Monday, February 15, 2010

Have you bought your peace today?

The US debates universal health care, China tackles official corruption, Singapore discusses affordable housing, India the Maoist insurgence; the one common thread in all these issues is that society and social contracts are changing rapidly.
All societies are class based, in some societies movement between classes is much easier, and in some it is more difficult. In some countries social classes are defined along the lines of wealth, in others based on political influence, education, race, sex, and in many cases it is a mixture of many of the above.
Most social issues are wrapped in ideological discussions, but the movement for or against change is catalysed when existing social contracts that worked for a long time, start to change rapidly. Social turmoil results when the establishment does not recognize or worse still does not acknowledge the collapse of existing social contracts that preserved the status quo all these years.
In many of the developed nations, one of the primary social contract for decades involved having a strong growing middle class that was offered relatively unfettered access to decent jobs and the ability to generate wealth for those with the ability, skills and inclination to do so. In some of these nations, that social contract between the wealthier segments (job creators like business leaders, industrialists, etc) and the rest is changing dramatically leading to increased unemployment and a diminishing middle class.
In fast developing economies, the social contract of providing opportunity for wealth creation and improvement in quality of life is threatened, by official corruption and land grab. Many societies are seeing dramatic changes in the expectations of their populations. The changes in expectations come from education, desire for wealth, exposure to a wider world and often changing social contracts between the classes.
The cynical part in me wonders if the ideological battles are real or just mechanisms to come to a "favourable" resolution. Of course "favourable "it self can be a hotly debated issue; as-in favourable for whom?
Would it just be easier to "buy peace "; i.e. in order to maintain peace, stability, and the ability to thrive, each of us will have to "buy peace" from the different classes that are at the receiving end of the changes in society. If social stability was based on a premise of a growing middle class; then maybe the cost of self preservation is to pay for some kind of health care for the masses in a stagnating economy with greater than 10% employment. The cost of preservation in a fast developing economy with tremendously polarized wealth distribution and difficulty in movement between social classes may be public subsidy for essential services/goods and strong measures against corruption. Instead of spending precious time and resources on debates, demonstrations, and the like, it may just be more pragmatic and "buy peace".


Anonymous said...

Is one to understand a trace of change in Chandran's outlook - from capitalism to socialism?
Life is full of compromises and give and take is a must. Each one has to decide for oneself the limit and the cost. Looking inwards will help in today's mad rush of materialism. Then the question of buying peace does not arise. It is a question of acceptance - end result being the same for an individual, at different levels of cost!
Having said all that, the musings are thought provoking. Congratulations.

PCV said...

The age old phrase 'Vasudaiva Kudumbakam' if practiced today in its full essence could be the answer to most of the issues you mentioned. 'Loka samastho sukhino bhavanthu'.....

Dr Pradeep Vasudevan
Leicester/ Thiruvanathapuram

Yiannis said...


In my opinion this is your best piece yet (extremely well articulated). There is a group with a prevailing theory that economics is driven by crowd psychology which in turns means society. The group is called the Socionomics Institute ( I believe your premise is extremely valid and in fact would be supported by all the research and evidence that this group has found. Most major wars (civil or not), major societal transitions (the Bolsevic revolution in Russia, the break-down of the Soviet Union) can be traced back to a link between economic conditions and the collective state of the psychology of the affected population (I'm not suggesting I know which is the cause and which the effect).

For me the most critical question is: 'What will happen if a country with 10% unemployment, no access to health-care for a large segment of its population, unmatched military power, a growing divergence of the haves and have-nots with a drastic decline in the middle classes continues down this path without government helping provide some small buffer or social redistribution of wealth?'.

Its sad to me that the discussion ends up getting polarized and handled as a black and white ideological battle (as if there is any country that doesn't have social programs, its only a question how much there is in social redistribution programs, how much is spent and how well it is managed).

I worry that the answer to your question will come as an afterthought - it would have been so much better if we had had the foresight to pay for our 'peace'.

I don't know what the Indian saying says. There is an Ancient Greek saying 'everything in measure is perfect'. Raw capitalism has failed as bad as raw communism had failed. Every country has a form of socialism (even though there are some that would die before admitting it). I wish there would be a quality discussion on the best programs, how to make them effective, how to avoid social decay and desperation, how to provide sufficient social buffers but not too many, how to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and economic renewal.

Instead we will treat the discussion as black and white (even though we already all live in a shade of gray environment) - as if history teaches us that the right answers lie in the absolute extreme positions.

I watch with some sadness as things draw to what seems to me will be an inevitable conclusion.....

Great discussion.

Chandran Nair said...

Yiannis , very well said

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