By R.M.B Senanayake –
It is a good augury for our future that the Ven. Athureleye has spoken out against the suppression of freedoms. He is spearheading a reform movement to restore true democracy instead of the fudged democracy proclaimed by the ruling regime which violating the Constitution passed the 18th Amendment arrogating all power to the President and freeing him from all checks and balances, so that he is completely above the law and accountable to nobody except nominally to the people at an election which is neither free or fair. The President likes to say that we still have democracy because he equates democracy with the holding of elections.
The President is all powerful like our feudal Sinhalese kings. He makes all the important appointments to the public service, the judicial service and the Elections Department. Political affiliation and loyalty not competence or merit are the criteria of suitability for the high appointments. Since all these appointees to the high posts are appointed by the President based on their personal knowledge of him or through canvassing for them, these office holders totally beholden to the President and know that if they want to hold their placements they have to do his will even if it is against all norms of morality and justice. So public administration, the Police, the Judges are all servants not of the people but of the President- a throwback to the feudal rule of our ancient Sinhalese kings. He can dispense with accepted moral values whenever it is politically expedient. All his officials are expected to do the same. A similar situation existed in the Western countries prior to the revolutions- the revolution of 1688 in England, the revolution of 1789 in France and the revolution of the American colonies in 1776. They may now be distant but the people in these countries have not forgotten them and uphold their principles. They do not allow their present day democratic rulers to violate their Constitutions. How often have our so-called democratic politicians violated the principles enshrined in our Constitution?
Democracy and Economic Growth
But some people are enamored by the high economic growth in authoritarian countries like South Korea under Park Chung Hee, China under Deng Tsiao Peng, and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew. So some intellectuals are impressed by authoritarian rule and justify it on the ground of the faster economic growth they have provided. But not all authoritarian dictatorships have succeeded in providing faster economic growth. The several dictatorial regimes in Latin America- in Chile, Brazil and in the Philippines under Marcos and in the erstwhile Communist countries faster economic growth did not take place at all or failed to be sustainable and led to the restoration of democracy. China has grown fast but so has corruption and President Li is grappling with its control.
It is of course true that democracy with its public demonstrations and agitations against necessary economic reforms , its squabbling political parties, with its dominance of interest groups, its poorly educated politicians elected by a naïve rural peasantry and crafty leaders who manipulate the voters with their populism, are all barriers to the taking of right decisions to promote economic growth. But people do learn over time however slowly it may be. Economic growth and democracy requires discipline on the part of both the people and the leaders. Such discipline is often underpinned by the religious and moral values of such society. But crafty politicians fool the people with their false and hypocritical religiosity. They equate religion with the practice of rituals and give the impression to the people by their false example that it would be sufficient to follow such rituals rather than practice the moral code preached by the religions. But people are blind to the hypocrisy of these politicians and accept them as the saviors of their religion in the background of other missionary religions which seek to spread their own values and principles. In this background it is easy for the crafty political leaders to whip up hatred against other communities in the society. So the task of nation building is relegated to the background and instead the idea of championing the religion of the majority as the religion of the State is propagated. So truth and justice in the popular mind becomes equated to what is proclaimed as truth and justice by the political leaders. They set up those elements in the society who preach violence and hatred against the minorities and justify them by whipping up latent fears to their religion.
Economic growth needs discipline
If economic growth is about governments getting things done then would it not be better for growth if the governments are strong and authoritarian instead of being weak and elected. Then the administration of the public services would improve; the trains will run on time, the hospitals will perform better and provide a better service to the people and schools will be better managed. True indeed but such discipline in authoritarian countries cannot be achieved without the spilling of blood, the suppression of public movements, the repression of civil society groups, and the suppression of the truth through censorship of the media. In short it involves brainwashing the people through thought control, so vividly described by George Orwell in his novel “1984”. So even if economic growth suffers under a democracy, yet the trade –off of growth for freedom is worthwhile. Isn’t it better to have slower growth with freedom rather than faster growth with repression of freedom?
But there is no evidence that in the long run economic growth in the democratic countries is slower than in authoritarian dictatorships. The great economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey explains that modern prosperity was not caused by the exploitation of the poor by the rich in their own countries or in their colonial possession; nor even really by an increase in investment but, rather, by the unleashing of innovations – itself the result of a change in social attitudes. How did this change in social attitudes come about? It was through the new found personal freedom in the western economies after the Reformation. People were free to think for themselves and a new class -the merchant class arose to take advantage of the results of the voyages of discovery. To say that modern prosperity was not caused by an increase in investment (or, to pick another example often given by economic libertarians, an expansion of trade) is not to deny that investment and trade are necessary for economic growth. Of course they are. McCloskey’s point is that the timing, the geography, and the magnitude of modern prosperity cannot be explained as being caused by a change in the likes of investment or trade. Neither investment nor trade – as indispensable, as admirable, and as marvelous in their own right as they unquestionably are – were the sparks for our modern prosperity. It is the new attitude of freedom sparked by the great revolutions against absolute government that ensured the freedom of the people from arbitrary rule and introduced the Rule of Law and protected the freedoms of the people. The merchant class was free to pursue the money making activities. It is such freedom that allowed the Scientific Revolution to flourish and made possible the Industrial Revolution which led to modern prosperity. Where did all these innovations and inventions come from? Could they have occurred without the freedom of the individual? In the long run economic growth depends upon innovation and invention and not the mere replication of investment in the same economic activities.
Even in China, Deng Tsiao Peng’s growth policy was in accepting and permitting private property and economic freedom for the foreign entrepreneurs at first in Special Economic Zones and then extending such freedom to all Chinese by adopting free enterprise and the free market economy. Yes there is no democracy or political freedom but there certainly is economic freedom and protection of private property. There are today two economic models- the freewheeling capitalism of the USA and the economic freedom of the Chinese model. But what is common to both models is the acceptance of the free market economy.