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The Great Conflict Of Our Time

The global community has witnessed a steady decline in Democracy in different parts of the globe, in the last three decades. It is not that aspiring Military Generals have undermined Democracy to capture the State Power. In majority of cases, it has happened through the so-called free and fair elections. In fact, common people often elect egoist politicians who have little regard for democratic values. Democracy seems to have lost its importance to the majority of people in the world. This aspect of Political Society has been worrying most of the sociologists in recent years, prompting them to explain the tendency in different ways. Indian Economist Dr Pranab Bardhan has penned down his thoughts on this issue in his latest publication ‘A World of Insecurity: Democratic Disenchantment in Rich and Poor Countries‘. The book may well be considered as an excellent combination of description, analysis and policy recommendations.

At a time when demagogues are working on with their acts of mesmerising the common people with their words of hope, democratic institutions are getting weaker. From interfering in the activities of autonomous bodies to influencing the electoral process… these populist leaders are gradually destroying the very base of Democracy. Therefore, there is no longer any need for these leaders to follow the old method of capturing power by bypassing elections. The scheme is pretty much the same all over the world.

Dr Bardhan has identified the insecurity of people belonging to the bottom of economic strata, as the main reason behind this unprecedented phenomenon. He has specifically mentioned the economic and cultural insecurity. There have been a lot of discussions about the growing inequality worldwide in the last few years. However, no one, as yet, has raised the issue of insecurity. Economic insecurity is not caused by disasters, like COVID-19 Pandemic, only; rather it is inherent in the Capitalist Economy. Foreign trade often encourages a country to import products at a relatively cheaper price, and the local industry fails to compete with the foreign products. Hence, workers become jobless, and the political support of the majority of jobless workers shifts towards a Right-wing party. Of course, one can argue whether such a clear polarisation of Left and Right is possible. There are quite a number of differences in ideological positions of the Far-Left and the Far-Right.

Economists have suggested various models that could provide people with some protection within the Capitalist System. Social Democracy is one such model that is not confined only to the level of theoretical thought, as the Scandinavian countries are thought to be fairly close to this idea. The success of these nations in managing the socio-economic security of citizens gave much hope to the advocates of Social Democracy. However, this system is now in jeopardy with recent political changes. The Ultra Right-wing political outfits have started using common people’s sense of insecurity to attack Left-Liberal philosophies. Another form of insecurity, called cultural, is also used in this venture. From clothing to food habits, from historical anecdotes to past glories and the lamentations of conquest… all these are seamlessly used to incite cultural insecurities. Its purpose is the construction of an other on whom the responsibility for all feelings of inadequacy can be laid.

Capitalism, as an economic system, is ubiquitous. However, its form is not the same everywhere. From the point of view of political organisation, there are two types of Capitalism: Liberal Capitalism (Western countries) and Authoritarian Capitalism (China). The economic success of China’s Authoritarian Capitalism has led many to think that this system could be more acceptable. Needless to say, an Authoritarian State can never be an ideal one. Dr Bardhan has explored a third option, after discussing the limitations of these two models.

Apart from finding reasons for the supposed change in the nature of Electoral Democracy in Liberal Capitalism, the author has looked for a third alternative, which is also a form of Social Democracy. In this context, Dr Bardhan has adroitly explained the difference between Social Democracy and Democratic Socialism. Social Democracy is essentially a Capitalist System, where the means of production are privately owned, although the State plays an important role. Here, the State adopts the carrot and stick policy in an attempt to force incentivise capital to behave in a civilised manner, apart from ensuring the protection of the people through tax system and redistribution of wealth. The State also ensures institutional frameworks for a justified bargaining between the capital and the labour. On the other hand, Democratic Socialism is a more revolutionary concept. In Democratic Socialism, the State, labour cooperatives and other such organisations enjoy the ownership and control of capital. Here, profit does not exist. It may be noted that Presidential candidate Bernard Sanders and his team called themselves Democratic Socialists during their election campaign in the US. It was a false claim, keeping in mind the political system in the US.

Dr Bardhan has not only claimed that Social Democracy is an ideal alternative, but also presented his arguments in detail with logic and facts. According to the author, production organisations should be democratised, as the voice of the workers is important. However, the reality is that the bargaining power of trade unions has steadily declined, and the majority are being cornered by increasing the market share of few. It is undemocratic, in a sense. Such monopolies must be regulated, and the tax system should be progressive. In other words, people, belonging to higher income groups and owners of huge assets, should be taxed at a higher than proportional rate. In India, the corporate tax rate has come down in recent times, while the wealth tax has been waived.

Dr Bardhan believes that Universal Basic Income (UBI) is an effective way to achieve economic protection. He has also admitted that the proposal is not beyond debate. In the eighth chapter of his publication, Dr Bardhan has presented his arguments for the proposal, against the proposal, and refutation of other arguments. Although many cannot accept that universal thing in UBI, the author has presented his arguments with proper logic.

The book is an excellent blueprint for human security, which should be viewed from the perspective of Political Economy, and not from the perspective of Engineering.

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