Tendulkar's prose and economics
Published: 23rd November 2013 06:00 AM
Last Updated: 22nd November 2013 11:52 PM
Dedicating the Bharat Ratna award conferred on him to his mother, Sachin Tendulkar said: "This is for her. I realise what kind of sacrifices millions of mothers in India make for their children. This is for all of them." Tendulkar's prose restates the ancient Indian tradition which accords to mother and father, in that order, status equal to God's. "Revere your mother and father as God," mandates Taitriya Upanishad. Bhishma Pitamaha says in Mahabharata, "The father equals ten teachers. But the mother equals ten fathers or perhaps the whole world in importance."
All ancient traditions of the world revere mothers. But what about the modern society? Does it recognise or accept reverence for mothers? Or, for others? Doubtful. Paul Woodruff, professor of philosophy and dean at Texas University at Austin, says in his book Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue (2001) that reverence is missing in modern societies and actually the American society celebrates irreverence.
But, modern economic theories and thinkers attribute high economic growth to the irreverent modernity, slow growth to tradition and counsel the slow-growing nations aspiring to develop fast to discard their traditions (Measures for the Economic Development of Under Developed Countries 1951; UN Department of Social and Economic Affairs). This view, a by-product of the anthropological evolution of modern West, became the foundation of modern economics based on individualism, and led to a clash between individualism-centric West and family-centric Rest. The clash mirrored as the micro and macroeconomic differences between the two.
Reverence for parents is the core value of traditional family system. Before analysing the impact of this core value or its absence on micro and macroeconomics, it is necessary to know how does the West-centric modernity value reverence for parents. It will not mind a grown-up revering parents by choice. But if it is urged as a collective norm not to be deviated from, modernity will accuse the society of oppressing and infringing individual rights. Reverence is twined with family and tradition, which depends on relations and duty. It minimises rights. Modernity rests on contracts and rights. It underplays duty. Modernity driven by paradigm of individualism, individual rights, gender rights, elders' rights, child rights and of even lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual rights has no recognised sense of duty to the near and dear. Families and relations—that rest on sustainable marriages — are shattered by the paradigm of modernity. In the US, some 55 per cent of the first, 67 per cent of the second and 74 per cent of third marriages end in divorce. Over 40 per cent of the babies are born to unmarried women, half of them teenagers. And some 60 per cent of men and women are avoiding marriage. The dysfunctional traditional families and its consequence, contract-based socioeconomic order, have orphaned and condemned elders, infirm and unemployed as state-dependents. This is the output of unbridled individualism and its offshoot, modernity. Yet, many educated Indians think that modernity means just Western dress, English language and urban living.
How do the relation-built, duty-based traditional economies and the rights-centric, duty-free modern economies differ? Take just two areas — savings and social security.
See how the microeconomic behaviour affects the macro economy.
The family-based Asia accounts for three quarters of global savings.
But the individualist US borrows almost the equal amount from the world. Why? American families have virtually lost their propensity to save.
The families' share was four-fifths of total US savings in the 1960s and, by the third quarter of 2006, it became minus — yes minus — one fifth, implying that the US families spent 20 per cent more than their current income.
The erosion in family values which undermined family responsibilities and dented the propensity to save, has made the Americans profligate. Some 11 crore US families use 120 credit and debit cards. Their total borrowings exceed $12 trillion against the current US GDP of $16 trillion. Since 1970, US foreign debt has risen by 160 times, its national debt by 40 times, but its GDP only by 16 times. As the families disintegrated, the care of parents, elders, infirm and unemployed fell on the State which has virtually nationalised families through social security schemes.
The present value of the future social security burden of the US is estimated at over $100 trillions — more than six times the present US GDP. This is seen as dynamiting the US economy. As far back as in 1980s, the US National Bureau of Economic Research had warned that if the government took over traditional family duties through State-organised social security, "serious erosion of family values" was inevitable. (The American Economy in Transition by Martin S Fieldstein p341) The warning, unheeded then, has now come true. This is as much the outcome of modern individualism as of the economics of theories founded on it.
In contrast, most Asian families save and save a lot. Because of high savings, social security to the aged, infirm and unemployed is provided by Asian families, not by governments. Alan Greenspan, the former US Federal Reserve chairman, made fun of the Asian nations saying that they save a lot due to insecurity about future, because their governments do not provide social security, while the confident Americans need not and do not save, because the US government provides social safety net. This was before the 2008 meltdown. Greenspan may not dare repeat his words now because, as The New York Times says, half the US families receive state aid. In contrast, Asia's family saving has privatised social security as families' moral responsibility.
A Brookings Institution economist Barry Bobsworth described the Asian savings as "dynastic"—belonging to future generations, not just the personal savings of the saver. The traditional reverence for parents and elders and the consequent duty and relation-based family life have made savings dynastic, moderated consumption and funded family-provided social security. Forty years after being warned, the US is now desperate that social security be privatised. But that would need recreating traditional families that the current economic theories cannot.
"Matru Devo Bhava" and "Pitru Devo Bhava" — revering mother and father as Gods — and like social norms build a stable macroeconomic model founded on dynastic savings and moderate consumption and keep social security privatised. Clearly, traditional reverence for parents and elders at the micro level and macroeconomics of dynastic savings and family provided social security are interrelated. When will the Indian socioeconomic discourse internalise this profound truth? Will Tendulkar's prose inspire the young Indians off the field to think of the larger socioeconomic implications of his reverence for all mothers?
(S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)