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Home > Tamil Digital Renaissance > The Market Economy, Globalisation & Tamil Culture
- published with the author's permission -
There is a need to understand the impact of the market economy on our language and culture in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere. We cannot protect Tamil unless we understand the economic logic of the so-called 'development' that the West seeks to sell to us.
That economic logic begins from the concept and ideology of the market. Economics is linked to exchange (irrespective of what is exchanged). Exchange is one of the most important economic activities. Many have the impression that the market is a neutral institution governed by fairness and equity. We know from experience that this is not true.
If we look, closely and critically at the way the market and the economy in general works we will see the fallacy in the economic model that countries, both in the North and in the South are following today. This critical outlook is crucial, particularly at this juncture, when market capitalism is viewed by countries as the best possible system for the entire humanity. This critical outlook is crucial if we are to identify alternative models that will not only protect our environment but also prevent the annihilation and evaporation of our cultures.
The market, a social institution, also has an ideology. This (ideology) can be traced back to the period of the emergence of the Money-Commodity-Money form of exchange. In Europe when wealth was not the basis of social esteem, the wealthy merchants who came from the lower ranks sought recognition in society by propagating the view that exchange and trade were honourable and socially beneficial. Subsequently the merchants received support from a new ruling class (Hill C. 1969).
The ideology of the market became the national ideology. Adam Smith, the 'guru' of classical economists, a century later provided respectability by linking exchange and the market to the natural order of society. Using the market ideology, capitalism emerged first in Britain and then in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The capitalist economy is based on exchange and the accumulation of exchange value is its organising principle. Because of this, expansion becomes an inherent feature of it. In its quest for expansion and commoditisation, the capitalist economy has to undergo inward as well as outward growth. In the process of creating wealth, it also creates huge economic disparities (among people and between countries), encourages exploitation (including children and nature), and seeks to universalise cultures (by projecting the Western way of life as the best model to follow), etc.
On the exploitation of nature, the eminent Indian Economist C.T. Kurien wrote:
".....capital does not spare nature...it reaches out to nature bit by bit. Every tree will be converted into timber that can be sold to meet some need; every animal will be converted into meat to be eaten or hide to be displayed. Even water will be processed and 'purified', poured into bottles to be sold as drink for civilised people!"
In generic terms it is correct to say that modern society has accumulated a lot of wealth compared to the primitive societies of our ancestors. But one should also bear in mind that wealth does not come from nothing and not without consequences. Something has to be given up to earn it - and that leaves its negative impact on people as well as on the earth. The market economy while creating enormous wealth on the one side, increases misery on the other side. Absolute poverty exists and increases amidst plenty.
Available evidence also suggests that growth does not eliminate poverty and deprivation. This is not a left wing propaganda but the conclusion of one of the aggressive proponents and promoters of the liberal global market, the World Bank! Empirical evidence exposes the impact of human greed (particularly of the so-called civilised societies) and over-exploitation of nature - and the strides of nations towards a global ecocracy.
The crux of the matter is that exchange is always dominated by the powerful and therefore it is more favourable to them since they can determine the terms and conditions of that exchange/trade. This is one of the key reasons for the poor and poor nations becoming vulnerable, losing their assets and becoming indebted. For example, if we compare countries against the real per capita income relative to the United States between 1966 and 1990 some countries have grown while many have not.
|Name of country||Income as % of U.S. income - 1966||Income as % of U.S. income - 1990|
(Source: IBRD/The World Bank, 1998)
India is among the slow growers. Among the fifteen countries included in the list, only four are fast growers. More than in the past, market capitalism today interprets welfare and development as the integration of local cultures into the national and international capitalist market. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of 'socialist' governments everywhere, systematic efforts are under way for the imposition of market capitalism as the global ideology. Powerful nations even give open expression to their ideological agenda. For example, an American official once said,
"...we must also counter, both in the UN and with the framework of the North-South dialogue, any discussion of global problems which questions the validity of the free market and free enterprise in countries of the Third World" (Full Text of the Kirpatrick Plan, Congressional Record, The Senate, 1984).
While we may take many initiatives towards promoting Tamil, we should also oppose such ideological violence and the attempt to globalise cultures and commoditise our lives. This is crucial to protect Tamil in the years to come.