God is in the market Sauvik Chakraverti The Times of India 1 Jun, 2007
Markets, cities, civilisation — it is in this order that primitive man made the slow ascent to where he is today, poised on the verge of globalisation; poised to achieve universal prosperity and abundance. What most economists fail to note is that this ascent of man has been accompanied by a secular morality. In the city market, homo economicus is a ‘rule-following animal’. He obtains desired objects by following learnt rules that have evolved slowly over millennia. These are the rules of just conduct that enable strangers to gainfully trade with each other. The word ‘strangers’ is important to note, because collectivists conjure up a fictional entity called ‘society’. In reality, man ceased living in a tribe as soon as he settled into civic life. Life in the tribe is among known faces, following a leader towards known ends, while life in a city is among strangers. Further, there is no leader to follow in the city; instead, one makes economic achievements guided by one’s own, individual knowledge. Looking deeper, we also notice that in a civilisation of free trading cities, there cannot be any agreement on ends; the only agreement possible is on the means, and it is these means that are permissible under the rules of just conduct inherited from the past. Collectivism, therefore, is a product of primitive minds, and appeals to primitive minds in turn. Collectivists are the real ‘scheduled tribes’. They alone slavishly follow leaders, who ‘share the kill’. Liberalism is methodological individualism. The rules of just conduct merely forbid certain actions as unjust. It is not true that these rules protect private interests totally: indeed, the success of the game depends upon many private interests getting regularly frustrated; business failures are common, and no one is guaranteed success. The great game of trade is ultimately a game, one that requires skill, it is true, but also one in which chance plays a major part. The alert entrepreneur, the smart shopper, the clever investor — these are the ones who try and seize opportunities that present themselves to their knowledge. The collectivist notion of ‘equal opportunity’ goes against the very rationale of the game. Following the rules of just conduct in the marketplace assures the individual of just one benefit: and that is, no legitimate expectation will be let down by those he trades with. In practical terms, the citizen is assured stability of possessions or property; the performance of promises or contracts; and restitution for damages or torts. He inhabits a protected domain from which to deal with strangers, who are also similarly protected (and constrained). This is liberty under law. It is the law that arose in society, based on the rules that members of that society willingly follow. Roman law and English common law were both based on such notions of law (as distinct from legislation). Such law is not made; it is found. Each and every religion in India is based on this secular morality. Hindus have shubh laabh. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said ‘he who makes money pleases Allah’. Parsees are entirely city people, living off market exchanges, and their surnames indicate specialisation in the urban division of labour, which is why they are a rich community. Sikhs were globalising long before globalisation. Non-theistic Jains are non-violent because they believe in peaceful trade. And if we look at the Tibetan Buddhists, their success in street markets selling woollen sweaters is truly remarkable. There is no religion that forbids us from gainful exchanges in the market, among strangers. God lives in city markets. Hence, the ubiquitous ‘holy city’. If India is to achieve this secular morality, she needs to shed both collectivism as well as Hindutva. Collectivism is based on immoral precepts (like nationalisation). Nehruvian secularism failed because it was not moral: where profits are discouraged, bribery results. Hindutva is fascistic, majoritarian and illiberal. In the globalising world, success will go to those civilisations that understand the world of strangers and treat these strangers under the same laws. We will never inherit this world with Hindutva.