialism

This is something that’s been bothering me – How does one create an economy where innovation thrives unhampered, innovation not merely from a scientific or engineering perspective, but from a cultural, artistic, and social perspective as well, without stepping onto the excessively consumerist largely soulless western landmine?

On one hand, a strong private enterprise seems to be the only way to guarantee a thriving and economically successful state. On the other hand, a highly capitalistic private enterprise driven society it seems to me will over a period of time inevitably step on that landmine of consumerist excesses. It is a strange conundrum. Let us say I make 30k per month. After I have used a portion of it to meet my “needs” – food, housing, clothing, books, loans, savings, and whatever else can be classified as a need today, I have a reasonable sum to indulge in my wants. A million people like me upgrading from a VCD player to a DVD player, from a noisy fridge to a frost free fridge, from a plain vanilla TV to a plasma TV, from a CRT monitor to an LCD display are the reasons innovation thrives. Sure I will buy those because I can afford it. Still where does it all end?

I don’t know the statistics, but I guess the US and the Western European economies for all their excesses have still done a good job of addressing the poor. Their poor are not the same as our poor. For the most part, their poverty is a poverty of a different kind, its a poverty of being unable to meet the small wants, not the important needs. Their “market economy” has successfully ensured that most needs are met. We haven’t managed that for a variety of reasons – the excessive poverty we started out with, the illiteracy that we were encumbered with, a sectarian and rift driven politics that we have managed to create, and a general cultural apathy that history has passed on to us. Presumably the free market private enterprise infrastructure we are building, will, in the long run, reduce if not eliminate, some of these causes that have held us back.

I am not sure I am putting this right. Let me get back to where I started. From what the past 50 years has seen, a strong innovative private market driven economy with a functioning, reasonably uncorrupt law and order system will siginificantly reduce, if not completely eliminate poverty. That by itself is a great step forward. But an unintended consequence of that seems to be that the large majority will lead dreary lives doing jobs that are increasingly specialized and tiresome, be engaged almost permanently in a continuous corporate rat race where in the true sense we will be learning little besides honing the art of getting things done, and finally end up developing a materialistic conforming to society soul that could significantly reduce, if not completely eliminate, the pursuit of an understanding of our true selves.

Is that a price we have to live with for our progress? Or is there an alternate way? Is there is a structural adjusment we can make to our societies that will help us fashion a poverty free, and yet a less materialistic world. I don’t see what one can do right now, but I ought to think more on this. Maybe there are ways.


Posted on January 21, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. You’ve put it quite succinctly.

    Is there an alternate way?

    I’m getting more obsessed with this question as each day passes. This is what I want to study and research – maybe even do a PHD or something.

    BTW, who wrote the part in italics?

    Also, I’ve now covered about 16 chapters of India Unbound, and want to start analyzing and linking the peices together before Gurucharan Das moves on further. I want to be in a position to be ready with my own arguments before he makes his conclusions. The problem with me is that I sometimes get convinced very easily, especially if I’m not prepared for the subject!

    • Yeah, its a P.hD worth topic for sure. And a very difficult one too I would think!

      I wrote the part in italics. Just italicized for effect 🙂

      I think its easy to be convinced when a guy writes as lucidly as Gurcharan Das does.

      • Yeah.. He’s one of the best writers I’ve seen. Wonder how he had the time to read so much in the first place!

        BTW, the italics part is quite different! It’s got that semi-official tone to it (like Gurucharan Das or Stiglitz), not like the other parts of the essay. Damn, you’re good!

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