By W.A. Wijewardena -
Economic hit men are feared as well as loved
Economic hit men are feared as well as loved. Feared because they hit you without you knowing from where you were hit; loved because they give you so much of excitement that you can talk about them for days without being bored. This was exactly what happened when John Perkins released ‘Confessions of an Economic Hit Man’ in 2004 alleging that the World Bank and US AID, two international agencies that provide development lending and aid to world’s poor countries, have employed economic hit men to destroy the countries which they planned to support.
Critics of Perkins were very quick to point out that he was a person infected by ‘conspiracy theory ailment’ and he had presented a dramatised story without facts or documentary evidence. Yet his book became so popular that it was on the top of the bestseller’s list for many years. Since then, it has become fashionable to label those who are disliked as ‘economic hit men’ because it tells a whole story in just three words. But, Perkins made history by coining a popular term to describe a great danger that is to befall on an economy due to orchestrations or wrong moves of men and not due to natural events. In that sense, there is an economic hit man today in town and that economic hit man is, by any comparison, the worst kind of economic hit men which Sri Lanka could have ever encountered.
The war on Halal is an economic hit man
That hit man is no one but the campaign orchestrated by some in the majority race against the economic interests of minorities, brought to surface for the time being in the form of declared war on Halal certified products, foods which are permitted by Islam for consumption by its followers. Halal is so sacred to Islamists that they would not even set their eyes on any food which is not Halal. This is not an odd behaviour because every religion has similar type of faiths deeply rooted to the minds of their followers. In a society with multiple religions, one should learn to respect the religious practices of others, however much they seem to be odd or unacceptable.
Emperor Asoka: Religious tolerance a must
The best advice in this respect has been given by a Buddhist Emperor in ancient India, Emperor Asoka, when he pronounced in Asoka Rock Edicts that people should never denigrate the other sects of religions but inform themselves of their core values. In the same Rock Edict, he went on describing his wisdom further by announcing that “other sects (of religion) should be duly honoured in every way on all occasions. By doing so, he not only promotes his own sect, but also benefits other sects”.
Towards the end of this Rock Edict, he castigated those who make disparaging utterances about other religions while upholding their own. He firmly said that a person who “disparages other sects with a view to glorifying his own sect, injures his own sect very severely”. Emperor Asoka praised those who restrain themselves in their speech and advised that “people should learn and respect the fundamentals of one another’s Dharma” (Rock Edict XII). Hence, the age old Buddhist tradition passed down by Buddhist leaders like Emperor Asoka to posterity has been to practice religious tolerance and live coherently in a multi-faith society.
Cultural police versus the State police: Who is more powerful?
The war on Halal has been declared by two organisations, one called Sinhala Ravaya or the ‘Roar of the Sinhalese’ and the other called Bodu Bala Sena or the ‘Powerful Army Protecting Buddhism’. The two combined together can be christened ‘the Rising Power of the Sinhalese Buddhists’. This rising power of the Sinhalese Buddhists has identified Sri Lanka as a Sinhalese Buddhist country and therefore, all other faiths and ethnic groups have to live in the country recognising and respecting this view.
If anyone is found to be violating the dictions, the powerful Buddhist army has vowed to function as a ‘cultural police’ and stop such wrong practices forthwith. This would mean that there would be two police forces, one operated by the State at the expense of the tax payers and the other operated by this powerful Buddhist force. The people in the country will therefore be confused to which police force they should submit themselves and to which government they should pay taxes. Naturally, people will choose not to pay taxes to the government.
An economy is made up of many
How could this war be an economic hit man set upon destroying Sri Lanka’s economy? It could be understood by identifying interrelationship, interconnectivity and interdependence of millions of segments in a vast economy.
An economy is a wonderful creature made up of a large number of people belonging to many different religions, ethnic groups, races, castes or classes. All these people are interconnected and interdependent and organised to fulfil one objective: That is, to provide the maximum wellbeing to everyone. Each person is a cog in a massive cogwheel that turns constantly to produce goods and services needed by people in an economy. Each cog is important and needed for this production process. One cannot give undue importance to one particular cog and downplay the role played by others; they all are equally important and needed for the massive cogwheel to turn smoothly.
Every organ in the human body is important
This process can be equated to the functioning of a human body consisting of many different parts and organs. Nature has seen to it that all those parts and organs are needed for the perfect working of the body. There is no a single organ or a single part that does not provide a useful service to the overall working of the body.
For instance, till recently, many believed that the appendix in the human body does not provide any service and therefore could be excised without any loss to the body’s functions. But the scientists at Duke University in USA have now found that the appendix is a depository of beneficial bacteria that are needed for the proper digestion of foods in the stomach and whenever those bacteria are depleted due to illness or medication, the appendix releases such bacteria from its stocks. Thus, removing or constraining the working of a single organ or a part of a body makes it imperfect and the person owning the body will feel its adverse effects forthwith.
Hand cannot fight with leg without destroying itself
Then, what happens if one part, say the hand, declares war on another part, say the leg, alleging that the leg is trying to take over the body making the hand unimportant? Surely, this war will not be beneficial to the overall functioning of the body because the war will make it impotent and imperfect. Both the hand and the leg are interconnected and interdependent; one cannot function without the other.
If the hand is successful in paralysing the leg, then, the hand too gets paralysed and the body becomes dysfunctional. Fortunately, in such a disastrous conflict, there is a supreme arbiter who will discipline the wrongly moving hand. That arbiter is the brain which does not take sides and functions only with the objective of maintaining the stability and sustenance of the overall body. In other words, the brain views the overall picture and sees beyond the narrow vision of the hand.
Adam Smith: Conflicts to be settled by an impartial spectator
Similarly, in an economy, when one segment declares war on another segment for whatever the reason, the overall economy takes the beat and becomes malfunctioning. The segment that declares the war will look at only from its point of view which according to that segment is perfectly justifiable. It may not see the harm it may inflict on the overall working of the economy and thereby the danger it will bring to itself. To understand, one has to see beyond the narrow view of the segment that has declared the war on the other segment.
Adam Smith, the founding father of modern economics, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments published in 1759, assigned this function to a natural force in a free market economy called “an impartial spectator” whose job is to observe everything objectively from the above and pass judgments, favourable or unfavourable, depending on the case in hand. But it would give rise to a series of causes and effects that would bring about a beneficial or a vicious cycle within the economy depending on the nature of the initial impact. When one segment of the economy declares war on another segment, it will certainly be a vicious cycle that would be generated and the economy will start shrinking due to the removal of the segment which is being fought by the other segment.
Kautilya: A king who promotes conflicts will end losing revenue
Prior to Adam Smith, more than 2,000 years ago, Indian economist and statesman, Kautilya did not want to rely on such a fictitious force to bring stability to an economy because the final outcome of such natural forces would be disastrous to the smooth functioning of a state. Hence, he assigned that job to the king. If there is a calamity arising from conflicts among different segments in a state, Kautilya advised his king in The Arthashastra that “in the interest of the prosperity of the country, a king should be diligent in foreseeing the possibility of calamities, try to avert them before they arise, overcome those which happen, remove all obstructions to economic activity and prevent loss of revenue to the state”.
Kautilya’s advice is equally relevant to a modern economy and accordingly the arbiter of conflicts among different segments in an economy should be the state. If the state shirks its responsibility or fails to foresee the ill effects of the calamity, it will be the ultimate loser because as Kautilya has pointed out, it will lose its revenue sources.
The state should have an overall vision
Hence, the arbiter, in the present case the state, has to take an overall view of an economy in order to avert harmful conflicts that arise among different segments. The brain in a human body and the impartial spectator as pronounced by Adam Smith do so, because in each case, it is hard-wired to gathering information and capable of evaluating the same taking an overall view of the system it deals with.
But the king and the state have to learn it in the hard way by gaining capability of seeing beyond what they see with their naked eyes which give them only a very narrow vision. They have to understand and appreciate the useful roles played by different economic agents and the millions of economic transactions that have taken place in order to produce a given economic outcome. You remove one transaction from the chain and the whole process gets paralysed and you are the loser at the end.
Buddha could see beyond the naked eye
The Buddha has been such a personality who had cultivated the capability of seeing beyond what the naked eyes would present to him. In the Aavaasa Sobana Sutra in the Anguttara Nikaya, he advised the Bhikkus to learn many Dharmas and gain capability of seeing beyond those Dharmas.
In the Dhajagga Sutra in the Samyuttha Nikaya, his advice to Bhikkus who are fled in fear of presumed evil forces present when they practiced meditation in forests was not to seek refuge from God Shakra because the God, not having rid himself of greed, hatred and delusion, was inflicted with fear himself; instead, they should reflect on the Buddha who had rid himself of these defilements. Ridding oneself of these defilements actually means seeing the reality from its overall perspective.
Prince Siddhartha: Producing rice involves millions of people
The Buddha had this capacity even before he attained the Buddha-hood. According to a story relating to Prince Siddhartha, his father, King Suddhodhana, had once asked the Sakya Princes whether they knew how cooked rice comes. One prince had said that when he sits at the table, rice is served to his silver plate with a golden spoon from which rice comes. Another had disputed him saying that rice comes to the golden spoon from a silver bowl. A third had explained that rice comes to the silver bowl from a copper pot in the kitchen. None of the Sakya princes could give a proper answer to the question raised by the king.
It was only Prince Siddhartha who had explained it fully: He had said that people in such and such village bring uncooked rice to the Palace kitchen in carts drawn by bullocks. Those bullocks had been trained by people in another village and carts had been manufactured by people in yet a different village. Then, people in another village had de-husked paddy into rice for those carters to transport to the Palace. Those people had got paddy from farmers from a village further down by preparing fields for its cultivation. The implements which the farmers had used for preparing the fields had been manufactured by blacksmiths in another village. The iron for the blacksmiths had been supplied by miners in another village. Thus, it was not a simple exercise of cooked rice serving with a golden spoon. There were millions of pre-activities that had enabled rice to be served in that manner.
Think of declaring war on blacksmiths and eliminating them because there is a fear that they would take over the farmers. First, the blacksmiths will disappear and then the farmers will disappear because farmers do not have the skills which the blacksmiths have cultivated in manufacturing those implements. Any attempt by farmers to manufacture these implements by themselves will result in less output in the field as well as at the smithy.
Mugabe doctrine: Promote conflicts and destroy yourself
This was shown amply in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. In order to remain in power forever, Mugabe pampered the nation’s nationalistic sentiments and promoted the taking over the farms of white planters by the native black people. But they did not have the skills to run commercial farms and pretty soon they ended in destroying the commercial viability of those farms.
The result was catastrophic: A country which had supplied beef to the UK and Europe prior to that ended as a nation that begs foods from others. The subsequent wrong measures of Mugabe to correct his initial mistake had earned Zimbabwe a historical record: That is, as the nation that had had the highest ever hyperinflation recorded in the recent history. Economists call such leadership “destructive leadership” because such leaders, blinded by narrow objectives, drive their nations to complete destruction.
The silence of those who know is the strangest in a Buddhist land
It is strange that a nation with a majority of Buddhists has not understood properly what the Master has preached. It is stranger when some in that nation commit unwholesome acts in the name of the Buddha for the protection of the esteemed Dharma he has left behind for the posterity to follow for their own good irrespective of whether they are his followers or not. But it is not the strangest thing to observe here in this Buddha’s land. That is the silence of those erudite Buddhists who know of the Master’s Dharma properly and failure to speak up when they see the worst type of economic hit man being armed and released to prowl freely.
*W.A. Wijewardena can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the Sinhala translation here
Translated by Yahapalanaya Lanka.