The relevance of Gandhi in the capitalism debate
Monday, January 28, 2013
“The world has enough for everyone’s needs, but not everyone’s greed,” Mahatma Gandhi said in what is now one of his best-known quotes. Its ubiquity is for good reason. Our ’must-have, must-buy’ economy is eating into the planet’s resources like never before, something Gandhi foresaw three-quarters of a century ago. He also warned of the dangers of other countries taking to western industrialism.
Despite his global impact as a moral philosopher, asking what Gandhi would do is not a question many economists care to ask. Instead, the man known as ’Bapu’ (father) in his homeland is regularly written off as something of a retrograde Luddite and idealist. After all, this was the man who opposed mass production and called on his supporters to weave their own cotton clothes.
Rajni Bakshi is one of a growing band of modern-minded, Gandhian intellectuals calling for a change of view. A prominent Indian writer and journalist and Gandhi peace fellow at Gateway House, she insists Gandhi’s thinking has a “very real place” in today’s debates about capitalism.
With a few caveats, win-win models of business – very much in vogue in sustainability circles – could have come from Gandhi’s mouth, Bakshi argues. But instead his word would have been “sarvodaya”, which loosely translates as “welfare for all”.
“Gandhi visualises a very creative dynamic between the individual and collective wellbeing. He sees the two as being in sync. Nobody should be asked to pay the price for the majority to benefit,” Bakshi says.
The idea counters widespread capitalist notions about individual sacrifice for the greater good. As Bakshi puts it: “In a place like India, people affected by large-scale industrial projects like mining are told that they must pay the price for the nation to progress … Gandhi fundamentally rejected this as immoral.”