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Ashish's Niti

Niti in Sanskrit means policy/strategy/vision. This blog hosts my political views, along with news and commentary. This blog has moved here.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Of democracy and Individual Rights

I had a long discussion over email with one of my readers. The conversation was ticked off my post suggesting that India should open up FDI in retail sector. He is living in the US but preaches virtues of Indian culture and warns Indian people against getting suckered into Western materialism. Therefore, he does not want to allow foriegn investors as they can cheat poor, uneducated Indians. All he wanted to have was a honest public debate about whether FDI is good or bad for India and he wanted people to decide. How democratic?

Although innocent, his attitude was really dangerous. Not only he was a hypocrite, he was not really talking about democracy. What he wanted to have was a debate on whether FDI should be allowed or not. He was not ready to let individual (foriegn) financers and those who wanted to raise capital to decided in each individual case of FDI. He wanted to have discussion over one single macro-decision regarding FDI for the whole country.

Imagine, if before somebody wanted to get married, we ask for having a nation-wide debate on whether marriage is good or not. Not individual instance of that particular marriage but marriage in general. People against marriage will cite domestic violence, dowry, population growth, exploitation of women and so many other problems. Those for marriage will talk about stability that comes with family, atmosphere of love, financial benefits and so on.

But is it the right debate to have? Each marriage is separate and is a matter between two individuals. Macro decision on whether marriage is in general good or bad is potentially a assault on individual freedom.

Another important thing to realize is that such a macro-level debate in general always bring into it a historical context. Karl Marx popularized this with his "scientific" historical analysis of production relations. Instead of developing a criteria to decide whether a particular case of employment is beneficial or harmful to that particular laborer he posited that, in general, employer always exploits the worker by extracting the surplus. Thus, profit is in general itself exploitation of labourers. No need to analyze and discuss individual employement contract and relationship.

Feminists also posited that marriage itself is exploitation of women. No need to analyze actual marital relations. Just state that historically women has always been at the receiving end and hence marriage always mean exploitation of women.

Politicians and elites love this kind of decision making as it gives them power over us, the mere mortals. Individual rights leave no place for elites as each individual decision is specific and private. Elites can claim their "special" place if individual private decisions are collated into one big decision for all.

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