26 July, 2021

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Gota’s Appeal For Positive Mindset Is Timely; But There Is More To Be Done To Ensure Effectivity

By W.A Wijewardena

Dr. W.A Wijewardena

Call for a positive mindset

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, fondly called Gota, in his address to the nation at the 73rd anniversary celebration of independence made a very important appeal. He appealed to Sri Lankans to develop a positive mindset shedding the negative one being harboured by many across a wide spectrum of society. His appeal is timely because he wants to resuscitate the failing economy which he had inherited and worsened by the unexpected attack of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only four more years are left in his current term and unless he acts in double-quick time, his expectation of delivering prosperity to Sri Lankans will evaporate into the thin air. Hence, as the powerful Executive President, solidified by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, he had a good reason to make this appeal. But it appears that there is much more to be done for realising his goal than getting people to have a mere positive mindset.

It is good ideas that have ushered prosperity

It is well-known that countries which have succeeded in becoming rich nations have done so not because they had been endowed with natural resources or centralised tough leadership at the top but because people at large were having productive ideas which Gota had termed as positive mindsets. This has been the main theme of the book published in 2012 by economists, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, titled ‘Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty’.

But Acemoglu and Robinson Thesis which we can abbreviate as ART for easy reference is much wider than what Gota had meant by positive mindsets. It is therefore useful to elaborate the conditions under which Gota’s appeal will work when delivering prosperity which he promised in his election manifesto, represented in the Vista for Prosperity Program and cogently pronounced in his Independence Day address.

Acemoglu-Robinson Thesis

ART has refuted the popular theories relating to the differences in prosperity among nations. The leading such theories have been the geographical disadvantage, cultural disability, or ignorance of policy makers of the suitable policies for a country. Instead, they emphasise on one important requirement for a nation to break the fetters to which it had been tied. That requirement is the existence and promotion of inclusive economic and political institutions in the system.

Institutions in economics are not the formal organisations or bodies as is popularly believed. They are, according to ART, ‘rules influencing how the economy works, and the incentives that motivate people’. In a more elaborative sense, this could be translated into ‘values, beliefs, and ethos of a people’ in society. Thus, what Gota has termed as positive mindsets is the presence of ‘positive values, positive beliefs, or positive ethos’. These will cause a nation to prosper, gain power and eliminate poverty, three Ps of attainments by a nation and the subtitle of the Acemoglu and Robinson Book. By the same token, it can be concluded that the presence of ‘negative values, negative beliefs, or negative ethos’ is costly for a nation in its attempt at delivering prosperity to people. Yet, there are other conditions which should be satisfied for delivering this goal to a nation.

Four pillars of success of a nation

According to ART, there are four pillars that contribute to the success of a nation.

One is the assurance of property rights; the right exercised by people when using their physical property and human capacity without the fear of being robbed by another. It does not matter whether the robbing is being done by the government or by the private sector. To be successful, the possibility for such robbing should be eliminated at all costs.

The second is the political rights of people which should be very widely distributed among the whole citizenry irrespective of creed, ethnicity, or language. If the political power has been concentrated in one person or a few, ART says that it is inimical to progress because those in power will pass laws and make rules to enable them to remain in power and not for the general benefit of the people. This is evident from the experiences in Sri Lanka when a particular political party had got extraordinary power in Parliament in 1970s, 1980s and today.

The third pillar is the existence of a government which is accountable for its action, both progressive and regressive. The best position which a nation can reach in this regard happens when the government in power takes responsibility for its failures voluntarily. If it does not, there should be systems in which the government is forced to do so. It is in societies in which the power has been distributed properly among the three bodies – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – that such accountability can be ensured. Accountability will be missing in societies in which power has been concentrated in one or a group of individuals.

The final pillar is the existence of a sufficiently strong central government to observe the rule of law, ensure law and order and adjudicate justice fairly. Such strong governments will fight instances of the abuse of law and order more effectively than weak governments.

When these pillars are absent, it is unlikely that constructive ideas alone could effectively deliver prosperity to a nation.

Robbing is justified by extractive institutions

Institutions – values, beliefs, and ethos of a people – can be either extractive or inclusive.

When people harbour extractive values, beliefs, or ethos, robbing others or taking advantage of their weaknesses is fully justified. The recently popularised Dhammika Syrup as a medication for COVID-19 and believed to have been concocted by using a formula revealed by the mythological Hindu Goddess Kaali, is a case in point. This can happen at family, village, region, or national levels. And it can be practiced by all – those in politics, religion, civil society movements, or private business.

If a person or a group of persons wants to live by robbing others, there is a prime prerequisite that must be satisfied. There should be other people who create wealth so that those who believe in robbing could extract their wealth for them. But when they feel that their wealth is being robbed by others lawfully or unlawfully, they do not have incentive to create further wealth. Hence, ART says that under an extractive institutional setup, there is economic stagnation and wide-spread poverty.

Extractive institutions impede technological progress

Highlighting that economies generate prosperity by creatively destroying the old, outdated habits and introducing new technologies, Acemoglu and Robinson have put this cogently as follows: “When both political and economic institutions are extractive, the incentives will not be there for creative destruction and technological change. For a while, the state may be able to create rapid economic growth by allocating resources and people by fiat, but this process is intrinsically limited. When the limits are hit, growth stops, as it did in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Even when the Soviets achieved rapid economic growth, there was little technological change in most of the economy, though by pouring massive resources into the military they were able to develop military technologies and even pull ahead of the United States in the space and nuclear race for a short while. But this growth without creative destruction and without broad-based technological innovation was not sustainable and came to an abrupt end”.

Extractive institutions also fail due to infighting

But there are occasions where extractive institutions could generate an initial economic growth. ART says that such economic growth is limited, fragile, and inclined to fail. There are two reasons for this. One is that there could be infighting for wealth and power within the elite group which enjoys political or economic power presently. The absence of collaborative team spirit among the players in the elite group leads to the destruction of the economic system from within, a process known as economic implosion.

The other reason is more obvious. Those who are outside the elite group, having seen how wealth is being appropriated by the elitists, start outmanoeuvring and overwhelming them. The result is the change of power from one elitist group to another elitist group via revolutions, military coups or simply through democratic election systems. The new group start enjoying power and wealth ignoring the need for developing the economy.

Say Acemoglu and Robinson: “One implication of this is that even if a society under extractive institutions initially achieves some degree of state centralisation, it will not last. In fact, the infighting to take control of extractive institutions often leads to civil wars and widespread lawlessness, enshrining a persistent absence of state centralisation as in many nations in sub- Saharan Africa and some in Latin America and South Asia”. Thus, extractive institutions become unstable and so does the economy. Sri Lanka’s limping economy in the past 73 years is an example.

The need for inclusive institutions

Therefore, what is to be developed, according to ART, are inclusive institutions. The main feature of an inclusive institutional setup is that people harbour the value, belief, and ethos in them that political power should be broadly distributed among all and arbitrary action by political leaders should be capped. ART further elaborates on this point as follows: “Such political institutions also make it harder for others to usurp power and undermine the foundations of inclusive institutions. Those controlling political power cannot easily use it to set up extractive economic institutions for their own benefit. Inclusive economic institutions, in turn, create a more equitable distribution of resources, facilitating the persistence of inclusive political institutions”.

The defeat of the coup attempts by President Donald Trump after he was defeated in the Presidential Elections in USA in November 2020 by the bold stand of the US Judiciary and the legislature – the Senate and the Congress – is a testimony for this. That was possible because those who protected the American democracy were harbouring not merely the positive mindsets but inclusive values, beliefs, and ethos. And the opposite had been demonstrated after the Parliamentary elections in Myanmar. When the political movement led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi had a landslide victory at the election, the military devoid of inclusive values, beliefs, and ethos had taken control of power apparently in fear that it would lose its extractive rights.

Negative mindsets breed inefficiency

Negative mindsets in people breed inefficiency and that inefficiency traps a nation in eternal poverty. An often-made observation about Sri Lanka is that it has made certain achievements in the past 73 years but not up to the level of its peer group. Countries that had been more or less on par with Sri Lanka at the time of independence have moved faster into richness delivering prosperity to their people. What has been the reason for the slow performance of Sri Lanka in its post-independence period? Is it due to wrong policies made by policymakers?

ART has the following answer to these questions in general: “Most economists and policymakers have focused on ‘getting it right,’ while what is really needed is an explanation for why poor nations ‘get it wrong.’ Getting it wrong is mostly not about ignorance or culture. As we will show, poor countries are poor because those who have power make choices that create poverty. They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose.

To understand this, you have to go beyond economics and expert advice on the best thing to do and, instead, study how decisions actually get made, who gets to make them, and why those people decide to do what they do. This is the study of politics and political processes. Traditionally economics has ignored politics, but understanding politics is crucial for explaining world inequality”. This observation applies to inequality within a country too.

Sri Lanka’s unequal income distribution

So, when economics is overwhelmed by political expedience, policymakers make choices that serve the politicians which in turn causes poverty to settle in a country permanently. Despite the pro-poor policies adopted by successive governments since independence, Sri Lanka’s inequitable income distribution has been the same. In 1953, the top 20% in society amassed 57% of the total income, while the lowest 20% got only 5%. In 2016, the two ratios are 51% and 5%, respectively, indicating that the rich have enriched the middle-class by passing a very small part of their income to the middle class, while keeping the poor in the same position. Accordingly, the Gini Coefficient, a popular measure of income inequality, had remained unchanged at 0.5 in 1953 as well as in 2016.

Combine positive mindset with inclusive institutions

Thus, a positive mindset in people will certainly help Sri Lanka in its journey toward prosperity. However, that alone is not sufficient. Sri Lanka should build and nurse an inclusive institutional setup in which all people irrespective of creed, ethnicity, or language could participate in the growth process and eventually share its benefits. This is Gota’s biggest challenge today. If he fails in resolving it, his remaining years too would not be different from what Sri Lanka had in the past 73 years.

*The writer, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 12
    0

    Shouldn’t positive mindset start with the person who is proposing it? Should it not start with Nandasena/Gotabaya? If he is the President of SL he should be acting and seen as a person who is with no bias against any race or religion. But even on the independence day celebration he claims he is a Buddhist, was this called for? Does he think that Sri Lankans think he is a Born Again or some thing? Preaching is easy. To practice what’s preached there should be true committment.

    My Grand mother has told me a story when I was a child. There was a priest he went to the temple and preached – people should not eat meat. When he came home for lunch his wife has cooked a vegetarian lunch. He demanded his non-veg dish. His wife told him, you preached people should not eat meat. He then turned to his wife in anger and said “My preaching is only for those people and not for me and you”. I think Nandasena/Gotabaya is acting like this priest.

    Why can’t he take the leadership to stop Racism, Religious Thuggery and implement Equal Rights for all and that all are Sri Lankans? Has he got the wisdom to do this?

    • 5
      0

      Buddhist1: You missed something, He said: ” I am a Sinhala Buddhist”.

      • 5
        0

        Simon,
        .
        Civilized leaders would never resound be them belong to majority or minority while being in power because minorities constantly feel that they would be treated bad. Just that would have been enough alugosuwa Nandasena to refrain adding such public statments. However, what can we expect from a man who was then locked up in a refugee camp, in the USA, not being able to raise his head, … having gone through all untold stories, but became ULTRA-PATRIOT once his murderous brother mafia boss became the leader of the nation.
        :
        I think I woul dnot disagree if anyone would impose sanctions to this nation, because I dont think people are clean. They are criminal supporters and there is no excuse that they cant get rid of being caught by punishments that at least 40% of nation predicted long before.
        :

    • 6
      0

      How can we call for a poistive mind set knowing that entire country is stolen by a bunch thugs/rapists/murderers/money launderers/and and high criminals of various nature.
      .
      Udayagan weerathunga
      Gonthadipila
      Wasidewa
      Buruwanse
      Jonsten Fernando
      Galle Rathaaran
      Kaluthara Rathanara patta pal horas
      Mahinda Rajakashe who looted the state to the core by 2014
      Yoshita Rajakashe – with murder records
      Namal Rajakseh – with murder records
      and and… ” ungee rata .. ballata giya rata”.

      Opposition is supprssed in oder to make one party governance so as in China.
      :
      No doubt, Rajakshes will be found in drains to the very same manner Tripoli did it… wait and see.

    • 5
      0

      Dear Buddhist 1,
      .
      What if NANDASENA has not learned to think right ? It is public secret, Trump admin ended up being making him the clown that world would nt forget, also not having ” sure of insticts for on going politics”. Likewise, Nanda/Gobbasena has not made any wonders sofar, even if STATE funds are being usually wasted for his helicopter travels to remote villages, at least showing the modayas that some people still respect him. Why cant the he as the president of the country make him correct in that point. And to come with provocations such ” I dont care about other s criticisms but I will do it by myway”, What has been the outcome during last 15 months having done things not incompliance with modus operandi of any of his predecessors. I think … SIRISENA wasted funds for his foreign travels, as if it became to godaya magic, however at the begining he saved a lot for the govt. But current mgt, leaving PEOPLE who are really in need in starving modes, Rajakshes waste tax payers funds for their MEDIA displays.
      His capabilities are not all its cracked up to be. My feeling just looking at his governing, even an unlerned young politician could make much better decisions based on national issues such as COVID containment within the country.

    • 1
      4

      Buddhist1,
      “I think Nandasena/Gotabaya is acting like this priest.”
      —-
      Who cares for what Tamil terrorists suffering from ‘Defeat-Syndrome’ think. Guys who suffer from ‘Defeat-Syndrome’ have excessive hatred towards those who defeated them. The comments written by these people reflect their excessive hatred and anger.

  • 6
    0

    Dr. Wijewardane: You quoted ART and described at length the four pillars to a success of a nation. Why you laboured so much to explain those each and every pillar. Instead, had you told Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapakse that our well-known saying: “OWA DENU PARAHATA THAMA SAMMATHAYE PIHITA SITA” (First adhere to the advice by yourself before delivering it to others) I think “NOONE” dare say it “DIRECT” to him. Perhaps everyone knows the “Consequences”. Remember the latest “DICTA” pronounced at Deraniyagala in Kegalle District on Feb 9th: “I DO IT MY WAY”. Please take care. We want you to be among us.

    • 4
      0

      Simon,

      Be honest, if anyone with some sanity would be aware, that Gotabaya, Mahinda, Basil Namal, Yohshita should long have been in a jail. Ranjan Ramanayake should not be jailed for such a long time. However, srilanken perception is made for their political gains. Never in this life, they would sense it. That is my opinion.
      .
      We warned the nation long before how Rajapakshes would treat own people most of all about Gota being an executionist ( අලුගෝසුවා )type of a man. I dont know about your circls,, I have the feeling people down there in SL dont take anything serious even if their lovely ones would have been hurt. That they called – SINHALA BUDDHISM.

      They never listened to us. Even ones with academic titles were then made blind to the very same manner Kali Amma paniya misled MBBS holders graudated from local universities.
      :
      So, I dont think anything is left today to save as of today, Medamulana Rascals have ruined it just passing 15 months.
      :
      I am very sorry for those poor women stranded in ME countries. I really do. Some of them are thrown to Bangali men… some commit suicide .. numbers are not few hundrds but more than that. Why cant govt organize a SHIP to allow them return home.

  • 4
    1

    Dear LL; I am always honest and there is nothing “To Be”. All those names you mentioned are in “JAIL”. Do you think they are or have a nice, peaceful, and happy “Sleep” to tell the least. Why they are in that “State”. Because none of them talk to “Themselves”. If they do, they can get off that “Miserable Hell”. In that perspective “Ranja” at least enjoy some “Blissful” time in “seclusion”. Those people you named are “Encircled”, “Cordoned” and “Lost” their “Freedom” in many ways than Ranjan. Think about it.

    • 3
      0

      My Dear SImon, you always read my thoughts.

      All is nowclearer that srilanka is currently ruled by a bunch of high criminals.

      Ramifications would be glass clear though political analysts are still in hibernation mode. Very surprisingly, there are lot more among knowledgeable professionals including UNI dons and other professionas etc that dont even consider the little about the danger before us. Indifference and total ignorance seem to be governing in their conditioned mindset.
      :
      Even if opposition parties are blamed for Rajapakshe crime records, which were created the massive losses to the state and nation, people dont seem to see it right yet today. In the aftermath of WWII, Germany and any other like minded countries beaten by wars or years long disasters had good agendas for rebuilding the nation.

      But unfortunately, our men selfproclaiming them to be ULTRA patriots… were caught by CHINESE DEBT trap projects due to their stupidity.

      Why dont even Dr WIJEWARDHANA speak out yet calling a spade a spade ? regarding innappriate decisions based on national prjojects, Rajaakshes sold out the souls of the people to China….
      .
      Why dont even Dr WIJEWARDHANA et al jet refrain not calling a spade a spade regarding – so called bond scam which was provably not generated by good goverannce govt but by Mahinda Rajapkshe and his wandibattaya Cabral. Why is this hypocracy ?

  • 4
    2

    I think the author is nothing but a bootlicking sycophant of the current ruling junta. He was implicated in the bond scam and made a valiant effort to obfuscate the facts and throw mud at the forensic audit. Now here he is singing loudly for his supper uttering utter gibberish. Positive mind indeed. Yes let us all pretend we are living in nirvana with god father to protect us from all evil.

  • 4
    0

    Mr Wijewardena

    I am curious about the 4 pillars you talk about.

    The first being about ‘robbing’, by individuals & the state, wasn’t a snake oil peddler robbing the gullible & even endorsed by some politicians, including the Health Minister? As for the state, we have corrupt officials from top down & cronies with dubious character at best & convicted criminals at worst, appointed to high positions. Isn’t there blatant robbing of state resources?

    The second pillar being rights of people, irrespective of their race & religion but when there are questions about disappeared & murdered people, including Sinhalese, indefinite incarceration of a honest law enforcement officer & a lawyer without charge & an out spoken parliamentarian convicted for stating his mind while convicted murderers are pardoned, don’t you think the 2nd pillar has crumbled as well?

    Your 3rd pillar, accountability; has any govt. been accountable for the mismanagement of state funds & disastrous economic decisions?

    The final pillar, rule of law: this goes out of the window when we have alleged war criminals & disgraced members of judiciary in key positions.

    In this context, positive mind set is just a word. The word count prevents me from commenting further, so I rest my case, your 4 pillars do not exist.

  • 5
    2

    You said about four pillars for development. But Gota said and one only Pillar Buddhist Sinhala Fundamentalism with Rajapakse family. Independence day speech is nothing to do with SriLanka.

  • 1
    1

    Are you sure you mean pillar and not pillai?

    • 1
      0

      Very sure.

  • 4
    0

    Positive mindset ? Gota’s Preaching ! How about his positive mindset of
    declaring that he is a Buddhist Leader , again after doing so From
    Anuradhapura ? This is nothing but Crab Walk ! And the first one to
    know this is nobody else except Gota “the fondly called.” In the Paradise
    nearly 90% have Fondly names , so don’t try to reinvent it please . Gota
    has come back to the country to retire in Colombo-7 . It was a reward
    for his Defence Job from his Fondly brother MARA & Co. Can he retire
    elsewhere in such luxury ? What has Mahinda reportedly said about
    his silence on current issues ? He was reported to have said that he
    maintains a low profile ! We don’t need Word Jargons to understand the
    game plans of the whole lot . Country, Religion and Language etc, just
    bites for the racists who elected them . Their target is Peacock Paper !
    The paper has only Numbers and No Names and can go from hand to
    hand without identity , for example , from Muslim Sugar Importers
    and Bathroom Tile makers . Some Positive Mindsets I suppose .

    • 4
      0

      Whywhy, please get your facts right. They dont beleong to ones had assets for them in COLOMOBO 07.
      We thought SIRISENA would do the job. But he ended up being kidnapped by MAFIA BOSS.
      Next model was apotical, unconventional candidate be given chance to be the president of the SINHALA buddhist dominated srilanka.
      :
      Latter is proved as today, if NANDASENA has the knowledge to make and take deicisions things would have turned out to be POSITIVE for the country. Today Nandasena has become a fan of villagers with his THUTTU DEKE- low levels THUG performance going to rural corners where noone would ever visit those areas before. Why should not the responsible minister be empowered by him apart from the authorties to do the job, … why to show off …. in a country whose state treasary is so empty. Reliable sources prove the country is shortly before a total collapse.
      :
      Wait and see how the nation would face it next days… local BIASED media would further continue showing the other way around, since those media men are like BLUE flies being founds on garbage . They cant have a life without CROOK politicians.

  • 5
    1

    I am surprised that there are couple of so called Professors tagging along with the Rajapakshas. Cannot these Professors see the illegal acts that they commit?
    Can we see the President face the BBC for a ‘Hard Talk’ or face an interview with Channel 4 Jon Snow????? Or even face Piers Morgan in the GMB in channel 3.
    It’s good for the country if he could face the press meetings with Journalists of local and foreign.

  • 2
    0

    leelagemalli ,

    Do not panic ! My comment only has reports , opinion and prediction and only
    one fact that is Gota’s statement that he’s a Sinhala Buddhist leader that he has
    repeated many times . As for me I don’t now for sure whether he’s a Sinhala or
    Buddhist ! Rajapaksha had George in front of his name like J RJ had Junius
    Richard and Indira of India had Gandhi while Gandhi had nothing to do with
    Nehru family . These are called Facts that can be checked . So, do not make my
    predictions and opinions “Facts.” please.

  • 0
    0

    Gotabaya, the antithesis of positivity and moral persuasion, was simply trying to dampen the eroding popularity and growing pessimism around his leadership by encouraging his fan base to think positively and not pay attention to the crises and worrisome realities on every front now often reported in the media.
    +
    The sycophantic sounding report by the author who is undeniably an expert on economics and banking should realize that his beloved “Gota” is wholly incompetent in governing a country let alone building a flourishing economy and that Ajith Nivard Cabraal and the Finance Minister MR are scammers.

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