19 May, 2024


Futility Of “Ranilnomics” Without Systemic Change

By Ameer Ali

Dr. Ameer Ali

Either we find ways to turn the billions invested in research and development and futuristic technologies into trillions, either we take seriously the need to build more sustainable and resilient economies and societies and equip ourselves with standing capacities necessary to meet fast-moving and unpredictable crises, or we will be overwhelmed by the blowback from our natural environment. These are the kinds of demand easily dismissed as unrealistic. But after the shock of 2020, how much more evidence do we need?” (Adam Tooze, Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy, Penguin Books, 2021, p. 202)

Demand for systemic change has become the rallying cry for a new generation of young men and women in the wake of SARS-CoV-2. These youngsters from East to West and North to South have realized that debt driven economic growth and environmentally unfriendly techno-centric development are recipe for more shocks to humanity unless the system itself is changed. Coincidentally, it was the same realization that also propelled the aragalaya youth in this country to sound the alarm bells and called for systemic change.  Both internationally as well as locally it was the pandemic that triggered this awakening, although economic disaster in Sri Lanka has a pre-Covid history. 

However, thanks to the brief but momentous entry of the youth in Sri Lanka’s political melee, the idea of systemic change has penetrated the political vocabulary of several political leaders even though not all of them seem to have a grasp of what that change involves. Even President Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) when describing his IMF tutored economic reforms as precondition for systemic change, he was only paying lip service to that weighty concept just to calm down the rebellious nerves of aragalaya youth. Later, his highhanded action to arrest its leaders under PTA exposed his chicanery.   

Historically though, the call for systemic change had been in vogue in this country right from the time of independence if not earlier, and it was with that call leftists of that time launched their political campaigns. But those campaigns narrowed the content of the alternative system solely to the economic domain. At the end, they failed partly because they were preaching to an audience that did not understand what the leaders were talking about, and partly because the prevailing economic system at that time was strong enough not to risk experimenting with anything unfamiliar and theoretical.    

But the systemic change demanded today at the global level, involves rejection of the ideological foundation of what the German sociologist Ulrich Beck called, the “risk society” (Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage Publication, 1992), which creates repeated shocks threatening the very survival of humanity. The opening quote captures this challenge in a nutshell. 

In Sri Lanka, systemic change demands to begin with the rejection of the ideological paradigm of Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony. This is not to argue for the rejection of Buddhism or its practicing Sinhala community. Both of them are inseparable and indestructible. Instead, what needs to be rejected is political Buddhism, an aberration that has lost its initial legitimacy as a movement seeking redress for the economic and cultural imbalances created by uneven development under European colonialism, but grown and metamorphosed into an aggressive and all conquering ideology that is threatening the very fabric of the island’s pluralist polity. It was this ideology, which since independence had shaped the style of political governance and the pattern of economic development. It was also this ideology that eventually drove the country to fight a civil war the cost of which is the primary cause for today’s economic bankruptcy.

It is unfortunate that after SWRD’s successful demonstration of the political utility of Buddhism in his 1956 election campaign, which even convinced the American CIA as a powerful weapon to fight Communism in Southeast Asia (see, Eugene Ford, Cold War Monks: Buddhism and America’s Secret Strategy in Southeast Asia, Yale University Press, 2018) that no politician from the majority community is prepared to repudiate political Buddhism in public. More dangerously, an open commitment to the tenets of this ideology seems to provide carte blanche to its advocates who could commit and get away with all sort of crimes including murdering their critics. Aragalaya’s demand for accountability was to end this social licensing. In fact, the ultimate blame for the catalogue of accusations levelled against Sri Lanka by UNHRC should be placed at the doorstep of political Buddhism. No systemic change is possible without rejecting this ideology, and it is through such a change that a united nation of Sri Lankans could be forged out of the country’s plural diversity.          

RW has absolutely no intention of rejecting it because his own survival as president depends on guarding it. He hopes that the success of “Ranilnomics”, a coinage by the former Central Banker W. A. Wijewardena, would bring stability and prosperity.  But the threatening clouds of a global recession triggered by the war in Europe while the pandemic itself has not exhausted its virility, and the increasing irrelevance of central banks with their conventional toolkit to counter inflation and recessions, make small economies like Sri Lanka even more vulnerable to external shocks. This is why the narrow focus on market based economic reforms alone is insufficient to overcome the “polycrisis” facing the country.  If IMF itself insists on the need for an “integrated policy framework” for richer nations how much more of such a framework is needed for a bankrupt country like Sri Lanka? If debt driven economic growth is proving to be disastrous to developed nations, how does one expect low-income countries like Sri Lanka to achieve stability and prosperity through such growth? While restructuring the existing debt itself becoming a big hurdle to obtain funds from IMF and other aid agencies, trying to incur new debt would be suicidal.        

The time has come therefore, to turn attention towards mobilizing domestic resources and exploiting the internal strengths to develop the economy. The market itself needs restructuring to be cleansed of its undesirables like monopolies and mafia domination with political clout.  Certain economic institutions like co-operatives which once played a useful role before they were ridiculed by free marketeers and swept away by neo-liberal economics may have to be revived. That needs a multiprong approach which should start with reconnecting the disconnected for a renewed war on want. This is why systemic change is an absolute imperative. A multisectoral structural plan with periodic targets needs to be drafted and implemented instead of wasting time and resources in seeking consensus among parliamentarians for an economic strategy that is saddled with greater uncertainties and problems than solutions. RW’s idea of an innovative export-oriented economy to make Sri Lanka a First World country by 2048 is rehash of what JR was dreaming about a second Singapore.

*Dr. Ameer Ali, Murdoch Business School, Murdoch University, Western Australia

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Latest comments

  • 12

    So, now , there is something called “systemic change”, as opposed to “system change”? Is this a way out of the muddle caused by the inability to clearly define “system change”, which was a concept about as woolly as woollyconcepts can get. It could mean anything from an uninterrupted supply of essentials ( to the original Aragalaya) to bloody insurrection (to the IUSF).
    “no politician from the majority community is prepared to repudiate political Buddhism in public. More dangerously, an open commitment to the tenets of this ideology seems to provide carte blanche to its advocates who could commit and get away with all sort of crimes including murdering their critics. Aragalaya’s demand for accountability was to end this social licensing.”
    May I ask when and where exactly did Aragalaya demand this? I would support the current Aragalaya wholeheartedly if it did. But it hasn’t. Let an Aragalaya leader come out and say in public that political Buddhism must be eradicated. None will do it, because they are politicians, just like the politicians they are trying to replace.
    The author shouldn’t impute lofty motives without any evidence.

    • 3

      Well said OC. Whatever the system or systemic change is purely cosmetic, when the deep rooted original problems are unaddressed.

      • 5

        When a racist like Sarath Fonseka calls on extremist students to start a revolution, it is time to think about what the current Aragalaya is about.

  • 5

    “Demand for systemic change has become the rallying cry for a new generation of young men and women in the wake of SARS-CoV-2.”
    This perhaps explains why Brazil could not dispose of Jair Bolsonaro in the first round, and how Chile reversed its verdict on the long awaited new constitution.
    It could explain the fascistic right’s rise in Italy and Sweden.
    It could also explain how Marine Le Pen narrowed the gap between her and Emmanuel Macron from 33% in 2017 to 17% this year.

  • 3

    SWRD B 1956 —-> Utility of Buddhism
    Narendra Modi 21st century’s —> Utility of Hinduism to capture Power in pluralistic democratic society
    Encouraging divisions to win elections will be always a REGRESSIVE step and inhibits peace and prosperity. Hopefully the New Generation will take us in the RIGHT path unlike those born around independence or one or decades before

  • 3

    I am always late when it comes to reading articles that have a Title that doesn’t interest me. This one is no exception.
    What is “Ranilnomics”?
    We are such a tiny bubble in the Indian ocean, it is absurd to even imagine that their is a ‘home-made’ solution to our economic woes. We should cut our cloth according to our size!
    “Ranilnomics” is nothing but an empty rhetoric. We have wasted our resources, playing politics. We have to catch up making sacrifices. We have to swim with the tide; not wait for a wave of fortune.

    • 3

      Ranilomics is not a ‘”home-made’ solution to our economic woes”.
      It was originally invented by Margaret Thatcher. It inflicted maximum pain in the UK, where millions got laid off, powerful unions were broken and even Labour lost its strident socialism.
      Ranil is already inflicting maximum pain here, though it was Gota who laid the groundwork. Fuel prices will probably go up next month after the OPEC production cut.
      If there is some eventual gain after the pain, and financial discipline, it would have been worth it.

      • 2

        old codger,
        You are looking at the cover; I am reading the letter!

  • 2

    Futility of “Ranilnomics” Without Systemic Change

    Presidential pleasure

    Ranil don’t want system change if system change happens he will lose his president he knows he will not get it. The president, Ranil no mix with any other parliamentarian except the present who voted for him Pohottuwa, Actions show you who someone really is. He is positioning to put his name on the president list of authority to fall that he was a president in the history books the fund he taking some will choke when they go to pay in future at that time he will not live many others

  • 7

    Yo Eagle Eye,

    I’m in Montreal; shall be in Toronto tomorrow. Want to meet up?

    Let me know your contact details here.

    • 2

      Please check at TSM (Toronto Sewage Management).

    • 4

      Good one Nimal, just the mobile number good enough ???

    • 5

      TUCO Eagle Eye

      Nimal Fernando and Tamil from the north are looking for you in Canada.
      Go hide in one of those Tamil houses.

    • 5

      I thought EE might be dead long ago.

      Have good times in Toronto.. I was once there, a long time ago though… if you find him, please propose him to marry Champa…. thank you.

      • 0

        If true, “may the sole rest in HELL”.

        • 0

          Sorry, “may the soul rest in HELL” .

    • 2

      nimal fernando,
      contact detail: Hell!
      Still want to meet … .?

  • 1

    Any change that we all eagerly awaiting should start with a completely New Constitution being submitted for referendum. Just bringing amendments to the constitution ONLY suits the needs of the Current Ranil- Rajapaksas’ government.
    We also need for anyone clamouring for SYSTEM CHANGE to denounce ETHNONATIONALISM.
    The Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalists are still strong and hence no justice will be served to the victims ( Singhalese /Tamils/Christians).

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