Bapu Kuti se Bazaar ki aur: ek khoj

Outline of talk by Rajni Bakshi,
Gandhi Jayanti, 2004

Gandhi Peace Foundation

Summary: The future depends on ‘mindful markets’ where the freedom of the bazaar and humane ethics co-exist. Contemporary trends show that Gandhiji was ahead of time. His vision of sarvodaya may well shape the 21st century.

1. Gandhiji’s role as father of our nation is not what brings us here today. We are here to celebrate his still greater gift to humanity – which is the power to expand our imagination and make the impossible look possible. This ‘imaginal’ energy is today flourishing across the world. Let us explore some of this energy in relation to just one question: What is the relation between society and markets, ie. Samaj and bazaar?

2. The market as place, as bazaar, is an ancient and vital mechanism of human society – a meeting place for people and ideas and goods. In this sense market is essentially conversation, an information system. But much of our life, what it means to be human, is not related to the market. Society is that wider, deeper realm within which we both seek higher purpose and grapple with conflicts of interest.

A true democracy depends on the healthy interface between society and markets.

3. We live in a time of ‘market fundamentalism’ which is a world-view that justifies the reduction of more and more of life to the ‘bottom-line’ of monetary profit and defines self-interest in a narrow, constricted manner. Much of the current opposition to globalisation is actually just a rejection of market fundamentalism not markets. . This tussle can be described as ‘Main Street’ vs. ‘Wall Street’ or ‘bazaar’ vs. ‘The Market’.

The key challenge today is this: can the creativity of the bazaar be rescued from corrosive force of market fundamentalism?

4. Let us examine some glimmers of hope about this on the world stage:

i) There is a resurgence of imaginative thinking on monetary reform based on the kind of new economics which Gandhiji inspired and J.C. Kumarappa and E.F.Schumacher carried forward. There are efforts to promote interest-free lending and social venture capital -- i.e. investments in innovative ventures that do promise a monetary return but primarily aim to foster modes of production that are socially just and ecologically sound. There is also the rise of Local Currencies, created by hundreds of communities across five continents. These are complementary, not alternative, currencies which use money as a token of value but not as a store of value. They help to foster dynamism in the local bazaar and act as a buffer against the vagaries of the national and international Market.

ii) Stock markets can play an important productive role but are currently driven largely by market fundamentalism. As a response to this is the trend of Ethical Investments or Socially Responsible Investing in many Western countries. This phenomenon has three dimensions. One, investors who refuse to put their money into particular industries eg. liquor, tobacco, armaments, producers of genetically-modified food, companies that have particularly bad track record of human rights violations and damage to the environment. Two, investors who actively seek out companies working with more ecologically sustainable modes of production. Three, shareholders of major corporations aim to push the management towards greater social and environmental responsibility. For example, Greenpeace has bought shares in Shell and now uses that leverage to push the company to switch to renewable energy. According to one estimate in the USA one out of every seven dollars invested is screened through some ethical filter.

iii) Open Source or Free Software is a revolution unfolding at the heart of the key industry of our times. The fundamental ethos of the Open Source phenomenon is the freedom to cooperate. The word ‘free’ is used here in the same way as ‘freedom of speech’ not ‘free of cost’. Freedom and cooperation are invoked here not as a moral high ground but simply as the methods which ensure optimum creativity and superior outcomes, in this case. Consequently, today the Internet is predominantly run by Open Source software, which is also rapidly being installed on more personal computers. If the promise of this quiet revolution is fulfilled the Information Age could indeed also become the Age of Access -- where the openness of information becomes a powerful tool for effective democracy. Even the partial success of this freedom to cooperate strengthens the struggle for an intellectual property rights regime which simultaneously respects and rewards the labour of innovators while also protecting the bazaar’s need for freedom of information flow.

5. These nascent trends are among a wide range of strivings which show that it might indeed be possible to foster "mindful markets", a term popularized by David Korten, author of The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism. These trends are indirectly a form of Trusteeship -- a value which was central to Gandhiji’s vision and which was widely rejected an being "urealistic". The contemporary trends not only show that Trusteeship is possible but also re-affirm a basic truth which was crystal clear to Gandhiji, that: Profit is a necessity for any business but not its purpose.

6. Please note that India’s two most globally successful companies today, Infosys and Wipro, are led by people who are exploring how Trusteeship can be a living practise. This means much more than sharing wealth with employees and pouring crores of rupees into public purposes. Leaders of these companies are also engaged in devoting their professional skills to make information technology a tool for greater transperancy, accountability and thus democracy.

7. Can these glimmers of hope and promise bloom and actually transform our world so that there is livelihood with dignity for all? The concept of ‘mindful markets’ may seem impossible today. But then, in 1904 the struggle against colonialism looked like a losing, even futile, battle. The idea that love and non-violence can be a political weapon was also once considered ridiculous. The future depends on ‘mindful markets’ where the freedom of the bazaar and humane ethics co-exist.

Contemporary trends show that Gandhiji was ahead of time. His vision of sarvodaya may well shape the 21stcentury.

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