In 1875, the then President of Colby University, J T Champlin wrote in his Lessons on Political Economy: “Economy leads to wealth, and hence political economy may be defined as the science of wealth, whether national or individual.” This undiluted emphasis on production and its scale of the original thinkers who started the discipline of Economics was further deepened when the followers in later centuries added the dimension of consumption satisfaction – what they called utility – into the analyses of the discipline. For representative purposes, let us look at how Champlin continued: “Wealth is any thing appropriated by labour or discovery which contributes to our weal or which gratifies a desire.
But in order to gratify our desires, objects must be brought into relation with some of our senses, and in various ways be prepared to please them. In doing this, it is necessary to change not only their place, but generally their form also. ……. Political economy assumes as its basis in human nature that men in their business affairs are governed by selfishness; that every man will aim so to dispose of his labour and its products as to promote in the highest degree the objects of his desire, and will endeavour to attain any end with the least possible amount of irksome labour.
Upon this principle, which is most unquestionably true, the whole science is built. From it follow the laws of value and price, and on it rest our whole monetary and industrial fabric. Thus, though many ethical principles may be defended on economical grounds, as, when we say that honesty is the best policy, and many economic principles on ethical grounds; yet Ethics and Political Economy are essentially distinct sciences.
Ethics treats of right. Political Economy of gain. Ethics lays down the rules of conduct in our intercourse with others which are dictated by an enlightened sense of duty; Political Economy, the rules of action, dictated by an enlightened self-love. Ethics regards the good of others; political economy our own good alone, but always within the limits of the rights of others.”
This dismal approach devoid of any moral grounding has been by and large the guiding principle of transformational efforts of the world during the last three centuries particularly after the First Industrial Revolution. The inadequacy of this approach as the basis for sustenance for well-being has been firmly established by the present pandemic.
It was in this context that I argued in my last piece in this column for a social understanding of challenges and articulation of interventions, instead of the traditional just economic, political or otherwise. The current pandemic has given us a natural experimentation of the latest favourite among Economists of what they call Difference in Differences Approach.
But the beauty of the impacts of Covid19 lies in the complete breakdown of the traditional demarcations and boundaries of the social science disciplines; in the boastful subject of Economics, besides the distance from other disciplines, the demarcations – between individual and society, local and global, ethical or otherwise, endogenous and exogenous – have all been broken down. It has now to be necessarily social, moral and global; the transitions are continuous.
Here I would like to reiterate that the practice of isolated pride and egotism of different disciplines have only led to the present exposure of their isolated weaknesses.
Now there is no alternative to integrated approaches to understanding of issues and evolution of policies. This is where the significance of four things arise for sure: (a) the creation and establishment of contextual thinking capability at every contextual level; (b) the creation and establishment again at every critical social level of capability to link up with the global thinking and interventions; (c) the involvement of a cross-section of stakeholders at every level such that the contextual understanding and interventions have owners at the contextual levels; and (d) the adoption of social as a term inclusive of economic, political, digital and scientific dimensions.
While the appreciation and evolution of policies should necessarily be social, I would definitely flag an issue. The Covid19 has definitely deepened and widened social (includes economic, political, digital and scientific) divide in every society and in every country.
The long-term implications of deepening and widening of social inequality are risky for any nation. The scope and potential for social violence, including conflict situations, are high in such contexts; the pandemic has already caused heightening of domestic and social crimes. Given the heterogeneity of ethnicity and geography in India and the already prevailing scenario, the risk is particularly high in this country. The question necessarily arises as to what is to be done now.
What is to be done now? This leads to the next question of by whom and for whom. As emphasised repeatedly, the necessity is for integrated and coordinated policies for all the dimensions of social existence. But we must hasten to appreciate that there is a limit to the social and governance capability to perform and achieve at any point of time. In this context, I would definitely emphasise the primacy of focusing on children and youth policies by both the state and the society. The key players involved in the rising risk consequent upon deepening social inequality are the children and the youth. No country can afford to ignore the interests of children and youth for they constitute the future of any nation.
Given this understanding, the contextual appreciation of the social challenges being faced by the children and the youths should now be initiated in every level across the country. The appreciation of these social challenges should be followed up by identifying the differential components for the policy interventions in terms of the economic, digital, moral and scientific aspects.
The challenge for the state is that every child and every youth should be able to feel and experience the equalisation of opportunities in every aspect of social existence. The importance for this lies in making the children and the youths feel the existence for hope and sustenance of expectations for the future. The absence of these would be a very fertile ground for the violence and conflicts to emerge and multiply.