Book Review | Retaining Balance: The Eternal Way shows economic policies need a human touch in India

Many books on economics get published regularly as it dominates our lives. However, rarely does an original work come in this field, especia...

Many books on economics get published regularly as it dominates our lives. However, rarely does an original work come in this field, especially with Bharatiya perspective, that shakes you up. In his new book, Retaining Balance: The Eternal Way, author MR Venkatesh makes you sit up and think hard by questioning the dogmas that dominate the discipline of modern economics.

The underlying theme of this book is about the inherent fallacy of this social science being divorced from culture and formulated more and more through mathematics. The absence of the human factor has made it prone to huge mistakes and human society, open to miseries of routine cycles of high prosperity and misery.

In Independent India, Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay was unarguably the first thinker to break away from capitalist and Marxist models of economics and come up with the philosophy of ‘Integral Humanism’ that kept the individual at the centre. This is not an atomised individual — the consumer — as in the West, but an individual rooted in family, community, society, nation and much more. He highlighted this interconnectedness and noted that fulfilling material needs alone do not make a person happy beyond a point as accepted by diminishing marginal utility in terms of modern economics, because a human being as a unique living being has discerning intellect with spiritual needs and higher goals. For him/her to attain bliss, these too need to be satisfied.

In contrast to the Western understanding of human beings and economics, Bharatiya ideas on economics allow every individual to enjoy artha and kama (prosperity and desires), kept in check by the banks of dharma (ethical behaviour), so that he could strive to reach the ultimate objective of moksha. Unfortunately, Deendayal Upadhyay was murdered before he could amplify this idea. It was left to veteran ideologue of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and RSS, Dattopant Thengdi, to expand this idea further in the 1970s and he called it “The Third Way”. I am afraid that nothing original has been added after that in our discourse on political economy. One can say that Retaining Balance: The Eternal Way takes off from where Integral Humanism left and attempts to redefine our understanding of political economics.

Venkatesh takes a wide sweeping look at the discipline of economics through the lenses of history, theology, anthropology, sociology, constitutional law and contemporary politics and raises many questions. There are no holy cows for him. Many of the views may seem provocative, but they are statements based on facts and historical evidence. One can choose to ignore them, but it won’t solve the problem of rising poverty and inequality; and continued cycles of boom-and-bust that trouble human kind.

The author picks up cudgels against the Church that has given inferior position to women because of the theory of ‘original sin’ that has led to demented thinking of the West in several disciplines including economics. Venkatesh points out that this led to rebellion from within and gave rise to reactive feminism. According to him, “In search of equality, feminists ended up creating an Alpha female as a counter to the conundrum of Alpha male.” In the process the institution of family has greatly suffered.

He demonstrates further how thinkers from Plato to Marx were keen on “liberating women” to create a designer society. He points out that while conservative Islam believes in polygamy, modern liberals don’t believe in the institution of marriage. Consequently, the assiduously built institution of marriage has come to face existential challenges now; and unless these are addressed; there is a bleak future for mankind according to him.

The author questions the very basis of modern economics and attacks its basic assumptions and its reduction to complex algorithms with no space for factors like culture. According to him, the thin line between economics and finance has been fatally breached and currently, finance is dominating the world of economics and consequently influencing academics unethically. As a case in point, Venkatesh reminds us that three treasury secretaries of the respective US Presidents — George W Bush, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — came from one financial institution, Goldman Sachs. He makes a strong statement, “It is not the world that is waiting for economic reforms, it is economics that is waiting for reforms,” and goes on to suggest open-ended prescription.

Retaining Balance raises a foundational issue about the Indian Constitution too. The author believes that the Indian Constitution needs to be rewritten with a civilisational perspective. He laments that the Indian Constitution makers quoted constitutions from all over the world, but hardly introduced any elements of our own ancient Bharatiya wisdom. He argues that the Constitution should redefine duties for both the state and its citizens.

He argues that the present Constitution is not only a colonial residue, but predominantly is a Christian construct. He points out that the modern-day idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient state is unworkable. And points out the fallibility of welfare economics which is a by-product of such a constitutional construct. He presents facts about how modern welfare economics has ended up breaking families into atomised individuals living on doles, leading to weakening of the society and rising dissatisfaction.

The core of Retaining Balance is that unless culture and family are dovetailed into economic policies, the world cannot escape the repeated cycles of boom and doom. He points out that some eminent economists have spoken about cultural factors but did not go beyond the periphery. He states, “Economic crises are not due to lack of regulations; it is not a game of supply and demand. Billion minds are at work.” For Venkatesh, family is the ultimate balancing factor.

This book is a virtual sweeping view of the history and working of modern economics. It shows us that a critical component of public policy like economics cannot work in isolation as it is actually integrated with all other dimensions of social and cultural life.

The reviewer is a well-known author and columnist. The views expressed are personal.

Book name: Retaining Balance: The Eternal Way

Author: MR Venkatesh

Publisher: KW Publishers

Price: Available from Rs 662 onwards

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India World News: Book Review | Retaining Balance: The Eternal Way shows economic policies need a human touch in India
Book Review | Retaining Balance: The Eternal Way shows economic policies need a human touch in India
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