Saturday, 12 September 2009

FREEDOM, JUSTICE, AND GLOBALISATION: An Appraisal of Cathedrals of Development


An Appraisal of Cathedrals of Development

Saju Chackalackal

Progress and development are two catchwords that capture the human thrust that is characteristic of the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third. It is a matter of pride to the entire humanity that we have made greater strides through our innovative and proactive involvement. Indeed, cultural as well as economic developments have marked the human progress, enabling individuals as well as societies to surge ahead with greater focus on faster and subtler growth in every facet of life.

Economic development has become really active in the second half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. It is often opined that the economic growth that the humanity at large has attained in the last one hundred years is far greater than what it has made in the earlier centuries. However, as the economic development has changed the face of human societies through its aggressive strategies and fast paced activities, there is an increasing criticism that justice, the virtue that pervades the holistic growth of a society, seems to have lost it grandeur and impact. While this has been identified as a problem that prevailed all through the history of economic development, with the ups and downs of its own, the opening up of global market and the entry of the multinational corporations (MNCs) and other corporate companies and their all-swallowing aggressive business strategies, primarily and exclusively motivated by the aggrandizement of profits, have opened up a Pandora’s Box of social critique. Indeed, the new face of economic development has made life easier and comfortable for many; it has opened up new avenues of economic development for those who are directly involved in such economic affairs; however, the damage that these developmental strategies have inflicted upon the human society as well as nature is beyond measure. Hence, a sense of justice has to be necessarily established in the arena of economic development.

Generally, economic development apparently implies that wealth is created. Whether it is socialism, capitalism, or any other theory, if we evaluate the nature of economic transactions carried out and their end result understood in terms of realizing the common good or sheer profit generation, the basic operations indicate that what ultimately happens is a ‘displacement’ and manipulation of the resources, most of which are located in the nature’s bounty. In fact, economic activity involves various processes that result in the self-aggrandizement to the exclusion of others by appropriating the resources ‘owned’ or managed by oneself and others. What accrues to me matters the most; further, it also puts in place mechanisms to make sure that whatever is mine is not moved to any other; if at all I let it lose, it must be matched with further and better accumulation: that is the perfection of self-interest! Indeed, any decline or loss in one place or person would be matched by a growth or profit-making somewhere else or for someone else. As appropriation and re-appropriation of the resources continue, wealth is said to be generated and possessed by the human agents who are involved in the process. Interestingly, in view of understanding and maximizing the appropriation of resources, many theories have come into existence, the capitalist economic theory proposed and crystallized by Adam Smith and his successors being the most influential one.

The modern economic theory glorified and perpetuated around ‘self-interest’ has its foundations in individual freedom, which was the main focus of the Enlightenment thought. While the Modern philosophical speculation went in search of understanding the intricate roots of individual freedom (ontologically and epistemologically), its counterpart in economic deliberations had the thrust of establishing self-interest as the sole motivating factor of all economic transactions (economically and politically). Although such a change was collectively initiated by the forces of Enlightenment, secularism, and developmentalism in the West, by and large, the new almighty powers of reason and science continued to perpetuate totalizing outlooks, which ultimately did not succeed in liberating humanity to its inner yearnings for freedom and holistic development welling up from the depths of human consciousness.

The free trade policy emerging from the economic theory of Adam Smith paved the way for a new ethos of profit and a new world of individualism. He has put in place a maxim for economic activity to the forthcoming generations: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interests.”[1] With this primary focus, capitalism essentially operates with investment of money and other resources (i.e., capital) in order to fetch the highest economic returns. Although investment in any such endeavour involves high risk, as the return may sometimes be almost naught, basic doctrine of the capitalist mode of economic transaction and development centres around the maximization of resources and profits and the minimization of expenditure and losses.

Under the capitalist system, the individual – at the exclusion of the society – became the primary agent, where profit-making remained the sole motivating force of the economic transactions, and economic development began to envelope the entire spectrum of social life, inaugurating a new era of economic supremacy. The sense of values or the thrust of attaining a virtuous life was turned upside down as the new all-enveloping economic thrust began to assert in every area of life. A new value consciousness centred on self-interest and profit-making slowly began to get settled even in the social consciousness so much so that thinking and acting started happening along the line of the individual. At this juncture, it must be noted that the common good – projected as the ideal of the society – was slowly replaced by self-interest. Anything was right provided that would accentuate individual self-interest through profit enhancement.

Indeed, the capitalist doctrine could not get a universal support; there were thinkers and politicians who attempted to come up with alternate theories, the Communist doctrine popularised by Karl Marx being the most important contender. The quick acceleration of economic development, witnessed across the globe during the so-called Cold War period, is categorized into western liberal developmental economics in tune with the capitalist market dynamics and the Marxist inspired socialist economics with central planning as its key feature. What could be identified as the common denominator of both these developmental strategies is the unmistakable emphasis on industrialisation. In fact, such an outlook on industrialised developmental economics went to such an extreme that only industrialised countries were tagged as ‘developed’, while others were subtly sidelined as underdeveloped, which even included some nations which were desperately trying to catch up with the new, though deficient, understanding of development.

This new world of aggressive and unjust economic activities – ensuing from the capitalist doctrine and practice – exclusively oriented towards the profit of the individual started making ruptures in the social sphere. As self-interest permitted the new generation capitalist economic activity to go to any extreme, provided that would generate or increase profit, some made their way to the height of economic prosperity, while many others were on a slippery slope, moving on the opposite direction of depravity of resources and justice.

If you were to line up countries according to GDP per capita today, you would find two clusters: one poor…, the other rich… There are middle-income nations spread thinly between the extremes (China, Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina are prominent examples), but a large cluster of countries (in sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, South East Asia, Melanesia, and Central America) – with a total population of 2.3 billion – produces an average $2,100 a year per head, while another, smaller, cluster (Europe, North America, Australia, and Japan) – with a total population of a little under 1 billion – enjoys an average annual income of $30,000.[2]

The world certainly appears to be polarized on what economic practice is ultimately contributing by dividing the whole world and, then, retaining and expanding the wide gap among the nation states. Indeed, successful establishment of the freedom and self-interest of a few finally turned out to be a closure of the opportunities of many even for basic survival, extending from the degradation and destruction of nature to the inhuman and subhuman conditions meted out to those who are on the bottom line of economic operations.

There is an eternal conflict between the capital and labour when it comes to the capitalist dynamics. It has been highlighted by Karl Marx and many others subsequently. Yet, in the new global capitalist market, there are certain dynamics around the labour that pose serious issues of justice. A liberal approach insisted by the modern version of global market maintains that there must be free flow of capital in order to facilitate greater success of the market forces. Indeed, this has facilitated the global players to move freely by establishing their business kingdoms the world over. It has not only opened up the global market to these business empires, but has given them the opportunity to exploit the resources of the new territories without the burden of transporting them. Further, availability of cheaper labour is also one of the main incentives for these global corporations. Although the capitalist slogan of best quality for lower prices has always remained attractive even to the masses, what has happened in the new liberal world of business is the fact that the prices of the finished products remain the same the world over (e.g., a laptop costs almost the same around the world), but the prices paid to the labour would vary from location to location (e.g., an IT engineer is paid differently in India and in the USA), ultimately contributing to the great enhancement of profits to the global business giants. While taking advantage of not necessarily paying the taxes in the original country where the company is located, they have been successful to manoeuvre the local politics and doctor state policies in their favour. Thus, while the prices of the capital and the finished products have soared to new heights, the labour has suffered setback after setback, finally leading to a lot uncertainty with regard to its future. Even in the twenty-first century, labour continues to be at the mercy of capital, so much so that labour finally loses the dignity that it deserves from the point of view that human beings are the primary agents that are adversely affected by any such move. Moreover, in the recent past, starting with the US President Obama’s political entry and the declarations made even by religious leaders, relocating labour from one country to another also is being challenged and is even condemned as unjust. Such declarations are basically found to be unjust as they totally fail to take stock of the ground realities. While maintaining that the free flow of capital must be made more vigorous by opening up every national economy – through the subtle strategies of international agencies such as World Bank and IMF – it is unjust to put excessive curbs on the labour alone. In view of balancing the free flow of capital from those who possess it, what is justifiable from an ethical point of view is to permit the free flow of labour as well. Even if some restrictions need to be put in place, just as being done in the case of capital, justice requires an insistence that labour is also treated on par. The outspoken international agencies and political as well as religious leaders need to cautiously consider the offer of global capitalism to lead to a win-win for all; winning shall not only be the prerogative of a few who have upper hand in manipulating the economic and military affairs of the world. Justice demands that the present system of exclusive safety measures for capital must be extended to safeguard the interests of labour. If done, that would constitute one step ahead in realizing justice in the onward march of global capitalism.

One of the fundamental claims of capitalism and neo-liberalism is that the market is capable of operating on its own and there is no need of any state intervention. The extreme form of such a claim has successfully maintained that state interventions will have adverse impact upon business transactions, which would ultimately fail the capitalist theory itself. As such capitalist claim is that state is practically superfluous for its successful operation. However, this claim seems to have lost its teeth in the wake of recent economic recession and the constant cry for a bail out from the state. In the context of 2008 economic recession, at least a few MNCs have declared bankruptcy and others have liquidated, ultimately transferring the burden, i.e., the losses, on to the state, which indirectly falls on the shoulders of the people themselves. While the capitalist practitioners maintain that the state does not have any right to share in the profits that they pocket for themselves, when it came to the bail out plea, the system has no pang whatsoever to appeal for public funds. Indeed, the self-corrective and triumphant tone seems to be absent as the capitalist strategies show their vulnerability. Surprisingly, the bailout plans offered by the state also do not seem to make any permanent resolution of the problem; they are mostly temporary stopgap solutions. Even if the global recession started in 2008 comes around through the temporary measures put in place around the globe, there is no guarantee that the neo-liberalist practices in the global market would succeed and create a win-win for all. The losers are aplenty that many have already lost their faith in the dogma of capitalism per se.

Moreover, the purported global nature of market and development advocated mostly by the industrially developed and financially manipulative nations is popularized and has been successfully tailored into the policy making of other nations through the pressure tactics of the international agencies like World Bank and World Trade Organization, with a view to finally and absolutely help its advocates whereby their markets are widened beyond national regulatory mechanisms. Such policies enable the global business concerns to siphon out huge profits on capital investments from the newly targeted markets and economies, ultimately to the detriment of the industrially underdeveloped or developing nations with a large market potential.

In the context of global capitalism spreading its wings, we must pose certain questions: Are human beings and other species ‘excludable’ from the use of certain basic goods? Can such basic goods be sold either by an individual or by the state? Can we conceive of a society where such basic goods would remain the property of all, so long as they continue to be basic to the survival of all species? Isn’t it necessary to retain ‘open access resources’ for the sake of enabling all species to survive, which would naturally engender a life worthy of mutual enhancement and support, but by keeping capitalist exploitation at bay? That is, the private initiatives and incentives that would lead to exclusive access to either part or whole of such open access resources must be kept away so much so that no one would be excluded from having free access to basic resources. Although this goes against the globalised market trend, it seems to be the need of the hour, so that the cosmos could retain its order and rhythm, in its state of being cosmic! For example, water and many other basic natural properties, basic education, etc., should be brought under the open access resources so that our society as a whole could be better served and common good could be effectively realized. Of course, this involves a challenge to the prevalent and acceptable norms of privatisation, which is characteristic of capitalist market economy.

As long as open access resources are privatised, what is at stake is the common good. Making provisions for the whole society, without discrimination against any one, has to become the hallmark of any political or administrative process if it should remain just and conducive to the society. It must be borne in mind that, whatever be the cost, such open access goods should retain their public status, so much so that in no circumstances they would be brought under private entrepreneurship, whereby they would be owned and managed for private welfare with a profit motive. In case of retaining public access resources through political processes, as it is unfolding in developing countries like India, certain key political players would introduce mechanisms through the backdoor claiming that the public access systems are inefficient and impractical in the given social and economic milieu. Beware! It is a calculated and subtle move to sabotage the system and its ability to deliver the common good. They would even propose that an alternate viable and efficient system is that of a publicly subsidized private provision. To begin with the process, this is apparently an efficient one; however, in the course of time, as it has become obvious in the Indian economy, national as well as international pressure tactics would finally take away all subsidies, claiming that a retention of subsidies would adversely affect growth of the economy. The final outcome would be the dismantling of all subsidies and the consequent total privatization. If open access resources are to be retained in view of serving the common good of the society, what is needed is the collective will and creative and proactive political processes to the extent of deliberating and instituting alternate mechanisms put in place by the people.

Thus, although the new era of globalized economic activity has a lot of glittering ‘gold’ to offer, pushing the capitalist market strategy to the extreme form – as it is increasingly applied by the global business giants in the present world of market manipulation – is not only an unbecoming and unjust procedure, but would open up the slippery slopes for the entire society. Within the precincts of capitalist market relations, if everything works perfectly according to the capitalist economic principles, poverty of the masses is just a call away; the natural and logical outcome of a perfect capitalist economy is an impoverished majority. Further, more the international business, as it is insisted upon by the global market forces, richer are the richest and poorer are the poorest.[3]

Then, a question that surfaces is, can the human society leave capitalism to its spontaneous natural culmination? In the process of idealizing and realizing individuals’ self-interest, if the common good is at stake, is it not the moral responsibility of the entire human society to rise up and fight the forces of capitalism, forcing it transform its own inner principles and functional dynamics, even when its might is apparently beyond the mightiest of the states. Even though the new found accumulation of (unjust) wealth and freedom unleashed by the forces of global capitalism, now being accessed and apparently benefited by many nations, suspends a reasonable analysis of the prospects for a just society, it would be catastrophic for human society at large to leave it to its own natural unfolding as if that is the perfect option available. While the ruling states and many of the political functionaries are already under the grip of the capitalist forces, as they also are primarily motivated by their own interests, it would be almost impossible to expect any corrective measures to capitalism or a replacement of capitalism as such from them. Yet another force that is primarily responsible to motivate the society at large for the establishment of the common good is religion, the leaders of which also seem to be directly or indirectly under the grip of the advantages that they reap from the capitalist market economy.

In any age, triumph of capitalism – in its own right is assuming the form of a ‘religious’ faith having a dogma and creed of its own, inviting allegiance from its votaries who subscribe to self-interest as the principal value and virtue – is a challenge to, as well as a failure of the religion as such. Instead of projecting it as an agent solely concerned with the spiritual wellbeing of its votaries, religion as a human institution (pervaded by a definitive divine intervention at its inception as well as in its continued existence) has to address various dimensions of human life, spiritual as well as material, sacred as well as profane, personal as well as public spheres that constitute welfare in this world, identified and augmented through human involvement. Religion has to enable its members to think beyond, act beyond, and hope beyond the domains of development that primarily address material wellbeing and economic progress. Even when material wellbeing and economic progress positively affect the lives of people, religion has to constantly remain as an ever vigilant force, beckoning its members to newer and holistic perspectives and greater and all-enhancing realms of human existence.

The role of religion in social life was challenged during the climax of Enlightenment, which had taken to the supreme authority of reason. Religion which was supposed to be functioning with its basis on the free choice of individual human persons, in the course of time, became a totalizing authority to the extent of even being antithetical to the very foundational sense of freedom. However, a turn to rationalism simultaneously rejected the seats of power, both of religion and the state, in their then existing forms, thus, rationalisation preparing the way for secularisation. At this juncture, there came about a situation in which religion was pushed out of many spheres of life, with a new thrust to establish secular institutions that would serve the same goal in a more effective manner. According to Pieterse, “Developmentalism arose from a rejection of religious explanations and clerical claims while following parallel cognitive patterns.”[4]

The almighty power of global capitalism stands out as a testimony to its all-enveloping and all-absorbing strategy. On the one hand, religions have not succeeded in weeding out the capitalist ideology from among their members; on the contrary, religions themselves have turned out to be the votaries and beneficiaries of capitalist ideology in general, thus facilitating the worst form of exploitation within the frame of an unjust capitalist economic system. In some instances, capitalist ideologues have been capable of exploiting the scriptural bases as well as spiritual patronage to the advantage of capitalism, so much so that scholars such as Max Weber even claimed that a Christian foundation has been instrumental in making capitalist strides in most of the western Christian societies. There were (and there are even now) scholars who cited and interpreted even biblical passages to justify and perpetuate capitalist strategies as the most just and conducive form of economic theory to uplift the modern societies. It is, indeed, the strangest of the things that happened in the western response to Christian teachings that a splendid religion such as Christianity, which epitomised the interests of the other as the measuring rod of one’s own life’s success by rejecting the possibility of projecting self-interest as the primary motivating factor, apparently embraced and justified self-interest and aggressive other-impoverishing strategies to amass wealth through profit-making.

As capitalist thrusts got stabilised and as leaders of Christian churches started realizing the anomalies within the development that the former initiated in the wider societies, especially in the lives of the masses, there began various movements – personally and officially – to circumvent the overtures of excessive capitalism. It must also be acknowledged that alternative economic theories such as Communism and Marxism have also played their role in sensitising and fine-tuning many such responses, including that of the Catholic Church. Yet, it must be positively acknowledged that Christian communities were ready to mend their ways by publically declaring that a sheer capitalist economic theory cannot be adopted to resolve an economically impoverished humanity; it was repeatedly made clear that there are inbuilt irreconcilable elements within capitalism that those who follow fundamental Christian principles cannot accept. Moreover, as capitalist inroads were already made within the western society in general, the powerful offices of the Church were used to motivate those who were unjustly amassing profits through the market operations to open up their resources in addressing the cry of the poor and the oppressed. Official declarations were made from various corners to address the structural injustices so much so that some conscientious persons were made to rethink about their strategies of business and economic activities.

It is true that the capitalist economic theory continues to be practised by many nations, some out of choice – mostly in the West – and others out of force from the international institutions such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which are ultimately institutions that function under the behest of liberal capitalism of the Post World War II global society. The unjust practices perpetuated by capitalists are mostly ascribed to the same set of nations. Even though the thrust of the western economies continues to be more or less the same, the power of the religious forces to motivate and influence at least a sizeable part of the population is to be recognized. As most of the decisive moves are designed by the MNCs and allied politicians and the mass media, making any structural change that would reverberate all through the capitalist world does not seem to come through the interventions of any religion or religious organization. Yet, even if the capitalist structures would continue with renewed vigour (hopefully with the needed amendments), the ongoing response from the part of the conscientious religious leaders would continue to create effective ripples in introducing and sustaining just practices within market dynamics. Thus, religion continues to be a force to reckon with even though its perpetuation of economic practices is telling upon its ability in an age that seems to be freeing itself from the external grip of religion.[5]

Further, in the arena of development, there is constant change and unceasing availability of alternatives. In the context of constant changes and abounding alternatives, if the development scenario is left to itself, selection of its course of action may not always be along the right path. It is incumbent upon economic development to be primarily oriented to those aspects that come under its exclusive purview, to the exclusion of all others. In the context of contemporary global market relations, the direction that development takes is mostly given by the self-centred political leaders and the mass media that align with them. As it would hamper integral growth of the society in general, what is called forth is the inception of a holistic outlook on development, economic development being one aspect of it, motivated and animated by humanistic as well as religious ideals. It is, indeed, true that religions are instrumental in introducing and perpetuating a more cohesive value consciousness within human societies, which could effectively infuse even the economic policies and activities.

From a general perspective, developmental theories that are floated among scholars and practised among institutions of international stature seem to be focusing on larger explanatory frames, which many a time fail to capture some of the vital dimensions that need to be treated as essentials of development with a stress on the local or regional. A total disregard for the local or regional aspects of economic development would hamper a balanced growth; what we experience today in the name of globalisation is the derivation and practice of policies that have almost totally neglected these with an exclusive emphasis on the global; smaller business entities and economically weaker or dependent nations are almost insignificant for the global giants. While opening up the global perspective is very important both for economic and other aspects of development, without sacrificing the local, we need to evolve a new developmental paradigm that would cater to initiate a balanced and just development, without absolutising a market economy pulled and pushed exclusively by self-interest. Such a new developmental paradigm would address the neglected areas such as rural development, balancing between agriculture and industrialisation, village ethos and urbanisation, global trade policies and sustainable development for all, including the Nature. If such an ideal could be brought down to the market policies and relations within economic activities, then we could guarantee freedom and justice, the two key elements that would do the balancing act in the modern society.

In the context of the foregoing discussion on economic development guided by capitalist doctrines and the setbacks that the international society faces, especially with regard to people’s deprivations resulting from unjust economic practices, Cathedrals of Development: A Critique on the Developmental Model of Amartya Sen by Roy Varghese Palatty stands out as a timely and relevant study with a practical thrust for creative transformation. Palatty’s penetrating and pointed critical analysis of Amartya Sen’s theory, without losing sight of the grandeur of Sen’s ethical proposals in the arena of economic practice on a global scale, succeeds in highlighting certain lacuna in the theory of development and justice especially within the practice of globalised capitalism.

Cathedrals of Development makes a commendable attempt to critically analyse the developmental theories proposed by Sen from an ethical point of view. Although Sen’s theory is praised the world over, and has fetched him the Nobel Prize for Economics, Palatty’s criticism is focused and is relevant, especially within an era that tries to glorify the forces of globalisation, but without paying sufficient attention to its unbecoming principles and negative consequences. Squarely facing some unethical dimensions found within the economic theories of Amartya Sen, this book calls for a very cautious approach to development as it should not jeopardize the foundation and the goal of ethics, i.e., freedom and justice, respectively.

An economist and philosopher, the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen is acclaimed for his creative synthesis of economic wisdom with philosophical insights, a blend of which has enabled him to capture the world attention. A neo-liberalist to the core, but sensitive to the unjust practices prevailing within the domains of market relations and social practices, Sen has been outspoken in addressing issues such as poverty, famine, etc. His ingenious analysis of deprivation and entitlement has opened up new avenues of understanding the complex issues related to developmental paradigms that our contemporary society follows. Sen has been instrumental in redeeming and highlighting the foundational doctrine of capitalism – i.e., individual freedom – as the essential factor that enables an individual and a society to be worthy of capabilities and entitlements. In fact, the enthroning of self-interest is attained through the fundamental insistence of individual freedom as the substratum that facilitates any action worthy of a human being. Although the intelligent and insightful analysis offered by Amartya Sen must be lauded, his unflinching commitment to the foundations of neo-liberalist capitalist economic thought cannot be simply bypassed. In spite of his vehement criticism against many factors that are responsible for the multi-faceted deprivations that people in various parts of the globe are subjected to, Sen conveniently bypasses the fundamental structural flaws of the capitalist market economy, which has been, through its subtle mechanisms, depriving people of even their fundamental rights for a dignified human existence. The unbridled focus on profit-making, propelled by the motive of self-interest, has introduced and continues to perpetuate unjust practices into the modern and contemporary market relations, about most of which Sen is conveniently silent or noncommittal.

Individual freedom, as it is epitomized by Sen and other neo-liberalists, is expected to enable entitlements at individual level. Sen’s theory of freedom is said to have given him a tool to interpret even poverty and famines as instances of fundamental denial of individual freedom, whereby the entitlement to commodity or property essentially needed for the upkeep of the person’s life becomes unrealizable. However, a fundamental issue that I have already raised earlier, in the context of a critique of capitalist doctrines, indicates that absolutizing individual freedom in view of enhancing self-interest is ultimately detrimental to the human society. While one person’s individual freedom may enable him to be worthy of his own entitlements, if pushed to the maximal attainment of individual freedom and realization of self-interest, it would be naturally led to deprivation of many. As Roy Palatty puts it very pertinently,

Sen, though in his capabilities and entitlements proposes a rational theory, lacks concreteness, especially when a large number of people in the society are living under social shame. People are living in contradictions and paradoxes, when the gulf between the rich and the poor is being widened every now and then. The problems of unemployment, underemployment, child labour, and hard labour are ground realities, which cannot be solved merely by a theory of ‘freedom’ (42).

So, the neo-liberalist attempt to enthrone individual freedom and self-interest is in need of a social bridle, whereby the attainment of an individual’s self-interest and freedom will have to be seen within the matrix of realizing the common good of the whole society.

Economics enables to develop models based on the available data (processing of the data is facilitated by applied mathematics, in the form of econometrics) as to the nature of economic behaviour of people, which in turn could be employed to explain the dynamics of the past and present economic activities, and make predictions that would illuminate the economic activities of individual persons to regional, national, and international systems. Furthermore, philosophy enables an economist primarily to involve in a critical analysis of the theories that are already in place based upon which economic practices are designed. Moving one step ahead, ethics, a branch of philosophy, is expected to enable an economist, like Sen, to critically evaluate the past and present practices and ascertain to what extent an ethical theory is tenable from the point of view of the perennial values of justice and fairness that are said to be the backbone of any morally acceptable political authority. A striking attraction of Amartya Sen’s works is his ability to weave together economic expertise, critical analysis, and ethical judgment. Even the latest work of Sen, The Idea of Justice (2009), makes an attempt in this regard. His primary thrust in this work is to dwell upon the concept of justice, both from a theoretical and practical point of view, but definitely as it is applied in the social context with special reference to political policies and economic practices oriented towards the welfare of the people. Although philosophy is expected to facilitate creative economic and political theories through the ability for critical reasoning, I am not sure whether philosophic speculation alone would finally pave the way to reduce injustice in the society.

Problems of income inequality resulting from capitalist market relations can no longer be ignored even when the economy apparently thrives on the booming mode. Policy makers must give attention to the basic structure of resource distribution, whereby disparity or gap in the income accessible to various segments of the society can be brought down or narrowed. Moreover, sustainable modes of development, based primarily on the internal resources must be given priority so that even when tragedy strikes the others, economic immunity could be experienced and poverty could be averted or at least successfully kept at bay.

The present models of development – capitalism being one among them but the most prevalent and apparently successful one – have been thoroughly critiqued by many and are found to be suffering from fundamental flaws, which continue to sow the seeds of displacement and discontentment, leading to a total annihilation of identity and resources for many. Then, it is high time the present era had earnestly looked for and experimented alternative models of development which would ensue from the manifold worldviews of visions of life that the humanity is bequeathed with.

Hence, we find Cathedrals of Development making a sustained argument establishing the fact that the synthesis that Sen has attempted is partial and incapable of bringing about any sustainable transformation. After making a detailed study of the neo-capitalist mode of economic practice that Sen propounds, the author challenges Sen’s ‘uncritical’ allegiance to the capitalist doctrines, which, according to him, are basically unjust. Moreover, Sen’s creative analysis and critical argument on some of the economic practices in industrially developing countries ultimately turn out to be an unjustifiable defence of the global market economy, the allies of which have been backing up Sen’s theories as worthy of global justification and application. Indeed, Sen is on the defence while dealing with some inbuilt unjust mechanisms of capitalism. When it comes to the capitalist doctrines that have been instrumental in impoverishing the industrially underdeveloped or developing nations, compared to the industrially developed, Sen either bypasses them in silence, or reaches out to some other dynamics that could replace the destructive or unjust ones.

The apparent enthusiasm with which Sen approaches the issue of development, infused with justice, does not take him to its logical conclusion. While remaining very articulate with regard to the need of establishing justice in the developmental processes, his findings and solutions are only skin-deep. As a committed neo-liberalist, he does not adjudicate the structural injustice within the bounds of capitalism, which is warranted by the fact of lost capabilities and entitlements, especially within the context of global capitalism. His articulate sense of individual freedom is said to be cashable only to those who are well-placed in the society, particularly in the market economy. Individual freedom remains a distant dream for many who have already lost any hope of entitlement, as they are either displaced by the developmental plans of the ‘elites’ or degraded by unjust traditional societal structures. In either case, Sen’s theory does not address the fundamental issues of injustice, whereby he would have implicated those who are responsible for the loss of their legitimate rights, even their human status. If Sen is unable to address these crucial issues in the case of those who have already lost their hopes for a better morrow, what is the purpose in entertaining such a theory? Even when he maintains that our sense of justice within a social order, ideally speaking, is non-parochial, inclusive, and humane, his ultimate solutions seem to be very superfluous, especially when looked through the scanner of the chaotic status of many global and national economies. Against this background, Roy Palatty has put it very succinctly: “Sen’s conception of development and freedom is theoretically bankable, but practically bankrupt” (125).

Cathedrals of Development is an optimistic work; while maintaining a critical approach to Sen’s theory, which fails to address issues of justice on the global as well on the local levels of economic practices, the author undertakes a creative depiction of an alternative economic and developmental vision, where the common good of the society could be definitively reinstated. It is not the altar of individual freedom and self-interest that Roy Palatty takes to be the final court of appeal, but the sensitivity to a holistic development which is inherently infused with a sense of justice that would finally make room for everybody; it is not a sudden uncontrolled spurt of growth (which is usually diagnosed to be a tumour if it were found within an organism) that is conceived to be the rule of developmental economics and global capitalism, but an organic approach, where economic development is to be matched with the attainment of personal as well as common good of the society.

While congratulating Roy Varghese Palatty for this critical and scholarly research on Amartya Sen’s contributions in understanding individual freedom and justice, as they are applied in the context of economic practices, I wish this book wider readership in the field of interdisciplinary studies, especially within the interface between ethics and economics. I hope that Roy’s research interest in applied philosophy with specific focus on ethics would continue to retain its theoretical acumen and practical focus. Let the commendable work that Roy has carried out in the Cathedrals of Development be a stepping stone to greater heights through the ongoing demolition of many more ‘cathedrals’ which have been unduly accorded sacrosanct value within the domains of philosophy, economics, and other disciplines, so that he would succeed in indicating directions to build not necessarily further ‘cathedrals of development’ but primarily the right perspectives that could become inspirational catalysts in building up a better society where all would be respected not for what they have succeeded to amass as property or profit, but for being human and humane without failing to maintain a transcendental focus, a focus that would be at the same time incarnational and liberative.

[1]Smith, Wealth of Nations, 26

[2]Dasgupta, Economics, 17.

[3]Fulcher writes in his critical study on capitalism: “While it is often claimed that global capitalism is integrating the world, international differences are actually increasing... [A]s the United Nations Human Development Reports have clearly shown, the gap between the richest and poorest countries has hugely increased. In 1820 the five richest countries in the world were three times as rich as the five poorest. By 1950, they were 35 times as rich; by 1970, 44 times; and by 1992, 72 times. The world has become steadily more divided by international differences in wealth.” Fulcher, Capitalism, 98.

[4]Pieterse, Development Theory, 26.

[5]According to R. A. Nisbet, “throughout its history the idea [of progress] has been closely linked with, has depended upon, religion or upon intellectual constructs derived from religion.” History of the Idea of Progress, 352.

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