People Matter

Mauritius Times – 60 Years Ago

Mr Hinchey’s Letter to ‘J.O.’ Commented

By Peter Ibbotson

The editor of J.O. et Tribune Ouvrière has done a great service in publishing the letter from Mr Hinchey, the Financial Secretary, defining the social policy of the Government of Mauritius. Briefly, Mr Hinchey says that people must produce more if they wish to raise their standard of living, though the present national income per head is declining because the rate of population growth exceeds the rate of increase in production. And the Government is committed to social welfare schemes which will take up all the money that it can get, by grant or by borrowing, either at home or abroad.

In other words, Mr Hinchey’s letter holds out little hope of amelioration for the lives of thousands of Mauritians. They must provide by their own efforts, he says; but how can an unemployed man provide for anything? People must make the best possible use of their talents — but how can men make any use of their talents when they are denied the opportunity so to do? Many Mauritians have talents which they cannot use because the educational facilities to develop them do not exist. Others cannot use their talents because there is no work for them. How does Mr Hinchey propose that such persons shall use their talents to any purpose?

The Government, we are told, can plan, but the people must act. In this context, it would be interesting to know whom Mr Hinchey means by “the people”. The owners of the sugar plantations, perhaps; or the men who control Mauritius’ economic destiny. In any case, they are not the “people”, they are but a small section of the people; and they are not inclined to heed Government exhortation. Indeed, those who control the economic power of a country, whether a small island like Mauritius or a rich land such as the U.K. or the U.S.A., are not usually disposed to accept Government plans or to act according to those plans.

When Mr Hinchey says that people must produce more to have a higher standard of living, he is on disputable ground. For everyone in Mauritius to have a higher average standard of living, it is true that production must be increased; but by a fairer distribution of the national income, many people could have a higher standard of life while the standard of only a few would have to be lowered. The answer to higher output lies in the hands of those who control the island’s agriculture; if their standard of life is threatened with lowering and they wish to retain it at a higher level, they can do so by ensuring higher productivity. There is unused land in Mauritius which can be usefully employed; for example, the lands at present preserved for stag-hunting can be brought into productive agricultural use. Perhaps as it stands that land is unsuitable for production; but with fertilising and other treatment, it could be made productive.

Are those who regularly hunt stags, however, prepared to make the sacrifice of their so-called “sport” for the benefit of the island as a whole?

More generous treatment by the estate owners in the matter of facilities for getting fodder would benefit cattle-breeding and the production of milk. Too many families get insufficient milk — as Father Dethise’s survey has shown. Improved cattle breeding, with the emphasis on larger yields of milk, would raise the standard of life of these families. And it wouldn’t cost the estate owners much, to be more generous to their employees. Let them help their workers in the matter of fodder collection, instead of putting hindrances in their way — hindrances such as nails in boards and bits of rubber.

Better distribution of the national income, I said. The reports of the Income Tax Department show how few Mauritians pay any income tax on their personal incomes: only 4,394 in 1954-55. Yet in 1952 the economically active population, i.e. the number of people earning anything, was 163,908. That means that nearly 160,000 persons didn’t earn enough to pay income tax. The population report showed that the average national income per head of population was Rs 1,000 a year in 1952; and each wage or income earner supported two others. That means that, for an average of Rs 1,000 per head, the national average was Rs 3,000 per earning inhabitant.

The Income Tax Department’s reports show that many people have personal incomes in excess of this sum; and the reports of the Labour Department show how many people have personal incomes far below this figure. Father Dethise showed that the majority of urban families are badly housed and have barely sufficient income to provide themselves with enough food to live on — except by filling themselves with stodgy food such as rice and bread; not a satisfactory diet. At the same time we have people enjoying incomes in excess of Rs 5,000 a year; while plantation workers have to get along as best they can on under Rs 1,000 a year. There is no fair distribution of the national income in Mauritius, and the Government should set about securing a fairer distribution before telling people to increase production if they wish to live better.

The wealthy will doubtless reply that they subscribe liberally to charitable funds whose object is to relieve distress and poverty among the people. To this I retort that the people do not seek charity; they seek social justice; they seek a tolerable minimum standard of civilised living; they seek as of right and not as of charity enough for them and theirs of live on. If there is the money available for the wealthy to subscribe to charitable funds, there is obviously the money available for them to invest in economically useful and productive activities, or to pay in greater taxation.

The people seek enough to live on. Give them enough to live on — and many Mauritius, even those in work, haven’t got that — and they will live good and useful lives. “That a man may lead a virtuous life two things are needed. The chief requisite is virtuous action, for virtue is that by which one leads a good life. The other requisite, which is secondary and quasi-instrumental in character, is a sufficiency of material goods, the use of which is necessary for virtuous action.” Thus wrote the great Christian philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas (De Regimine Principum, book I, chapter 15). Yet many people in Mauritius, as well as the world over, are denied the very essentials of their ability to live a virtuous life. They are denied the sufficiency of material goods that are essential to them.

Mr Hinchey’s reliance on arguments related to the role of money in conditioning Government activity shows that he is aware of the fatal role of money-power in the modern world, and implies that he is satisfied that money shall continue to exert its present nefarious influence. He says that the extent of government activity in ameliorating people’s conditions of life is limited by the amount of money available. (Has the Government done anything about the drain of Mauritian rupees, calculable in tens if not hundreds of thousands, to South Africa and elsewhere? He thus reveals that he regards, and is satisfied to regard, money as the master of men; whereas of course, money should be the servant. People matter, not money. Economic and political action should dominate financial enterprise. Instead, in this modern world, what do we find? We find that money is allowed to matter at the expense of human beings. We find that financial considerations are allowed to determine and rule economic and political action, instead of the other way round. The few wealthy people in Mauritius really control the destiny of the island; yet those few wealthy people are, by and large, Franco-Mauritians professing the religious faith whose temporal heads have more than once condemned the terrible power deriving from the possession and control of accumulated money. Nowadays, men are subordinated to production (Mr Hinchey’s letter shows just that) and production is subordinated to money-power. This subordination of man to money-power has led to the break-up of social life; as Pope Pius XI has said in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (‘On The Social Order’).

The terrible power wielded by those controlling the supply, creation and distribution of money jeopardises the independence of countries and the welfare of the human race. In Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius refers to “the deadly and detestable international imperialism of money” (funestus et exsecrandus rei nummariae internationalismus seu imperialismus internationalis). This terrible power must be lessened; but the modern tendency — which Mr Hinchey accepts, as his letter shows — is for finance to exercise a growing dominance over individuals, who are supposed to be politically free but who are becoming more and more economically dependent. The answer is to get rid of the reversal of the natural order. Instead of man being subordinated to production, and production to money-power, the natural order must be restored: money-power must be subordinated to the needs of mankind. The essentials to virtuous living, so briefly yet all-embracingly expressed by St Thomas Aquinas, must be assured to everyone. Money-power and the money manipulators must be firmly put in their proper places. The State should act for the benefit of its subjects, not as an agent for the enrichment of the moneyed classes.

There is only one political party whose programme is aligned to the end of destroying the terrible power of finance and money-power; the Labour Party, Labour Parties the world over are determined to see a fair deal for the common man; the way to that fair deal will be a hard way but it is well worth any sacrifice. And I for one am well content to tread that way. Are you?

* Published in print edition on 31 May 2019

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