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Tuesday, 4 October 2011

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Economic planning and the West’s discontents

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 either.

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.
 

The re-housing option for Colombo’s poor

It is unfortunate that most of the Colombo politicians are still exploiting the social vulnerability of Colombo’s poor who live in underserved settlements. Such politicians can depend on this vote bank as long as they remain in slums and shanties as poor, particularly by the UNP. Hence, any attempts to upgrade the housing and living environments of these people will be severely resisted by the UNP and other communal minded politicians who are enjoying the power at the cost of the future of the poorest of the poor in Colombo.

Full Story

Opening of private medical faculties

By introducing the Z score criteria, the authorities ensured reserving of a reasonable quota of the places available in the local university system for the students from the educationally backward districts. However, the fact remains that in the medical field; annually the doors are shut for 9,000 odd students who have minimum stipulated qualifications to enter the medical faculties.

Full Story

 

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