MODERN RISHIS-2 (Post No.8223)

      MODERN RISHIS-2 (Post No.8223)  

  WRITTEN BY R. NANJAPPA                          

Post No. 8223

Date uploaded in London – – – 22 June 2020    Contact – Pictures are taken from various sources for spreading knowledge; this is a non- commercial blog. Thanks for your great pictures.          

MODERN RISHIS-2                                                      R. Nanjappa

Two Prophets and a Rishi-1      

  [Life today is organised around economics. Economic considerations dictate every other type of activity. Just now, people are anxious to resume full scale economic activities, though Covid19 is still spreading! Even temples are eager to do business as usual, for the sake of income! So, it is important to understand some basic factors relating to our economic life and organization. Economic problems do not spare us because we do not know economics!]  
Rishis in two worlds!       A  Rishi is one who fundamentally alters our conception of Reality by pointing out a basic aspect which  we had hitherto not known. This Reality is two-fold; one aspect relates to the Ultimate Reality  and the other, to aspects of the relative existence. The two are connected. A true religion asks us to order the relative existence in the light of the ultimate Reality and not to neglect our worldly existence. Hindu religion has neatly classified the aims of human existence into 4 categories- Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. A sane householder has to strive for all the four, though the relative importance of any will depend upon the particular stage of his life. A man of 70 cannot behave like a boy of 17! As the saying goes, as we age, we have to repack our bags!  While the highest ranks of the Rishis are almost totally devoted to the Ultimate Truth, they too have to live in this world. Our ancient Rishis did not exactly starve. We have an episode in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, where Yajnavalkya engages in the highest philosophical discussions, but does not neglect to collect the reward offered by the King! But he is surely not after wealth-artha-as such. For he knows that the Truth cannot be attained by wealth.     Amrutatvasya tu na aasaa asti vittena iti. (There is no hope of Immortality being gained through wealth.) Yajnavalkya in Brihadaranyaka. II.iv.2

And he is matched by an equally evolved wife. When he offers to divide his property among his two wives, and proceed to the forest, one of them Maitreyi says what would she do with   that wealth which would not confer her Immortality!

Tenaaham na amrutaa syaam
Kim aham tena kuryaam?
What shall I do with that which will not make be immortal?
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Sankara’s commentary. Tr. By Swami Madhavananda. Advaita Ashrama,  1975.)     One has to lead a righteous life, never forgetting the ultimate goal that is Liberation. Shunning life is not the solution to the problems of life! The Gita too does not ask Arjuna to run away from the battle field! It makes a distinction between Tyaga and Sanyasa and says that an embodied being cannot avoid action, but the one who while performing the necessary activity yet renounces the fruit of such action is a renouncer- karma phala tyagi. 18.11 This is exactly what is prescribed in the first mantra of the Isha Upanishad-  Tena tyaktena bhunjita. Enjoy by renunciation! Thus our scriptures have an organic unity. It requires patient study and quiet reflection.      We may therefore conclude that life in the world is also important. There are those high souls who teach us how to live properly. But they can not  always  be considered Rishis. There is another category of teachers, whom we may call Prophets. Their job is mainly to draw attention to the defects of our ways and to point in the right direction.  

Marx- the philosopher and the prophet     While the economic aspects of our earthly existence cannot be neglected, no civilisation before our own exalted the economic above all other considerations! Two human inventions have been instrumental in this: the invention of money and the mechanisation or industrialisation of our economic life. It was capitalism which combined both in a heady concoction, but today every form of modern economic organization, including socialism, is based on both money exchange and large scale industrialization..    The first great thinker to draw our attention to the evil effects of such a combination and the industrial mode of production was Karl Marx. [1818-1883] He pointed out how this new mode alienated  man from his humanity, and in the process he too became a commodity to be used and thrown, and valued through the medium of money. This mode concentrated economic wealth and power in the hands of a few, and made the masses of people suffer. The inequalities in wealth increased in the society, and the gap between the rich and the poor widened all the time.    Picture from the National Portrait Gallery, London.   There have been many learned and valid arguments against Marx. But the stark facts speak for themselves. According to all the surveys conducted by all the international agencies, the rich have been growing richer, and the poor, poorer in all parts of the world, where modern economics is practised! Professional economists are wont to confuse us with too many refined theories – like whether we should measure inequalities in wealth, or income or consumption. But by any measure, the greater wealth  is getting concentrated in fewer hands of the super rich: just 1% of the adults own more than 40% of the world’s assets; just 3 individuals owned more wealth than the bottom 48 nations of the world in 2000!  David C.Korten has shown how the balance sheets of a few Corporate bodies   exceed the combined budgets of most countries in the world! This stark reality no ingenious economic theory can white wash or wish away!        The most poignant aspect of the suffering of the people in the modern world is that whether we take hunger, health care, access to minimum amounts of material goods and services, the cause is not scarcity or non-availability, but accessibility and affordability. Production processes and services have been so much mechanised, and centralised  that  productive and meaningful employment , and consequently  access to the means of living have become a problem for most people. Marx anticipated these developments more than 150 years ago and they have not changed, in spite of all the seeming changes!  ( progress!)     Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the productivity of labour are put into effect at the cost of  the individual worker…. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time the accumulation of misery , the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole, ie on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital.  

We may readily concede that the condition of the factory worker has vastly improved – but not in all countries. The wealthier countries have intentionally shifted production to countries like China which do not follow the international norms for labour, to ensure low cost! And in our own country we now have lot of IT savvy employees- called by that ugly epithet ‘Techies’ but look at their over all working conditions: are they free, and do they enjoy moral and intellectual freedoms? Do they have regular working hours and rationally determined work load? Are they not ‘burnt out’ rather early? And what about the millions of those who cannot get employment?    the commercial crises… by their periodical return put on trial, each time more threateningly, the existence of the entire bourgeois society….. In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity-   the epidemic of over-production.   Let us briefly note here that this was written in 1867. We had a very serious crisis from 1929 to 1939, again in the 90s and then again in 2008. Each one was more threatening than the previous one. The latest one in 2008 was more severe than the world depression of the 1930s. Thus, for all its so called ‘progress’ the capitalist leopard has not changed its spots!     The last cause of all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as compared to the tendency of capitalist production to develop the productive forces in such a way that only the absolute power of consumption of the entire society would be their limit.   Capitalist mode of production keeps improving productivity, and expanding production. This results in a situation of what economists call over-production or under-consumption or equilibrium at less than full employment or secular stagnation etc. This is a definite insight of Karl Marx.   But the most basic objection of Marx to capitalism is on account of its tendency to degrade and brutalise human beings, as shown in the first extract quoted above. Marx was primarily concerned about the human condition. (We may look at this in more detail later.)       Note: We are looking here at Karl Marx as a philosopher and prophet- not as active politician. We should not confuse the original insights of Marx with the political ideology or propaganda that goes by his name. 

Keynes- rebel capitalist, reformer and prophet of the good life Even as Marx was writing, social and industrial reform movements were afoot and the factory working conditions  gradually improved. However, the tendency of the capitalist economy to face periodical crises did not change, or their intensity abate.  These were known by the name Trade or Business cycles. Conventional economic wisdom considered them as part of the system, something that would correct itself, given time. Since they believed in the notion of equilibrium, such upsets were the correctives needed for a new equilibrium.   But what they involved was serious imbalance between production, consumption, investment and employment. This brought misery to whole sections of people. The crisis of the 1920s and 1930s became a world phenomenon, bringing untold suffering in its train to large masses of people.. How long could the people wait for a new equilibrium to show up?   It was here that John Maynard Keynes came up with his solution. He pointed out that the conventional economists began from assumptions which were not based on reality. They assumed that there was equilibrium at full-employment. But Keynes pointed out that there could be equilibrium at many levels of employment, and in a situation of depression as they were in, it called for direct intervention by the government to boost the spending power of the people ( effective demand), so that there would be enough money going round in the system to promote fresh investment and employment.   

   Picture from National Portrait Gallery, London.   This was a novel solution, though still within conventional economics. People overlooked the conventional aspects, and looked at it as a ‘revolution’. Opposition / reservations were expressed from many quarters on many grounds. However when the misery intensified, the US  under Roosevelt took some half-hearted measures under the so called New Deal. Soon the World War intervened, and recovery started.    But there was a more intensive crisis in 2008, when the entire financial system of the so called free world- the arch capitalist countries- almost melted. It was brought about by the unrestrained free market policies of Reagan-Thatcher dispensation. They gave unrestricted freedom to the financial sector to make innovations in products and processes, whose nature they did not know and could  not understand, and which they could not control or regulate. The financial system went bust, banks failed and govt had to intervene in a very big way to save the so called “free market”. And unlike in the 1930s, the governments adopted Keynesian solutions and recovery started within a year or so, without resort to any war! It was thus Keynes who saved capitalism from the capitalists themselves. (But the tax payer bore the burden! )   

People are yet to  realise that Keynes had understood the real problem of capitalism -over production and under employment- as pointed out by Marx and given it a solution based on the conventions and ideals of a free society , thus avoiding the need for any revolution.   But Keynes too was not a mere economist. Like Marx, he too was a philosopher. No doubt he had to deal with the pressing economic problems of the day as an academic, as an official,  as adviser, etc. But above all else, he was concerned with the basic goal of life. For him, money was a means to an end, and he considered preoccupation with money as such as the manifestation of mental illness. Keynes believed that man’s material wants were rather limited , and in a short essay in 1928 and a lecture later, (about ‘the economic possibilities for our grandchildren’) predicted that in about a century , we would be able to solve our economic problems and devote our lives for the real purposes of living: for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem- how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely, agreeably and well.   This shows that Keynes was not a growth maniac, like the blind modern economists are. He did not consider man as an economic animal., or making money his chief aim in life.     

Two Prophets and a Rishi-2  Marx and Keynes: Failed prophets? People have overlooked the essential aspects of both Marx and Keynes. Both were primarily philosophers, but most people do not know or do not care. Marx said that philosophers interpreted the world, but the need was to change it. He failed in the limited attempts he made to change it, but he sort of believed that capitalism would fall of its own accord due to its internal contradictions. But he did not know how exactly the end would come. Capitalism has shown great resilience and managed to survive so far. Keynes saved capitalism from a severe crisis in the last century, and showed a way to deal with  its tendency for periodical crises. In this preoccupation, his focus was expressly on the short term. But his long range prediction (or hope?) was that technological improvements would enable man to solve his economic problem in a hundred years and he expected him to devote his time for ‘higher ‘ purposes. But this has not materialized   so far, and appears far from getting fulfilled. If anything, the horizon of hope ever keeps receding. Can we thus say that both Marx and Keynes are failed prophets even though their basic philosophies hold a clear view of truth? For Marx, the basic problem was the alienation of man from his own real nature-his essential humanity. Money is a tool in this process. For Keynes, man’s preoccupation with money was a psychological illness, and it obscured the real aims of life. Both these are valid insights. But they did not go deep into the real causes of our economic disease or distress.  

Root of the matter: E.F.Schumacher. In a way, neither Marx nor Keynes went to the root of the matter. Modern economic Organization – whether it is capitalist or socialist or communist, or called by any other Name – is still materialist at base, and in essence. They put material things above all else. Those organizations exist primarily to satisfy human wants, but the wants go on multiplying all the time. The only way to satisfy the wants is to produce more. More production involves more intensive and extensive exploitation of natural resources. Economists of all varieties and descriptions simply assume that the resources will last and ….last! Or, science and technology would somehow stretch their use almost infinitely! Some rare economists like E.J. Mishan of the London School of Economics pointed out that growth involved costs, but they were ignored by the establishment. Mishan even found it difficult to publish his book, as no standard publisher was ready to print it. Moralists like Gandhi objected to the modern economy, but they were not taken seriously  by the economists or the political establishments.    The first economist to seriously question the materialistic model of economic organisation was E.F. Schumacher. In his 1973 book “SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL” – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered, he voiced concerns not only about the effect the economy was having on people, but also on Nature, of which man was part. His propositions were simple, direct:     Modern man treats himself not as a part of nature but as an outside force. He is attempting to ‘conquer’ it;  if he succeeded in that, he would be on the losing side.Modern economy is based on exploitation of fossil fuels (and other natural resource). Man is treating them as income items, even though they are undeniably capital items.  Man is thus living on capital.Our scientists have compounded substances unknown to nature.
Nature is unable to deal with them.Resort to nuclear energy to solve the fossil fuel problem is to solve one problem by creating environmental and ecological problems.Economic theory has been developed only by disregarding qualitative considerations, and  ethical issues.   Problem of poverty cannot be solved unless ‘mass production’ is substituted by ‘production by the masses.’Scientific knowledge is used without wisdom. Technological development has to relate to human scale. Man is small; therefore, small is beautiful! Logic of production is neither the logic of life, nor the logic of society. Man should know when enough is enough.   It can be imagined what an upheaval the book would have created!

 The substance of Schumacher’s thesis is that man has created an economy which is unsustainable.  He pleaded for intermediate, appropriate human scale technologies. He also argued that man is not a mere economic machine but he has other, higher needs. Preoccupation with economics should not be at the cost of his humanity. It is not a good state of affairs when bad things going into machines come out good, while the men attending them get degraded! Some of these themes he developed further in two other books, A Guide For The Perplexed, and Good Work.    Sustainable economics is what Gandhian J.C.Kumarappa called the ‘Economy of Permanence’. But Schumacher treated it more fully, and more academically. Today, it has become a fixed element in the consciousness of the better educated, thinking part of humanity. It is certainly a new consciousness that he has created. As such, he is also a modern Rishi whom I salute.  

  Note: There is no substitute for reading some good literature on the subject. For general readers, I suggest the following: 1. Marx’s Das Capital by Francis Wheen. Indian edition published by Manjul Publishing House, 2008. 2. Keynes: The Return of The Master by Robert Skidelsky. Penguin, 2010. 3.How Much is Enough. by Robert & Edward Skidelsky. Penguin. 2013. 4.  Beyond The Chains of Illusion by Erich Fromm 5.The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith Books at 2 and 3 above are some of the best I have read in over 40 years.    Schumacher’s books are available in different editions. I have not been able to provide his picture here due to copyright hassles.                                                               ***    

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: