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Books > History > Mahatma Gandhi > Gitam Journal of Gandhian Studies: Dedicated to Promote Altruism, Peace and Nonviolence (Volume 6)
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Gitam Journal of Gandhian Studies: Dedicated to Promote Altruism, Peace and Nonviolence (Volume 6)
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Gitam Journal of Gandhian Studies: Dedicated to Promote Altruism, Peace and Nonviolence (Volume 6)
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Introduction

The term "Gandhian economics" had come into vogue in Mahatma Gandhi's lifetime itself. In recent times, the collapse of the communist order as well as adverse social, environmental, and other long-term effects of the capitalist market economy have led to a growing interest in the alternative of Gandhian economics. However, difficulties do arise in defining Gandhian economic order in terms of traditional academic formats because Mahatma Gandhi was not a theoretician in the accepted sense. His concern was civilization`: what sort of society we are building? Hence, too, his economic thought was intertwined with ethics, politics, and sociology in his integral philosophy of human social order, which itself evolved over half a century of his relentless Experiments with Truth (His autobiography was titled: An Autobiography, or, My Story of Experiments with Truth; CWMG 39 :1).

Further, application of his ideas, though flowing from a set of universal principles, was also rooted in the issues and the situation of his period. Hence, it is essential to carefully extract and systematize the basic framework of his economic order and to analyze its relevance in modern times. This presentation is an effort in the same direction.

Western/Modern Economics vs Gandhian Economics

While modern Western thinkers, liberal or socialist, such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx and J.M. Keynes were preoccupied with production of "wealth", Gandhian economic thought has been taken up with harmonious "good" and "welfare" of the individual and thereby of the society. While the Western thinker tried to resolve the problems of the industrial economies in their time, which were being fed by exploitation of the Third World and of earth's finite resources and which had led to world wars, Gandhian philosophy challenged the basic presuppositions of both capitalism and socialism (Marxism), and evolved directive strategies in order to achieve a nonviolent, egalitarian, and sustainable socio-economic order. He could not be ethically neutral nor accept the thesis of the "economic man". He was acutely conscious of the grinding poverty in India and exploitation of: masses by foreign and national elites and of villages by cities, and of natural resources. His primary concern was, how, without exploiting others and nature, to fight poverty, inequality, and violence.

The emphasis on the moral/ethical values does not make Gandhian political economy utopian. He gives concepts, goals, and postulates similar to the "equilibria" in traditional economic theory. He does set ideals of perfectibility, likening these to Euclid's lines, while dealing with issues of the real world, but his Truth is relative, existential, and experiential, not dogmatic. His solutions, being qualified by the situation and knowledge, are open to change:

In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. ... I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. - Harijan, 29-4-1933; Notes: Inconsistencies?, CWMG 55: 61

Gandhian Economics: Sources, Ethics, Objectives

Gandhi did comment on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and did study Marx's Das Kapital, but apparently not very much else of the academic political economists. Earlier, in John Ruskin's Unto This Last he had found a deep reflection of his own ideas, and he paraphrased it into Gujarati as Sarvodaya (welfare of all). He wrote: "In a general way on economics I liked Ruskin's Unto This Last" (Letter to Sumangal Prakash, 24-1-1931; CWMG 92: 240).

Gandhi insisted that economics of a country or people must be related to its specific conditions. While defending his concept of swadeshi against government-sponsored criticism, he commented on his understanding of nature of economics thus:

Even though I am a layman, I do not make bold to say that the so-called laws laid down in books on economics are not immutable like the laws of Medes and Persians, nor are they universal. The economics of England are different from those of Germany. Germany enriched herself by bounty-fed beet sugar. England enriched herself by exploiting foreign markets. What was possible for a compact area is not possible for an area 1900 miles long and 1500 broad. The economics of a nation are determined by its climatic, geological and temperamental conditions. The Indian conditions are different from the English in all these essentials. What is meat for England is in many cases poison for India. Beef tea in the English climate may be good; it is poison for the hot climate of religious India. Fiery whisky in the north of British Isles may be a necessity; it renders an Indian unfit for work or society. Fur coats in Scotland are indispensable; they will be an intolerable burden in India. Free trade for a country which has become industrial, whose population can and does live in cities, whose people do not mind preying upon other nations and therefore sustain the biggest navy to protect their unnatural commerce, may be economically sound (though ... I question its morality). Free trade for India has proved her curse and held her in bondage (Young India, 8-12-1921; Indian Economics, CWMG 21: 546-47).

The fact is that we are too much obsessed by the glamour of the West: ...

We forget that what may be perfectly good for certain conditions in the West is not necessarily good for certain other, and often diametrically opposite, conditions in the East. Free Trade which may have been good enough for England would certainly have ruined Germany. Germany prospered, only because her thinkers, instead of slavishly following England, took note of the special conditions of their own land, and devised economics suited to them. And both England and Germany will have to revise their policy in economics immediately as the nations that are now being exploited by them come to their own, and refuse to be exploited. The civilization of both is based upon the exploitation of other lands. Let us remember that even if we have desire, we have not the power to exploit any single nation on earth. Hence if we are to live as an independent nation, we must evolve economics and conditions suited to our own growth (Young India, 12-5-1927; Notes: Evils of Machine-milling, CWMG 33: 307-08).

Speaking on the inappropriate nature of education imparted in a government college under the British rule, he also referred to the subject of economics being specific to conditions in each country:

The economics taught there is inadequate. If you are inquisitive, you will find that the economics taught in German, American or French languages differs from one another.... Each country has its own science of economics, based on local conditions. It is not right to assume that one country's economics is true for the whole world. Why are the economics taught today ruining India? We do not know Indian economics, we have to discover it (Navajivan, 17-6-1928; Speech at Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, CWMG 36: 395). Western observers hastily argue from Western conditions that what may be true of them must be true of India where conditions are different in so many material respects. Applications of the laws of economics must vary with varying conditions (Young India, 2-7-1931; Superstitions Die Hard, CWMG 47: 89).

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Gitam Journal of Gandhian Studies: Dedicated to Promote Altruism, Peace and Nonviolence (Volume 6)

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Introduction

The term "Gandhian economics" had come into vogue in Mahatma Gandhi's lifetime itself. In recent times, the collapse of the communist order as well as adverse social, environmental, and other long-term effects of the capitalist market economy have led to a growing interest in the alternative of Gandhian economics. However, difficulties do arise in defining Gandhian economic order in terms of traditional academic formats because Mahatma Gandhi was not a theoretician in the accepted sense. His concern was civilization`: what sort of society we are building? Hence, too, his economic thought was intertwined with ethics, politics, and sociology in his integral philosophy of human social order, which itself evolved over half a century of his relentless Experiments with Truth (His autobiography was titled: An Autobiography, or, My Story of Experiments with Truth; CWMG 39 :1).

Further, application of his ideas, though flowing from a set of universal principles, was also rooted in the issues and the situation of his period. Hence, it is essential to carefully extract and systematize the basic framework of his economic order and to analyze its relevance in modern times. This presentation is an effort in the same direction.

Western/Modern Economics vs Gandhian Economics

While modern Western thinkers, liberal or socialist, such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx and J.M. Keynes were preoccupied with production of "wealth", Gandhian economic thought has been taken up with harmonious "good" and "welfare" of the individual and thereby of the society. While the Western thinker tried to resolve the problems of the industrial economies in their time, which were being fed by exploitation of the Third World and of earth's finite resources and which had led to world wars, Gandhian philosophy challenged the basic presuppositions of both capitalism and socialism (Marxism), and evolved directive strategies in order to achieve a nonviolent, egalitarian, and sustainable socio-economic order. He could not be ethically neutral nor accept the thesis of the "economic man". He was acutely conscious of the grinding poverty in India and exploitation of: masses by foreign and national elites and of villages by cities, and of natural resources. His primary concern was, how, without exploiting others and nature, to fight poverty, inequality, and violence.

The emphasis on the moral/ethical values does not make Gandhian political economy utopian. He gives concepts, goals, and postulates similar to the "equilibria" in traditional economic theory. He does set ideals of perfectibility, likening these to Euclid's lines, while dealing with issues of the real world, but his Truth is relative, existential, and experiential, not dogmatic. His solutions, being qualified by the situation and knowledge, are open to change:

In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. ... I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop at the dissolution of the flesh. - Harijan, 29-4-1933; Notes: Inconsistencies?, CWMG 55: 61

Gandhian Economics: Sources, Ethics, Objectives

Gandhi did comment on Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and did study Marx's Das Kapital, but apparently not very much else of the academic political economists. Earlier, in John Ruskin's Unto This Last he had found a deep reflection of his own ideas, and he paraphrased it into Gujarati as Sarvodaya (welfare of all). He wrote: "In a general way on economics I liked Ruskin's Unto This Last" (Letter to Sumangal Prakash, 24-1-1931; CWMG 92: 240).

Gandhi insisted that economics of a country or people must be related to its specific conditions. While defending his concept of swadeshi against government-sponsored criticism, he commented on his understanding of nature of economics thus:

Even though I am a layman, I do not make bold to say that the so-called laws laid down in books on economics are not immutable like the laws of Medes and Persians, nor are they universal. The economics of England are different from those of Germany. Germany enriched herself by bounty-fed beet sugar. England enriched herself by exploiting foreign markets. What was possible for a compact area is not possible for an area 1900 miles long and 1500 broad. The economics of a nation are determined by its climatic, geological and temperamental conditions. The Indian conditions are different from the English in all these essentials. What is meat for England is in many cases poison for India. Beef tea in the English climate may be good; it is poison for the hot climate of religious India. Fiery whisky in the north of British Isles may be a necessity; it renders an Indian unfit for work or society. Fur coats in Scotland are indispensable; they will be an intolerable burden in India. Free trade for a country which has become industrial, whose population can and does live in cities, whose people do not mind preying upon other nations and therefore sustain the biggest navy to protect their unnatural commerce, may be economically sound (though ... I question its morality). Free trade for India has proved her curse and held her in bondage (Young India, 8-12-1921; Indian Economics, CWMG 21: 546-47).

The fact is that we are too much obsessed by the glamour of the West: ...

We forget that what may be perfectly good for certain conditions in the West is not necessarily good for certain other, and often diametrically opposite, conditions in the East. Free Trade which may have been good enough for England would certainly have ruined Germany. Germany prospered, only because her thinkers, instead of slavishly following England, took note of the special conditions of their own land, and devised economics suited to them. And both England and Germany will have to revise their policy in economics immediately as the nations that are now being exploited by them come to their own, and refuse to be exploited. The civilization of both is based upon the exploitation of other lands. Let us remember that even if we have desire, we have not the power to exploit any single nation on earth. Hence if we are to live as an independent nation, we must evolve economics and conditions suited to our own growth (Young India, 12-5-1927; Notes: Evils of Machine-milling, CWMG 33: 307-08).

Speaking on the inappropriate nature of education imparted in a government college under the British rule, he also referred to the subject of economics being specific to conditions in each country:

The economics taught there is inadequate. If you are inquisitive, you will find that the economics taught in German, American or French languages differs from one another.... Each country has its own science of economics, based on local conditions. It is not right to assume that one country's economics is true for the whole world. Why are the economics taught today ruining India? We do not know Indian economics, we have to discover it (Navajivan, 17-6-1928; Speech at Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, CWMG 36: 395). Western observers hastily argue from Western conditions that what may be true of them must be true of India where conditions are different in so many material respects. Applications of the laws of economics must vary with varying conditions (Young India, 2-7-1931; Superstitions Die Hard, CWMG 47: 89).

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