In a talk peppered with personal anecdotes and humour, Dr Arthur C Brooks, president of the American Enterprises Institute (AEI), an influential Washington-based public policy think-tank, elaborated the role of democratic capitalism in lifting 20 billion people out of poverty. He was hosted by the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) for a talk on ‘Abundance without Attachment: The Formula for a Good Life’. Dr Brooks said that several studies state that the number of people earning less than a dollar a day has come down by 80 per cent since the 1980s. The world is getting less poor, thanks to democratic capitalism and free enterprise. The popular conception among Americans that poverty has increased in the US is fundamentally wrong and that statistics suggest the antithesis to be true. “I last visited India in 1983. Today, it’s a different world, not rich but definitely a better place,” he added.
The speaker pointed up five elements that lowered poverty, making the world more prosperous and people richer – globalisation, free trade, property rights, rule of law and culture of entrepreneurship. There is a common belief that capitalism though good for the economy is not good for the soul.
“I set out in search of an answer to the question of capitalism destroying the soul. My quest ended at the Akshardham Temple in Delhi, where I met Gyan Muni, the member of a spiritual sect that refused to even touch currency.” Quoting the saint, who had relinquished a life of prosperity in the US to join the sect, Dr Brooks said that the problem is not money but the attachment to money. While we should be using things, loving people and worshipping God, we are reduced to loving things, using people and, worshipping ourselves.
Dr Brooks stressed on the futility of rebelling against capitalism per se in today’s world. Capitalism is not a perfect idea but rooting it in basic human qualities of brotherhood and solidarity is our only hope of bringing everybody out of poverty. The speaker noted that the critics of free enterprise are often people with an abundance of wealth, whereas democratic capitalism empowered the poor. Citing an example of Kerala, he said that nearly 8 per cent of the state’s population lived abroad and contributed to one-third of its GDSP. “Getting money from the government will not eradicate poverty but training them to be enterprising individuals and earn money, will,” he added.
Deliberating on pursuing democratic capitalism without losing ‘self’, Dr Brooks highlighted two practices. Giving away the things that you are most attached to and becoming warriors of detachment; and investing not in things but in experiences with people you love. There are hundreds of studies to corroborate that people who chose experiences over materialistic pleasures wound up happier. This will lead to true abundance without attachment, he concluded.
An interactive session moderated by Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the AEI, followed. Audience including senior citizens and students participated. One of the questions posed to the speaker was on the backlash against globalisation across the world.
“When the world opened up and became more prosperous, it did not help everybody. For instance, Japan became the richest countries post Second World War, thanks to globalisation. The Americans blamed loss of jobs on capitalism and globalisation but, in reality, it reflects the failure of the education system practiced in the US,” he replied.
Dr Brooks hit a funny note when he said how he thought that the Indians were a happier people than those in the West, say Spaniards, and credited happiness to four accounts – faith, family, friends and work. He had another admiring comment on India for sharing the most number of hard-working, talented and successful people with the world. He also noted that at this stage of development, the focus should be on how many people India can lift up than on pulling down five people with a private jet.
Delivering the vote of thanks, Dr D Dhanuraj (Chairman, CPPR) said that Kerala is a state where socialist ideologies dominate the popular discourse and it is time we allowed different schools of thought. Former Raw Chief P K Hormis Tharakan (Adviser, CPPR), Professor K V Thomas (Senior Fellow, CPPR), and Professor (Retired) K C Abraham (Academic Adviser, CPPR) were also present.
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