By Kumar David –
Donald Trump is vulgar; even cultivated Republicans see him as a gross Fallstaff like persona. He is a thinly veiled racist but WASP Americans don’t seem to mind. Obama and Mitchel’s worst side to WASPs was not that they were black but blacks who often outshone white intellectuals. Despite all this among Republicans Trump already leads by leagues, long before the Primary Season for November 2024 even kicks off. Unless the courts obstruct him (unlikely because the stooge US Supreme Court eats out of his hand) or the good lord takes mercy on America and strikes him down with a bolt of lightning, you can be certain that he will be the GOP nominee for the presidency.
There is more bad news for the Democrats because Vivek Ramasamy (Ram), Trump’s likely running mate (recently there has been a suggestions that Trump may choose a woman running mate) is a glib populist demagogue who will mop the floor with tongue-tied Kamala Harris, Biden’s vice-president. The 38 year old Ram though is a fake. His views on climate change fly in that face of science of which he knows bugger-all, nor has he an iota of knowledge of global and domestic economics. Conceding all this, a Trump-Ram ticket will nevertheless be an uncomfortable challenge for the Democrats.
The 81-year Biden (Trump is 79) would be wise to bow out and make way for a younger candidate and a new running mate. Michele Obama is only 59, Elizabeth Warren 74 and Robert Kennedy’s grandson Joseph E Kennedy only 42 years old. His grand-uncle JFK was 43 when elected president. With so much available I am surprised that America is still hankering after geriatrics!
But the problem is much bigger. The debt of the US Federal Government currently is $32 trillion or more than 120% of GDP. Tax hikes alone are rarely enough to stimulate the economy and pay down debt. Spending cuts despite their painful effects on employment and welfare are another way. Bailouts and defaults are also a way of easing debt problems but have obvious drawbacks. Governments often issue new debts in form of bonds to ease the pressure. The US experiment with “Quantitative Easing” is a way of buying back bonds. Every tool has its downside, economic (employment, business confidence and inflation) and political. Global economic output, undoubtedly influenced by the spurt in technology, has grown from $40 trillion in in 2000, in then-current dollars, to $85 trillion in 2020 in now-current dollars. Even after making allowance for changes in the nominal dollar values in the two different time periods and for the Asian century which now includes India, this is an impressive increase in global economic growth. Trends in the US economy have an effect on the whole world – East Asia (China included), South Asia including India, Eastern and Western Europe of course, and you name it, everywhere.
Every option that is adopted in the US has serious implications for the rest of the world. It is still the world’s financial and military top-dog and the rest of us cannot remain unscathed when things begin to buckle in the citadel. This is too big a topic for me to tackle this pieces but I will confine myself to two questions which are influenced by changing global circumstances; (i) What kind of a democracy do we desire in Lanka, (ii) what kind of an economic arrangement do we want for Lanka. The minimal answer to the first question is we want the right to change government through elections every say five years; we want liberal democratic values to prevail; we want the state to be answerable to the people; and we want the physical security of the minorities to be guaranteed by the state. That’s the easy question.
As I have pointed out on a previous occasion there are only two realistic options for the next government in Sri Lanka which I broadly identify as the Anura Kumara JVP-NPP option and some consortium gathered around the UNP institutions. This second is likely to be led by Ranil (RW) with a prominent role assigned to Sajith. The cohorts temporarily aligned with Sajith are at root UNP and Sajith sans these UNP and ex-UNP associates is nothing. Both power blocks have skeletons in their cupboard. To this day the JVP has not acknowledged its viciously violent past nor its racist inheritances from Wijeweera and Somawansa. RW is trigger happy and has a reputation for unleashing indiscriminate violence on political opponents, but not on the ruthless scale of JR. Therefore on the side of political democracy there are many amends that both contenders for governmental power need to make.
Be that as it may the much greater challenge facing the country is my point previous point (ii), the economic challenge. The economic programme must be growth oriented, it must be export oriented, it will have to identify and address the needs of different sectors (agriculture, industry, technology, energy, plantations, cash-crops fisheries etc.), taxes on the well-to-do and on companies will have to increase, and the programme will unavoidably impose some burden on the masses and so on. The story is not new but Lanka needs to adopt a bold new approach. One option is to set up a Planning Commission.
The country needs a planning commission to coordinate the diverse imperatives of this programme. Here is an edited summary from the website of the Indian Planning Commission
“Since 1947, the Indian economy has been premised on the concept of planning. This has been carried through the Five-Year Plans, developed, executed, and monitored by the Planning Commission. The Prime Minister as the ex-officio Chairman, the commission has a nominated Deputy Chairman, who holds the rank of a Cabinet Minister prior to this the allocation of state resources was based on schematic patterns rather than a transparent and objective mechanism. The Narendra Modi government announced the dissolution of the Planning Commission, and its replacement by a think tank called the National Institution for Transforming India.”
If you distrust Modi and his motives you are in good company, but that’s another matter.
The point is that Sri Lanka needs to take its cue from half-a-century of sound practice in India and set about the business of establishing a Planning Commission to address the several issues raised in this essay. I will say no more on this now and invite comment from readers.
[Several regular readers of my column have inquired why my established weekly routine has been broken. Well, time passes, age marches on and health decays. Nevertheless I will try to keep up a fortnightly offering].