Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago
By Peter Ibbotson
A considerable section of the population of Mauritius do not receive sufficiently high money-incomes, even when they are in employment, to enable them to buy the minimum supply of food, clothing, fuel and shelter necessary for the maintenance of health and physical efficiency. This poverty is the curse of modern Mauritius; it will, as long as it exists exact payment from the nation… either through the physical degeneration and industrial incapacity of the victims… or else by the cost of preventive action.
Poverty breeds sickness; physical sickness certainly, but also mental sickness — the mental sickness of the man who never has enough to eat, never a decent shirt to his back; who can never look at his wife and children and know that he has provided adequately for them. As well as poverty, insecurity stalks Mauritius; insecurity, a social disease which spreads its malevolent effects over a much wider area than actual poverty. Insecurity hangs like a dark cloud over the lives of an overwhelming majority of the people of all classes. It eats away the very basis of personal confidence and ease of mind. It creates and perpetuates a morbid preoccupation with material needs; it centres a great part of the attention of the individual upon his own and his dependants’ elementary physical requirement. Insecurity and poverty give rise to the claim that everyone has the right to live; to the claim for a fairer distribution of the country’s wealth; to the claim for a tolerable minimum standard of civilised living for all.
Action will have none of this; Action classifies this right as un des plus sinistres bobards auquel ait donné cours le philosophisme des 18ème et 20ème siècles (one of the most sinister and nonsensical claims of 18th and 20th century philosophy).
Humanitarians deny that the right to live is a nonsensical claim. Humanitarians wish to see everyone given the opportunity of a decent life. Humanitarians wish to see, in Mauritius, something done for the thousands of unfortunates who are unemployed during the intercrop. (A man who can deny that unemployment exists during the intercrop is not fit to be a nominated MLC, let alone to have been a liaison officer).
The aim of humanitarians is nothing less than such a reorganisation of the whole economy as will ensure regularity of consumer’s demand at an irreducible minimum standard of life, and that minimum must correspond, as nearly as it can be made to do, with the standard which is technically possible when all our resources are fully employed. From this it follows that we must eliminate unemployment, and ensure stability in the economic system. (Two long overdue reforms for Mauritius).
Before the war, Mr B.S. Rowntree undertook a survey in England of family income and expenditure, and found that the incomes of a large proportion of the population fell considerably below the level of minimum human needs. Father Dethise found the same thing in his enquiry into the family budgets of Port Louis workers last year. Mr Rowntree urged that in all industries where adequate wages were not being paid, minimum wages should be fixed for men of ordinary ability, sufficient to enable them to marry, live in a decent house and bring up a normal-sized family in a state of physical efficiency. He suggested a period of five years during which wages should be gradually but compulsorily raised; for his survey established not only the desirability, but the urgent necessity, of achieving this minimum of human needs below which no family would be allowed to fall.
In other words, Mr Rowntree believed that there is a right to live; that all human beings have a right to a decent life with adequate food and housing. Action however denies this right and puts forward the theory that only the best shall survive: the law of the economic jungle; the law of untrammelled free enterprise with no restrictions on hours of work or conditions of work or minimum wages; the law of capitalism at its most viciously rampant. Against this policy of complete laissez-faire which is so dear to Action and his merry men, I urge that the right to a decent life must be assured to all Mauritian workers. What is needed to ensure it? A carefully planned economic policy; for it is the task of statesmanship to discover how this minimum of elementary requirements can be secured to every citizen.
The suggestion of a planned economy will make the capitalists recoil in horror. Socialist nonsense! I can hear someone at Corderie Street snorting as he sharpens the editorial pencil prior to denouncing my fallacious bobard. But let me put one more fact and one more suggestion. The fact is that free enterprise, unplanned capitalism, has led to the present economic decay which today blights Mauritian society. The suggestion is that if we want different results, we must adopt different methods. The method of planning (controlling the means to achieve desired ends) which I have advocated holds out the possibility of increasing production through a wiser disposition of resources. It is upon this basis, I contend, that a higher and increasing standard of comfort and security could be built.
Action and Le Cernéen may well disagree. They may well choose to dismiss as socialist claptrap my quotations. They are quite at liberty to do so: though I should point out that all my quotations have been selected to show l’Action that his claim that le droit de vivre n’est pas inné is not upheld by all Conservatives. For all my quotations, indeed, pleading for planned economy so that a tolerable minimum of living may be enjoyed by all — in other words, in order that all may enjoy their right to live — come from ‘The Middle Way’, written in 1938 by a backbench MP who has now risen to be the Prime Minister of the UK — Mr Harold Macmillan.
The pity is, of course, that he has no apparent intention of doing anything to translate the fine words of 1938 into the fine deeds of 1957.
4th Year – No 140
Friday 12th April, 1957
* Published in print edition on 12 March 2020