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 Culture
 
The public-private gulf
Liberty Institute, India Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ravi Shanker Kapoor
There is a gulf between public discourse and private deliberations, opne important being the attitude towards money. People value money in their private life, but look down upon it and downplay its significance on a higher, philosophical level. It should be said that hypocrisy is the root of the problem. The hostility between India and US is mostly a result of socialism, the most overrated political ideology. Intellectuals blame everything on multinational corporations and glorify rural life, writes Ravi Shanker Kapoor.

Why is there a gulf between public discourse and private deliberations?
Anything that is asserted, cherished, and promoted in the public domain is
almost always at variance with what is appreciated, esteemed, and encouraged
in private life.

Let’s begin with one of the most important things in the world—money. All of
us—at any rate, all of us, save the fortunate few—work for money. Most
people spend almost three-fourths of the time, effort, and energy on earning
money, investing it prudently, or spending it cautiously. In its pursuit,
men and women perform heroic, even superhuman feats; they also commit the
most heinous crimes. Money consumes us; it makes and breaks relationships.
It shapes our viewpoint, attitude, and values. It plays an extremely
important role in our life. It is the axis around which the world revolves.
It molds out relationships. Unsurprisingly, we forget our poor cousins, and
try to get close to rich relatives.

Yet, its importance is routinely downplayed. Religions put scorn on money
and the moneyed; moralizers warn us about the dangers of mammon worship;
movies tell us that the rich are bad and the poor are good (and the poor
vanquish the rich); intellectuals often equate money with theft (and do
their best to replenish their own coffers).

One word that describes mankind’s duplicity is hypocrisy. Perhaps, America
is the only country in the world where wealth is generally seen as a reward
for enterprise and endeavor, though there is no dearth of moralizers railing
against money even there. America’s success in bridging the gap between
public discourse and private deliberations has a great deal to do with its
economic might, political clout, technological prowess, and military muscle.

India’s relationship with America has been unique. In an article (November
29, 2009, *The Economic Times*), Swaminathan Aiyar wrote, “During the Cold
War, India's governmental relations were warm with the USSR and cool with
the US. But a million Indians migrated to the US while none went to the
USSR.” The question is: why? India is a democracy, so its political class is
supposed to reflect the views, feelings, and aspirations of the people. But
why was it that while the people of India felt, and feel, at home in
Washington, New York, and other U.S. cities (and in the West in general),
our leaders found friends in Moscow and Jakarta? India and the U.S. have had
strong economic ties (the U.S. is the biggest trade partner), social and
cultural relations, but the political ties have often lacked warmth; at
times, there was pronounced hostility between the world’s two biggest
democracies.

The answer lies in socialism, the ideology that delineated our economic and
foreign policies during much of the second half of the twentieth century. It
can be called the most overrated ideology the world has ever witnessed; all
over the world, intellectuals generally favor it as much as common people
detest it. Socialism means controls which lead to shortages; anybody who has
live in pre-liberalization India knows it very well because they have
suffered it. Socialism means licences, even for radio and television. It
means that even if you build your own house with your own hard-earned money,
you have to run from pillar to post for cement. It means that when you have
a marriage in your family, you have to go to a *babu* with the invitation
card for the release of sugar. It means that you have to wait for years to
buy a scooter. It means that essential amenities like gas cylinder and
telephone connection, you have either to wait indefinitely or seek favor
from a politician or a ‘well-connected’ person. It means that for good
things in life, you look askance at imported stuff. Yet, intellectuals love
socialism. And, despite the failure of socialism all over world, they preach
its virtues.

Unsurprisingly, the public discourse in India is generally against
multinational corporations (MNCs) and big industry. Our intellectuals never
tire railing against big companies. We are told that these companies exploit
their employees, bribe politicians and bureaucrats, break or mold rules and
regulations, evade taxes, and don’t care a hoot about the environment. Yet,
if you ask any non-intellectual if they would like to work with a big
company—or if they want their children to be employed by an MNC—the answer
would be a big ‘yes.’ Common people know that big companies pay well, have a
better working atmosphere, and are not run by the whims and fancies of
small, proprietary firms—at least, at the lower and middle levels. They are
happy working with big companies.

But intellectuals claim that they are exploited by corporate tycoons. Oxford
Dictionary defines the verb ‘exploit’ as ‘make use of (a situation) in a way
considered unfair or underhand’ or ‘benefit unfairly from the work of
(someone).’ In the normal sense of the term, MNC employees are not
exploited; this is the reason they work or aspire to work for MNCs and big
companies. Intellectuals, however, have nothing to do with the normal or the
obvious; they are comfortable with the dogma Karl Marx propounded over a
century-and-a-half ago, called the Theory of Surplus Value. No amount of
empirical evidence can shake their faith in the discredited Theory. People
like MNCs, but these remain ugly in public discourse.

Similarly, most people want to earn their own living. They also want their
children to be self-dependent. In all societies, the virtues of endeavor and
diligence are cherished. But public discourse in our country is all about
shaping the political economy in such a way that more and more people become
dependent on state largesse. It a family member or friend suffers huge
financial losses or is ruined, we try to help him by increasing his earning
rather than paying him regular donations. Lead a man to fish, they say, feed
him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life. Not that there is no
altruism. We make sacrifices and take pains to help our buddies, family
members, etc. But the idea is to help who needs it rather than make them
dependent on us.

But when it comes to public discourse and political debate, everything turns
topsy-turvy. Poverty alleviation grabs the attention of policy-makers,
politicians, and bureaucrats—which is fine. However, the means employed are
the ones opposite to those which we would never employ in our personal
capacity. They conceive publicly-funded schemes, establishing postmodern
feudalism, with government as a gigantic lord and the poor as permanent
dependants. The lord gives and the serf receives, making the latter to
perennially look askance at the former. The entitlement mindset is promoted.
Personally, we don’t like our dear ones to be our dependants; politically,
we do it all the time. With great aplomb, as if the creation of serfdom were
a remarkable feat.

Consider another public-private dichotomy. Politicians of various hues claim
to be the champions of vernaculars. They aggressively campaign to change the
names of cities to make these echo the local dialect. Bombay becomes Mumbai;
Madras, Chennai; Calcutta, Kolkata; Bangalore, Bengaluru. In the name of
promoting Indian languages, they bar English from government schools in the
primary classes, thus ensuring that the children with humble origins—for it
is normally they who attend such schools—are handicapped for life in their
career pursuits. It is a well-known fact that English enables a person to
get a better job, move faster in any profession, and get better connected
with the world. Politicians themselves acknowledge this fact and, therefore,
send their own kids to English-me

This article was published in the Liberty Institute on Thursday, November 18, 2010.
Author : Mr Kapoor is a commentator on current affairs, and is with Political and Business Daily, in Delhi.
Tags- Find more articles on - India | MNC | money | US

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