Going beyond bounds

It may be said that in many countries of the world today the mood is not exceedingly good. That does not augur well for the coming period. However, should we take it forward? Will it help? No. Because good things happen more when one takes on a positive outlook despite setbacks.

Society emerging from a model which was ruining it

Let’s, for a moment, go back to a not so remote past in the history of Mauritius. Those who have appeared on the scene with the generations after the 1980s may not know about it; those who’ve grown up – especially in rural areas — in the period prior to this will recall. In the generation before independence and the years which followed, people were beset by numerous existential difficulties.

I can still recall school friends coming to school barefoot. Clothes they wore sometimes had patches – genuine ones, not fashion-induced – on them. Parents couldn’t afford to buy new sets of clothes for their children. Nor were there more than a couple of sets of clothes per child. The warm cup of milk that was served free during break at school was an important stayer for many of the empty stomachs. Unemployment was rife. Most houses were covered with dried sugar cane leaves, the best the workers could afford.

Yet, there was hope that the future would not be as bleak as it was. It was this belief of emancipation from poverty that brought children to school. It was this again which made people look up to general social improvement through education of the upcoming generation. Children were taught to strive and to be upright in their conduct. There were always examples given out to them from stories and scriptures about dire hardships having ultimately been vanquished through perseverance.

The fight for a brighter future

Despite the prevailing lack of opportunities to get out from misery, hopes were nevertheless held up on to a not so far-away future when the life situation should improve by dint of hard work. It is this ardent faith in a brighter future to come that has brought us to our present comfortable situation.

The question is: what was it that brought about such a change in the life and circumstances of the majority of Mauritius’ population? I don’t have all the answers since changing circumstances also played a huge part in the transformation for the better. Given this, the poor station in which each family was moored up at the time soon started changing for the better.

One cannot rule out effort and perseverance at the personal level as one of the key factors contributing to it. There was an emerging new social consciousness – not only in Mauritius, but in almost all parts of the world – that things can’t carry on the same. New leaders who had a genuine element of compassion in the heart emerged and managed to tilt the scales in favour of the majority which, only a few years back, appeared condemned otherwise to spend their lifetime in deprivation and poverty.

Leaders introduced new policies such as universal education, healthcare, better social rights, voting and democratic institutions, freedom and equality before the law. Those who had feared to share economic power with the rest were persuaded to ease their grip on control, including control of the state’s decision-making process.

When the tide briskly ebbs out

Other things were happening in the background in certain parts of the world. The application of science introduced the steam engine and electricity, which have lifted economic production and productivity (the amount of output produced per worker or per unit of capital employed) the last 150 years beyond mankind’s wildest expectations. This led to new-gained and more widespread prosperity. It later travelled to past colonies like Mauritius, increasing economic scope in the backward countries of the world just as well.

Unfortunately, while the developing world was still trying to bring more assertively the benefits of industrialisation lately to itself, the world seems to be staggering into a widespread weakening and fragile economic condition at least during the past decade. That has created all sorts of insecurities, including in the advanced economies themselves. Jobs have been lost. The future is uncertain.

The tide of growing productivity over the past century and a half has suddenly ebbed, despite new technology. New technology itself threatens to swamp half of existing jobs through automation, adding to the precarious job situation. This explains the gloom into which the world of ever-rising aspirations is currently gripped. In the ensuing hopelessness, people have tried to blockade themselves behind protectionist trade tariffs and also behind decision-makers who have not the least clue how to turn things around for the better.

In vast swathes of countries, people seem to know what they are against and not so much what they should do to get back to enduring and better shared prosperity once again. They don’t seem to realize that by blocking away globalisation, they will be denying themselves the sustaining benefits of the shared prosperity of past decades.

We should not despair. President Obama whose presidency comes to term in about 20 days from now has faced the purposeless obstructionism from his own party’s and Republican Congressmen and women during his two terms. That has prevented America from becoming the solution-provider to the world from the ongoing crisis. His efforts to redeem a country – and the world along with it — from the crushing legacy of his predecessor were not only not recognised and duly supported (not solely because of his skin colour, maybe). They were deliberately frustrated from being given the chance to launch again global economic well-being out of the clutches of the Recession. Congress should recognize that this mattered more than the power game Mr Putin and Mr Xi Jinping have now set themselves up to.

Be it as it may, abstract politicking for shifts of power will not take the world where it needs to be – lifting boats which risk sinking fast. As it happened in the case of the pre-Industrial society, instability will be tackled concretely by new economic configurations the world over. New players like China will come and support global prosperity on which all of us depend.

This will entail a better sharing of the fruits of production, amongst and within countries. The current situation calls for a transcendence, a “dépassement de soi”. For this, leaders like Messrs Farage and Trump will have to come out from their little shells and seek to transform themselves into practical implementers not of high rhetoric but of a new wave of widespread peace and prosperity. Independent and competent institutions will have to re-emerge from the ruins politicians have made of them.

Whether we like it or not, constraints to growth will dictate this focussed new agenda even to the most narrow-minded of political and business leaders. It will be a re-enactment of the transformative pre-independence policies as it happened in the case of Mauritius way back in the 1970s and 1980s.

Anil Gujadhur

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