Friday, August 14, 2015

Independence Day Lecture: Economic Freedom

Freedom means different things to different people. In one respect, the meaning of freedom is inherently tied to what we truly value. For the sentimental, the freedom to love is the ultimate freedom; for the utilitarian, the freedom of choice is paramount; and yet for the dictator, freedom lies in denying the very same to others. Despite the differences however, freedom is fundamental - all people are inherently born free, yet that freedom is quickly lost.

The Only Freedom
With so many ideas of freedom, one is tempted to ask whether there is even such a thing as freedom. After all, while we may be born free, we are not born as islands. Our freedoms inherently affect that of those around us and even beyond. The freedom of a parent affects their children; the freedom of a breadwinner affects their family. What then is freedom?

Indian civilization is marked by many gods and goddesses - but the truth is, there is only one god, the Supreme Being, the Brahman. In much the same manner, while we may talk of several ideas of freedom, they are all mere manifestations of the one true freedom - economic freedom. A narrow viewing of this would be the freedom to spend money, but that would not just be narrow, but also false; for, money is not an instrument to spend. Money is merely a form of work - the value of money is derived from what work one associates with it. In that respect, freedom is also money - it's value depends on what responsibilities are attached to it, and how much we work for it.

Perhaps that explains why we value our freedom so little today - because we never really had to earn it. It just came to us by itself, the sweat and blood of generations before who took on the mighty British Empire. And yet, even that generation was so quick to give it up, for the British Raj metamorphosed within a few years into the license-permit-quota raj. Some would say that this was different, for while we had political freedom, economic freedom was not guaranteed or even necessary. They are wrong.

Path to Freedom
Freedom does not come in pieces, just as spiritualism does not come by being selectively spiritual. At the heart of freedom is economic freedom - the freedom of the market to choose and work according to one's abilities, irrespective of needs. While we won so-called political freedom in 1947, the fact remains that the shackling of our economy in the chains of socialism, where the work of many went to enrich so few undeserving, stripped us of their very freedoms. And while the great Prime Minister Narasimha Rao did unlock some of those chains, many still remain.

This Independence Day, as we mark 68 years since the end of the British Empire in India, let us remember that we have yet to achieve the ultimate freedom - the freedom to own the fruits of our labor. For in that freedom lies the freedom of the individual, and the final, true freedom that every person is entitled to. The freedom to choose your own life, and live with the consequences.

Jai Hind! 

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