Serial Bus

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Let Them Eat Grass (Or Cake)!

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The inauguration of Obama sparked huge celebrations in the US last Tuesday. For the first time, the sound of the TV on our office floor was turned on so that we may listen to the live broadcast on CNN, rather than just see the captions. Every American is justifiably proud of Obama’s election – amongst other reasons, it increases their self-esteem when they realize that collectively, they were able to exorcise their racist past. However, I don’t think Americans fully realize the significance of what Rick Warren alluded to briefly as the ’44th peaceful transfer of power’.

USA is unarguably the most successful nation of the 20th century. Their thriving democracy has been an engine of social, political and economic freedom in the country. This distinction is important because there are several democracies around the world that may champion one form of freedom, however clamp down on another. Singapore and China may nurture economic freedom well, but do not tolerate dissent. India absorbs political differences well, but has yet to unleash social and economic liberties to the fullest extent.

While US can not claim to be heaven on Earth, they are directionally on the right course. Blessed are the people born here and in other countries where individual liberty is coveted and poverty is challenged. That said, the argument for prosperity is always irrefutable and not hamstrung by ideology – only the seriously demented would call a famine a good thing. However, not many people appreciate the indispensability of freedom. The case for freedom can be defended better if one can establish a strong causal co-relation between prosperity and freedom.

For the purposes of this post, let’s just consider the most basic level of materiality i.e. food security. Faced with food shortage, ‘evil’ governments are either apathetic or oblivious. Their metaphorical reaction is not difficult to imagine – apathetic onlookers will say, ‘Let them eat grass!’ and their oblivious counterparts will say, ‘Let them eat cake!’. Not surprising that these were the exact statements uttered by Andrew Myrick and Marie Antoinette, when they were confronted by famine-struck Dakota tribesmen in 1862  and destitute French subjects in 1789 respectively.

While cake does not grow in wild, there are several contemporary accounts of countries where people are forced to eat grass to survive. Some of the regions that have faced such a predicament in the last decade are as follows, along with their current forms of government:

1. North Korea: Communist
2. Niger: Military Rule until 1999, now a democracy
3. Kenya: Democracy
4. Afghanistan (Ghor, Bamyan): Taliban Insurgency (Fundamentalist)
5. Gaza (Palestinian Authority): Hamas (Fundamentalist)

The last instance is perhaps not exemplary as the crisis was triggered by the Israeli military action, however still says something about Hamas’ cavalier attitude towards Gaza’s civilians. Even then, if the grass-eating evidence is circumstantial, a quick scan of the countries at the bottom and top of the ‘State of World Liberty Index’ published in 2006 is a more comprehensive proof of the connection between wellness and freedom. This index was created by combining the rankings of four other indexes of world liberty into one: the ‘2005 Economic Freedom of the World’ Index (Fraser Institute/Cato Institute), the ‘2006 Index of Economic Freedom’ (The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal), the ‘2005 Freedom in the World’ index (Freedom House), and the ‘2005 Press Freedom Index’ (Reporters Without Borders).

The ten countries at the top of the list are invariably well-to-do (Estonia, Ireland, Canada, Switzerland, Iceland, Bahamas, UK, USA, Cyprus, New Zealand) and the ten at the bottom are quite poverty-stricken (North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Myanmar, Laos, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea).

Freedom, through its expression in democracy as a system of government, is the fountainhead of human progress. Without freedom, people are unable to realize their entrepreneurial potential. Such restraint keeps people in an inescapable orbit of poverty. When poverty becomes extreme, humans can be robbed of their basic dignity – a precursor to a grass-eating society.

So as Obama settles into the Oval Office and the Inauguration revellers get back to their daily lives, the wonder and the miracle of a fully-functional democracy should not be lost on anyone. In fact, it shouldn’t even be called a wonder or a miracle because that belittles the human struggle that continues to fuel this achievement.


Written by serialbus

January 25, 2009 at 4:40 pm

One Response

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  1. True!, freedom is a virtue & also that recognition of its value does not require statistical body to establish “causal co-relationship” with prosperity.Freedom for its own sake is a virtue & linking it with prosperity belittles its value. However, given the fallibility of humans – refer your Blagojevich post – there need to be mechanisms to reach a optimum value for balance between freedom & human fallibility, which ofcourse democratic systems strive to acheive. Unfortunately, the optimum value for that balance is like aiming infinity, which will always remain a dream. Hence, in my view great leaders without being unaware of visionary dreams, should focus on acheiving short term goals in hand, like for obama it would be to bring the economy in shape & forget about the rhetoric on black president for the moment.


    January 30, 2009 at 6:25 am

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