Breaking Free Of Nehru

Even in the modern day India, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru are considered as “Gods”. Any attempt to criticize them is met by denial and hatred. I remember that years back, when I made a case against the socialist policies of Nehru in my college hostel, every one of them present there turned emotional. They argued that India is a poor country, and hence need intelligent planning, to which Nehru made significant contributions. Their response was similar to what you would get from sulky children when you point out that their parents could be wrong. “Breaking Free of Nehru”, by Sanjeev Sabhlok, a resigned IAS officer, flies in the face of such an attitude. Sabhlok is one of the very few Indian authors I have read who has a reasonably good understanding of Free Market Economics. He points out with extreme clarity and precision that the legacy of Nehruvian Socialism has done incalculable harm to India.

The author begins by clearly stating that this is not a book about blaming Nehru. He doesn’t question the allegedly “good” motives of Nehru, and is of the opinion that he was an honorable man. It is not the ends Nehru had in mind he questions, but the means he used to achieve them. He takes for granted that not many would argue against helping the poor. Using violent coercive means to achieve this end, however, produces the exact opposite result. This should be obvious. Nothing good was ever done through coercive means.

Sabhlok, who served the Indian Government for eighteen years, knows from his own experience that such policies breed corruption, poverty and inefficiency. He remembers an IAS officer who joined with him in 1982 saying that his “sole objective in joining the service was to make money”. He was once asked by a young man whether he moved to the Assam cadre from Haryana cadre as more money is to be made in Assam. In all the years he served the Indian Government, he didn’t come across a single officer who even compares with the public officials he met in Australia, where he works now. I don’t have to quote extensively from his work. Everyone knows these facts.

I find it really sad that Sabhlok’s attempt to set up a liberal political party in India didn’t succeed. India badly needs politicians who have studied political economy from a Classical and Austrian point of view. India, needless to mention, has never known the concept of liberty. Even when our freedom fighters and other politicians used words like “freedom”, they never clearly understood what it really means. A hampered market economy was the intellectual default. This wouldn’t have happened if people who know better had spoken up for the cause of Individual liberty. And that precisely is what books like “Breaking Free of Nehru” do.

I have, however, several differences with the book. I would like to mention it here. I don’t think Nehru’s motives were good. I think we should be really careful when branding the motives of a person as good, when the end result is chaos. Good-By what standard? We should remember the words of Ayn Rand-“Do not ever say that desire to do good by force is a good motive. Neither stupidity, nor power lust is a good motive”.

The author says that, in India, there was forceful expropriation of property and land in the manner of Robin Hood. Several thinkers, including Ayn Rand and her followers, have made this mistake. Robin Hood, in my opinion, was actually a good guy. I shall quote the philosopher Tibor Machan: “Often it is Robin Hood who is held up as the role model for justifying taxation: Didn’t he “steal” from the rich to “give” to the poor? Well, not, not really. In the original version of the legend, Robin Hood did just the opposite: He stole from those who stole from the poor and returned the loot to the rightful owners. In those days the upper classes, from the king to all his cronies, routinely engaged in extortion. They disguised this, however, with the phony claim that everything belongs to the king and his cronies. Yes, monarchs and those who rationalized monarchy spun this fantasy and managed to sell it to the people that they where the rightful owners “of the realm,” that they had a “divine right” to rule us. This way when the bulk of the country went to work on the farm or wherever, they had to pay “rent” to the monarch and his cronies.”

Like the author, I don’t think that progressive taxation is compatible with Capitalism. It is true that marginal utility of money decreases with increase in wealth, and a rich person cares far less for a thousand Rupees than a poor person. However, this doesn’t contradict my position. There is a limitless need for wealth. The total utility of the wealth a person has should go on increasing so long as wealth has any positive marginal utility to him. There is a need for more wealth so long as additional wealth has any marginal utility. Progressive taxation would only undermine savings and capital accumulation. Taxation is completely incompatible with Capitalism. There is also the Inherent immorality of taxing Peter to pay Paul.

There are some statements in the book, which libertarians like me can’t agree with. Freedom, the author says, is good, and anarchy is bad. I can’t disagree more. Anarchy is the logical end result of total freedom. Anarchy and Capitalism are fully compatible. There is no justification for a bunch of robbers to take money forcefully from you and providing you services, forbidding that you buy from others. All services, including defense and security services could be provided by private individuals. Government is in fact a criminal organization which robs murders and drafts the citizens in a particular geographical area.

The author makes a case for Government regulations quoting an example of a coal miner working under dangerous conditions. However, it is not at all evident that there is a need for a Government to ensure safety for the worker. In case a worker dies in a free society, the Insurance Company of the employer would have to compensate the employee’s family. Insurance companies, hence, would have a policy to make sure that its customers ensure safe working conditions, as their profits would depend on it.

Another point where I disagree with Sabhlok is on social security and public funded education. We libertarians don’t want the poor to starve or children to go without education. Quite the contrary! We believe that the society would deal with these issues in a better manner in the absence of Government coercion. Under Capitalism, people who deserve such aid would not be many and could easily be taken care of by private organizations and voluntary charity.

All said, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Individual liberty in an Indian context. Also visit his Freedom Team Of India website, and consider joining the Freedom team.

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