Economic planning and the West’s
The current anti-Wall Street protests in New York are
not the stuff that revolutions are made of but are of a
magnitude that should make policy and decision-makers of the
West sit-up and take notice. The US economy is yet to come out
of the doldrums and the majority of Europe’s economies are
described as not being exactly in the pink of health. In fact,
some commentators have been prompted by these ominous signs to
speak of a ‘decline and fall’ of the West.
To the more observant all this may not, strictly speaking, be
news. The seemingly interminable squabbles between the US and
China on currency and allied issues underline the point that the
West no longer holds the reins of control over the global
economy. One would not be exaggerating in contending that the
considerable and growing dependence of Western economies on the
most vibrant of East Asian economies, such as China, South
Korea, Indonesia and India, indicate a substantial decline in
the West’s economic clout and a proportional swell in the East’s
material productivity and advancement. It is quite some time
since this shift in economic strength occurred and by the middle
of this century the process could be expected to reach a
culminating point with the complete dwarfing of the West by the
East in terms of economic prosperity and dynamism.
That said, one should guard against being alarmist over the
economic decline of the West. The protesters converging on Wall
Street, to decry corporate greed, corruption and other ills that
have been dogging the West at its heels over the past few years,
are only a few thousands in number and are likely to constitute
only the most radical of critics of the West’s economic
iniquities. They are unlikely to be broadly representative of
the economically affected and marginalized sections of the US in
particular and Western society in general. Therefore, observers
would be misleading themselves if they believe that capitalism’s
Day of Reckoning is close at hand.
Yet, coming against the backdrop of continuing economic
stagnation in the West and lingering unemployment and other
discontents, these rising public shows of anger must be viewed
with concern by Western policy makers. They should necessitate a
reassessment of development strategy and compel their
counterparts in the developing world to also take stock of their
growth options, coupled with a clear assessment of their fallout
on the publics of the Third World.
It may seem that the West has written off central planning
and the socialist option in too great a haste. The neo-liberal
approach to economic advancement was ushered in too uncritical a
fashion in both the West and the East and the recent youth-led
tumultuous violence in some of Britain’s major cities was a
social upheaval which was waiting to happen, it may seem, from
the nineties when the alternative approach to capitalism was
jettisoned with frenzied impatience in predominantly the USSR
and Eastern Europe.
This is not an unreserved endorsement of central planning and
the distortions that go along with it. The world cannot get back
to that dark era of scarcities, stagnation and strangulation
from the centre of the entrepreneurial abilities of the people,
which blossomed to a considerable degree when economic controls
were relaxed in the name of the ‘market’, all over the world.
Stultifying control of the individual and the public by
governments could not even for a moment be allowed or condoned.
But the message from the Wall Street protests cannot be ignored
Essentially, the message to be received from New York and
those parts of the West which are currently in the middle of a
winter of economic discontent is that ‘market liberalization’
cannot be uncritically endorsed as a panacea for our economic
ills. The ‘market’ does not, automatically, as it were, look
after the people and their needs. If so, some of Britain’s
cities would never have been disfigured by those waves of
youth-led horrific violence. The conclusion is inescapable that
our economies need to be planned to some degree to ensure the
needs of the poor in particular are met.
It is for these reasons that Sri Lanka’s very own ‘Look East’
policy must be welcomed. We are integrating with some of East
Asia’s booming economies and this is the right way to go.
Besides, the state has thought it wise remain engaged with some
vital sectors of the economy, such as, education, health,
agriculture and industrial development, to name a few, and this
will ensure that the needs of the people will be served to some
degree. This ‘Middle Path’ remains the wise course to adopt and
events are proving that we are right in doing so.