Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pankaj Mishra's Confused Essay

Bloomberg Columnist Pankaj Mishra's Essay has been making rounds. Those who 'hate' America and traditional West, jump to this essay. When I read it, I however found it completely confusing and  much less useful piece of punditry. Here are few basic problems I see in his line of argumentation:

1. Let us keep aside the economic system for a while, we will get back to it. So in personal life and in a political system - what alternative framework is possible apart from what has been practiced in most Western Countries and India? Can we envisage a future where there are no 'personal freedoms' as well as no directly elected representation and still a society is peaceful and prosperous at large? What such a system would look like? Does Pankaj Mishra take any pains to articulate a vision here? Is there any viable alternative unless one opts for caste based system like India's past or hierarchical system like legacy Chinese Civilization? Which 'free people' in today's world are ready to accept that? What difference in worldview one can detect if Pankaj talks to a teenager in Delhi, Mumbai or in San Francisco, New York or Austin? Whether it is Western model or something else, it does not matter since the fact is more and more humans want to make their own decisions and want to enjoy their freedoms. Everything else is irrelevant.

2. What Pankaj is conveniently forgetting is West is not 'all full' of chest thumping Conservatives like Robert Kagan or Dick Chenney or Sarah Palin. Majority of Americans do not wake up in the morning thinking 'how exceptional their country is' or 'how to retain that shinny city on the hill'. For majority Americans the day starts by plotting how to make living and how to grow their children for a better life. This is no difference in that than an Indian Family or a Chinese Family. In that sense, Pankaj Mishra's 'straw man as the one thumping superiority of so-called Western Civilization' is simply a figment of imagination convenient to advocate his inert 'anti-Americanism' or 'too much pre-occupation' with what happens in those Western Countries while ignoring what happens in China, India and rest of the world. 

3. Now about Economics and Political Economy. A simple question - what answer does Pankaj Mishra have to the core contradictions in contemporary Capitalism pointed by Thomas Picketty in Capital? Why does he think Indian or Chinese Capitalism is immune to the menacing 'inequality' which is engulfing American Capitalism? How does Mishra think the struggles of American Society are going to be any different than Indian and Chinese Societies when they all face the same multi-pronged octopus called Global Capitalism? This whole discussion of superiority of Western Civilization is irrelevant when both Western and non-Western Economies have to fight the same problems - dramatic inequality induced by the Global Capitalism. Ironically it is the 'Flat World' which brings an American Labor on the same footing as that of Indian or Chinese Labor; making all of them to face same challenges of insecure wage earning potential as Global Capital goes from shores to shores in finding the minimum cost. 

4. Finally, what encouraging news one sees in today's non-Western autocrats like Turkey's new Sultan or in Vladimir Putin who is desperately re-constituting Russian Empire or even in Chinese boss Xi Jinping who is simply not ready to relinquish monopoly of Communist Party? None are any encouraging, all are fatally flawed and almost sure not to result in any kind of sustainable non-Western World View. Stated differently, there is no working, growing and sustainable 'life organizing philosophy' in existence apart from what Western nations have followed so far. One's un-reasoned animosity against America cannot be any substitute for facts on ground and for logic.

Global power balance for sure is shifting from America and Europe to Asia, but that does not mean we are talking any different models here. Jury on China is out. One has to think hard how a society would flourish in an 'intellectual property dominated digital economy' when piracy is so rampant in China and there is no sufficient protection for an individual's creations in Chinese System. It is all up hill for China going forward if it wants to make fundamental contributions to tomorrow's IP dominated industries. And as for India, Mishra will find it harder and harder to distinguish it from USA as India embraces the same Capitalism which has been at works in USA. Both societies face same issues, probably lot more compounded in India's case considering economic, socio-political, religious and cultural diversity it's Democracy must serve. There is no substitute to what India already practices here - elected democracy at all levels of governance with free media, full individual freedom and independent judiciary.

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