Unravelling an Economic Truth

Khosla ka Ghosla may not exactly be the best example to bring home (pun intended) the importance of property. But there definitely is something about land which provokes the most primal instincts of man. Maybe it’s the notion of ownership attached to it that makes human beings display behavior similar to that of a dog marking its territory. Let me clarify that I have nothing against the dog species, they just happen to have such a distinctive style (pardon the second bad analogy in a row!)

A more rational way of understanding the significance that property, or broadly land holds in human history can be judged from the existence of entire theories on it. In fact a fundamental point of difference between the prevailing antagonistic ideologies of socialism and capitalism happens to be their distinctive approach towards property. The reason it becomes imperative for these economic theories to look into the question of property, is simply because economics recognizes land as a factor of production. And come to think of it, without land the only way to indulge in productive activity is in cyber world, fortunately or unfortunately it’s not possible to actually ‘live’ online……till now. So land is crucial to man, the glitch is it’s important to every man; the bigger glitch is till Mars becomes colonized we have to do with limited amount of land.

So according to pure but common sensical economic logic, if a lot of people want the same thing and here I mean a lot( check out the last census figures for India if you want to know what I am talking about) and that entity is not just limited but non-reproducible, we have a problem. This fundamental problem has on its own accord, given rise to countless others and been the basis for power struggles since the beginning of time across the world. Which is why Gandhi in his bid to provide an alternative method of conflict resolution, based on the twin ideas of truth and non violence, was compelled to discuss property. The idea of property as a root cause of inequality is not hard to fathom. You not only have a ‘makkan’ you also have the ability to decide who gets roti and kappda too. In other words you own and control a factor of production.

Having established property as a ‘necessary evil’ Gandhi goes on to, as his brand demands, find a solution. Now this solution is based on a premise which, to my mind, crystallizes the crux of the Gandhian philosophy. Gandhi related property with trusteeship and by doing so he effectively destroys the notion of power that is inherent in any ownership issue. Trusteeship involves the using of the land under your control for the benefit of society but at the same time keeping aside for yourself the amount that compensates you for providing the services of up keeping and maintenance. Ownership has no role to play here. This is an essential departure from theories of yore because it asks of man in essence not to be or behave like an animal. If that condition was satisfied things become very simple.

It is easy at this point of the article, to fling the words idealistic, unrealistic and many other –tics on Gandhi and get on with it. The only injustice would be that we would in essence be flinging away what is ‘right’. Indeed of all the debates that I have ever been audience to, the bottom line somehow is always drawn with the acceptance that it all boils down to someone knowing what’s right and doing that too. I applaud Gandhi’s valiant effort so many years ago at converting this vague idea of goodness into a concrete concept, that of trusteeship.

Economics has tried to teach me a lot of things. One of the rare notions that has managed to find a favoured place in my mindset, is that at the end of the day, everything is subjective. Everything in economics is based on the assumption that the players involved are rational. Gandhi the economist, based his entire theory on the assumption that the consumer was ‘good’. Because for him goodness was the only rational way to be.

Malavika Vyawahare