Original Thinking

Thirty years ago, a decade after the triumphant release of The Limits to Growth, Orio Giarini submitted to the Club of Rome a report entitled Dialogue on Wealth and Welfare. In it he called for a re-examination of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in the present day context and challenged essential premises of modern economics, including the law of equilibrium between supply and demand. Smith was a moral philosopher. His studies were world-shaking. When his famous book was originally published, the Viceroy of India read it and was struck by its vision. The book organised thoughts that were not previously even observed with interest. Since then it has remained a fundamental basis for thinking in economics. Smith saw that Trade creates wealth and that division of labour is a creative strategy in a productive process. He did not fail to perceive a single social phenomenon of that period which had an impact on human welfare. This was a period in which what we now term service sector was very rudimentary. Smith considered most services insignificant economically. Now, Service Economy is a greater field of human productivity than industry and the market. The market brings human individuals together and creates a plane of social productivity, even as land in the previous period became a field that produced food grains. It is market that created and sustained Money.
Money is a vibrant social power. An economist in Brussels recently declared that economists do not have the mental capacity to understand Money. Money is not only a thing in itself. It is a great Power. In his second report to the Club of Rome, The Limits to Certainty, Orio Giarini focused attention on the increasingly significant role of Service Economy, challenging traditional monetary notions of value, cost and price and stressing the importance of utilization time and utilization value. He has thus revolutionized economic thinking. Economics is no mere academic subject confined to the factory or market, but an infinite field of human welfare and well-being. It is true that the world is usually indifferent to original philosophers. How many could really appreciate the original contributions of Socrates, Aristotle and Newton at the time they conceived their original ideas? Rather it is those who command power and great wealth that readily catch the attention of the public. Original thinkers may be known only to their immediate circle of friends and followers, not to the world at large. When original thinkers such as Giarini present perspectives that can solve acute problems, we cannot afford to neglect their consideration. His thought warrants such serious examination by economists today.
Nuclear weaponry is another field in which the problem persists. Initial progress has been made by decommissioning and dismantling tens of thousands of weapons, but weapons technology continues to proliferate and the threat of accidental or intentional use remains very real. So too, the American Civil War was fought to abolish slavery. The war was won. Slavery was abolished in law, yet it persisted in practice for another hundred years. India won freedom, but the Indian administration, her official language, her entire way of life for 60 years remained British. She grows now with dynamism in another direction towards the lifestyle of the USA. That is the idea of Freedom! It raises a question. Whether it is India or America, is it desirable to activate the attitudes you have fought against for so long, fought against with vehemence? The masses may behave that way. Can the elite espouse the same attitude? In that case, can we not hope to abolish weapons? The presiding powers are not final. There is always a higher authority.
Political and social reform movements gather strength gradually. In the initial period, those who lead the movement are only aware of the hurdles and opposition that they face, not the strength gathering imperceptibly in the background. Like the Arab Spring in Egypt, new political movements or parties are sometimes surprised by the wide support they garner. This is because the support was growing subconsciously. Segregation that survived a hundred years after the Civil War was suddenly swept away in half a dozen years after a black woman in Alabama named Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus. Her simple act of protest had the power to launch the Civil Rights Movement because she represented a wide public opinion that was not yet perceived. It was the right time and her move, though unconscious, was a right one. A handful of salt set in motion Indian Freedom when Gandhi launched the Salt Satyagraha in 1930. In an unprecedented vote of total public support, the entire nation rose as one Man. The present movement in India to rid the nation of corruption is an example of a movement that developed very gradually and then suddenly sprung to life with formidable intensity.
The world is ripe for a similar dramatic breakthrough in the evolution of global governance. It awaits an awakening call for unity to transform the life of humanity from nationalistic competition to truly global cooperation. Old conceptions of national sovereignty are waning. The hypocrisy of national self-interest pursued and national power asserted in the name of international democracy are exposed. The preparedness for unity is gathering strength beneath the surface unconsciously. It expresses most vividly in the universal endorsement of human rights and rapid advances in international law. In this altered environment, an unambiguous declaration by the World Court that nuclear weapons constitute a crime against humanity can lead rapidly to total and complete global abolition of this pernicious threat to human dignity.
We see many progressive developments in society, such as growth of knowledge, growing humanitarian sympathy and collective organized efforts to extend protection for people in need. In the United States a lot of attention is given to the rights of women and children and for the safety and welfare of the disabled. Europe has excelled in universalizing access to health care and support for the aged. The idea of Insurance is a brilliant concept that gave rise to a remarkable social invention. Two centuries after insurance was born, it became increasingly common for an Englishman to insure his life as soon as he got married as protection for his wife and children in the event of his premature demise. Those were times in which the public was largely insensitive to the suffering of others, imprisoning debtors, ill-treating the disabled, and compelling orphaned children to forced labor. It was a period when strength was respected, weakness frowned upon. Yet in the very midst of such insensitivity, the new institution of insurance arose to provide protection to the vulnerable. It is a form of institutionalized collective self-giving. Viewed thus, insurance is a civilizing force without comparison. Five percent of global GDP is now generated by the insurance industry. In some countries, it even touches 7%.
Everywhere we look, we find great wisdom mixed with persistent folly. Today we see the phenomenon of internet services offered free of charge. This tendency is a confirmation of the principle that the knowledge gathered by individuals in the society belongs to the society as a whole and therefore the benefits of that knowledge should also go to every member of the society. Indeed, this only reflects the underlying reality that every new achievement is an achievement of the collective based on the cumulative achievements of all humanity in the past. At the same time, we see a direct repudiation of this principle in the mindless adoption of every new technology leading to the growing problem of unemployment. The dynamism of capitalism is based on selfish efficiency and selfish greed. Speculation, its great ‘achievement’, is ruining the economy.
While we observe so many advances in thought, we have also seen the ‘wisdom’ that led to the production of 70,000 nuclear warheads. In retrospect, it is blatantly and almost inconceivably irrational. At a time when global governance is so essential, we find the UN hampered and stifled by the relic of veto power. In 1945, the veto was necessary to keep the balance in the UN, not after the demise of the Cold War. A wrong system destroyed from inside is the height of human wisdom. More than two millennia ago Emperor Ashoka found it right to eschew violence. In 1990 Gorbachev did it in the USSR, opened up apertures of self-destruction from inside the monolithic police state. So too, we see common sense thrown to the winds in the pollution of the environment. It was the Club of Rome that alerted the world in 1972 and slowed the pace of ruin. Everywhere we find this strange combination of progressive idealism and atavistic anachronism. The unwillingness to fully shed what is destructive or obsolete is at the root of all problems. Sri Aurobindo called it “the taste of Ignorance.”
In a normal and rational social climate we would expect knowledge to keep on growing and wisdom to be more and more in evidence. Giarini submitted several reports to the Club of Rome which had the immediate capacity to eliminate financial crises, and carried the long term potential of organizing economics on a wider basis for human security and welfare. His thought has not received the attention it deserves. Complementary currency was successfully introduced in Wörgl, Austria during the Great Depression with dramatic results. It eliminated 25% unemployment and revived economic growth in a few months. Its underlying principle is a creative social dynamism. Not only was the experiment stopped, but, in spite of more than 2000 other successful experiments around the world, its basis has not been fully recognized till now.
We also find another strange expression of remarkable progress existing side by side with persistent ignorance. In one Indian village, land value rose sky high to reach $30,000 per acre. A farmer who had just sold his land came to the post office to enquire about making a cash deposit. The post master asked him what rate he had sold it for. Bang came the reply, “$500 per acre”. How do we understand this phenomenon? In another Indian village a reporter heard that five people in the same house were blind. At the house he learnt that they had not even heard about the possibility of cataract operation. In that part of the state, there was an eye hospital conducting free operations. The founder of the hospital had been awarded the Magsaysay Award for completing a million operations, yet the blind family was not even aware of the possibility of cure.
Such incidents exhibit the continued prevalence of appalling ignorance and sense of helplessness in the midst of abundant knowledge and unprecedented social power. Thousands of instances can be found in every country all over the world, not just in India. American researchers in the 1980s were surprised to discover through surveys that more than half of the respondents believed that the U.S.A fought against the Soviet Union in the 2nd World War. Noted British historian Paul Johnson was surprised to discover that British Air Force officers in the 1990s had never heard of the Blitz, Germany’s strategic bombing of London in 1940! Those who want to expedite nuclear disarmament and end financial crisis in the world cannot afford the luxury of such an attitude. Solutions are not wanting, but openness to new ideas is. When the FAO gave a grim warning about impending food crisis in India in the 1960s, the then central agricultural minister resolved to make the country self-sufficient in food production within five years and India achieved it by launching the Green Revolution. When people bravely and resolutely confront a danger, they see that the danger retreats as quickly as it came. When England chose to resist the invading Nazi invasion to the last man, it was Germany that was forced to abandon the attack within a matter of months, compelling Hitler to turn his attention eastward. Hitler had badly underestimated the determination of the English to fight vigorously to preserve their freedom. Churchill made a similar error when he expected Soviet Russia to collapse in a few weeks under the German onslaught. It was Lord Mountbatten who insisted that the Russians would prevail because they were fighting for their freedom.
Foolish behavior can be expected among the truly ignorant. There is an old story about ten men who crossed a river and then stopped to ensure they had all crossed safely. Each man counted the group and found only nine members were present, forgetting to include himself in the count. We naturally expect better sense from educated informed experts, but few have the wisdom to speak only what they know for sure. Martin Luther called Copernicus a fool and an upstart astrologer for positing his theory of the heliocentric universe. Thomas Watson of IBM saw no future for computers. Keynes was a problem-solving genius, but focused attention on secondary causes rather than fundamental principles, an error that prolonged the 1929 crisis and distracts attention from underlying economic premises even today. Yet Russell did not hesitate to venture outside his field of accomplishment as a philosopher to strongly recommend Keynes to all governments.
When those who are responsible for solving the world’s problems are not able to do so, it is better to consult history as to how similar problems were solved earlier, and how grievous errors were committed which complicated situations. When we do so, we find a wide range of creative attitudes have spurred progress and eradicated problems in the past:

1. Pioneers in every field chose to do what no one had previously dared to attempt.
2. Great poets and thinkers fearlessly expressed their own inspirations unmindful of rewards or social recognition.
3. Dynamic individuals applied their minds to create new activities based on new conceptions and new types of organisation.
4. Society created symbolic instruments such as money, which summarise the whole of human experience in one field.
5. People established new types of settlements and communities, real and virtual.
6. Courageous venturers went beyond the fold of existing society physically, vitally, mentally, spiritually to create anew.
7. Creative individuals rose to higher levels of thought to fashion new ideals, values, and avenues of knowledge.
8. Keen observers studied natural phenomena to understand them and, if possible, master them.
9. Leaders gave up valuable possessions such as Power in favour of higher human endeavour.
10. Educators organised their experience to be passed on to future generations to abridge the time and effort required for learning.
11. Radical idealists resorted to violent Revolution to destroy the existing society.
12. Intelligentsia replaced aristocracy as a more informed and progressive system of government.
13. Social innovators founded new types of institutions such as Grameen Bank.
14. Explorers crossed the seas in quest of land or trade.
15. Free thinkers abandoned age-old beliefs, such as conventional religious dogma about the age of the world or position of the earth in the universe.
16. Seers directly discovered God to found new religions.

Though original thinkers and creative innovators have played such a useful role in social development and evolution, society has not been kind to them and more often has been alarmed by their activities than gladdened by them. History also illustrates the usual reception given by conventional society to progressive ideas and initiatives.

1. Pioneers have been mercilessly persecuted.
2. Though Shakespeare is hailed as a genius nowadays, in his own days he was largely ignored by his own countrymen until a Frenchman, Victor Hugo, proclaimed him a genius some 200 years later.
3. Many progressive new activities were ferociously opposed, as Andrew Jackson, the US President, vigorously opposed and closed America’s first central bank.
4. Paper currency, the greatest creation, was regarded with deep suspicion and was refused the status of legal tender.
5. Education was heckled as a luxury for the elite. Even reading was frowned upon by the church during the early Middle Ages.
6. Children knowing more than their parents were regarded as an affront.
7. The rise of achievers in society was opposed tooth and nail.
8. When London was emerging as a great metropolis, it was still looked down upon by the country gentry.
9. The French aristocracy allowed itself to be guillotined in the Revolution rather than willingly change.
10. For centuries the founding of new institutions was opposed.
11. Innovations such as the steam engine were ignored for centuries and then vigorously opposed.
12. The telescope was called the devil’s instrument.
13. Men killed their father or brother for the throne.
14. Crossing the sea once attracted excommunication. Trade was scoffed at.
15. Religion, even when it was blindly superstitious and dogmatically reactionary, was cherished.
16. Venerated saints were unpopular in their hometowns while they lived, and faced various forms of social ostracism.
17. Education was regarded as something unnecessary by land-owning aristocrats and even members of royalty.

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