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‘Free market economies have returned to old class system’

Michael Sandel, the author of What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, spoke at a Jaipur Literature Festival session, Has Globalism Failed? Markets, Morals, and the Dictatorship of Reason.

books Updated: Jan 21, 2014 21:08 IST
Hilal Mir
Hilal Mir
Hindustan Times
michael sandel,jaipur literature festival,jaipur litfest

An economist, who is a member of the Congress party and now a minister, had furiously defended free market economy when I had warned about the dangers of American-style globalisation way back in 2001, said Michael Sandel, who teaches political philosophy at Harvard.

“The minister said ‘this is a disaster, you are coming from Harvard to give us this nuanced view of globalisation…we can’t afford such nuances…what we need is market reforms in order to get rid of the heavy-handedness of the state, unaccountable bureaucracy and corruption’,” Sandel revealed.

“This is what he (the minister) said, ‘and you come here giving this ambivalent message about market reforms and free trade, free markets and opening of capital markets. That may be fine for a Harvard seminar but that is going to leave unnecessary strain on India,’” said Sandel, the author of What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.

At a

Jaipur Literature Festival

session, Has Globalism Failed? Markets, Morals, and the Dictatorship of Reason, Sandel was in dialogue with John Ralston Saul, another critic of unbridled, market-driven global capitalism.

“The minister has actually revised his views now,” he said.

Prof Sandel had reportedly told a Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) seminar in 2001 that empirical evidence has shown there is little, if any, correlation between the lowering of trade barriers and average per capita growth of a country.

Saul is credited with predicting the recent economic collapse in an article “The Collapse of Globalism and the Rebirth of Nationalism” he had written for Harper’s magazine in 2004.

He said, potentially, India can free markets to unshackle bureaucratic stranglehold, unlike in some western countries where “aristocratic” models of economy have got entrenched.

But, he cautioned, there was no indication the Indian economy was going in that direction.

Giving example of how some agricultural models, which were junked in the West decades ago and adopted in some parts of India, failed disastrously and led to farmers’ suicides, he cautioned about the dangers of emulating the single model of globalisation.

Saul traced the ills of the global capitalism to the period from 1970 onwards. The period, which was supposed to be about increased competition among markets, actually was about a return to the old-fashioned class system, he said.

“If you look at how things are structured now, United States, Canada and India, all have gone back to a class system. United States has an aristocracy…If you have as much money and if you keep it for three generations and you have these privileges, it is called an aristocracy,” Saul said.

Both experts said the rational foundation of the market-driven economics needs a fundamental overhaul. While Saul said economics has become an imperial subject, which doesn’t merely concern itself with trade deficits but “the number of children a couple ought to have, Sandel pointed to the “spurious idea” that free market gives people a sense of freedom.

First Published: Jan 21, 2014 21:03 IST