A conversation with Deepak Lal, for Man and the Economy

Lal  Deepak Lal is the James S. Coleman Professor Emeritus of International Development Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, professor emeritus of political economy at University College London, and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He was a member of the Indian Foreign Service (1963-66) and has served as a consultant to the Indian Planning Commission, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, various UN agencies, South Korea, and Sri Lanka. From 1984 to 1987 he was research administrator at the World Bank.

  Lal is the author of a number of books, including The Poverty of Development Economics; The Hindu Equilibrium; Against Dirigisme; The Political Economy of Poverty, Equity and Growth; Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factor Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance; and Reviving the Invisible Hand: The Case for Classical Liberalism in the 21st Century.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: From Gandhi’s point of view, in substance, Varanashram (caste system) is inherent in human nature and it was solely given a scientific expression through Hinduism. Similarly, can one contend that utility maximization and rational calculus are innate human traits that capitalism turned into a science?

  Deepak Lal: As I have shown in The Hindu Equilibrium, the caste system, far from being timeless and “inherent in human nature,” most likely arose as the Aryan response to the problem of securing a stable labor supply for the relatively labor-intensive agriculture they came to practice in the Indo-Gangetic plan. Given the ecological circumstances of this large plain (once the primeval forests had been cleared during the Aryan advance), and the primitive forms of transport then available, a major constraint on achieving a political solution for the provision of a stable labor supply, was the endemic political instability among the numerous feuding monarchies.

  This endemic political instability meant that various alternatives methods of tying down the scarce labor (relative to land) needed for the labor-intensive form of plow agriculture on the plains were not available, such as slavery, poll taxation, indenture, or limitations on migration. For these required the power of a centralized state and its attendant bureaucracy for enforcement. The caste system provided a more subtle and enduring answer to the Aryans’ problem of maintaining their rural labor supply. It established a decentralized system of control that did not require any overall (and larger) political community to exist for its survival, and it ensured that any attempt to start new settlements outside its framework would be difficult if not impossible. The division of labor by caste and its enforcement by local social ostracism were central to the schema.

  As for capitalism, understood as the natural “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another,” it is hardly a new thing and must date back to the hunter-gatherer stage of our development in the Pleistocene. Given the time scale of Darwinian processes of “inclusive fitness”—it takes about ten thousand years to produce a new species—much of our current biological nature must have been determined in this distant past. Though, I should mention it was the creation of the whole legal cum administrative structure for enforcing property rights through the Church-State established by Gregory VII over Western Christendom which established capitalism as an institution, thus leading to the dynamic which began the Great Divergence in the economic fortunes of the West and the Rest.

  One essential component of the instincts that were determined thought evolutionary processes—during the millennia when we were hunter-gatherers—was to truck and barter. Another one was to behave morally. However, both appear to be underlying trade and “reciprocal altruism,” as our moral instincts were arguably fixed by repeated social interactions with one’s fellows on a “face to face” basis in the hunter-gatherer band. Indeed, the rise of settled agriculture and urban civilization seems to have enlarged the scope for opportunistic behavior, because of the relatively larger number of more anonymous social transactions entailed in civilized ways of living. Then, an internalized moral code must have been needed, as individuals came to deal with a host of anonymous “strangers” on an occasional basis.

  The cooperative gains that result from the increasing division of labor in a more complex civilization would not have been available without some mechanism (either inborn or cultural) for dealing with the increased potential for defection when social interactions became anonymous and sporadic. Thus, our moral instincts must have emerged as fruitful strategies to curb, detect, and punish defection in the strategic non-zero sum game of genetic competition with one’s fellows, with whom cooperation in various tasks of fields direct benefits; but even greater benefits accrue if one can cheat and be a free rider. The cosmologies of the ancient civilizations also created internalized moral codes to prevent such defection (through, for example, moral prohibitions against our basic instincts to lie and cheat).

  Grégoire Canlorbe: You have extensively written in praise of empires. How do you sum up the own assets and handicaps of the former British Empire—and of the present Commonwealth—to unfetter trade, to enforce order, and to sustain intensive and robust growth over a large economic space?

  Deepak Lal: Empires—which for our purposes can be simply defined as multiethnic conglomerates held together by transnational organizational and cultural ties—have historically both maintained peace and promoted prosperity. This is because the imperial pax or order has been associated with globalization—which is not a new phenomenon—and the prosperity it breeds. In the language of institutional economics, transaction costs were reduced by these transnational organizations through their extension of metropolitan property rights to other countries. And in integrating previously loosely linked or even autarkic countries and regions—through free flows of goods, capital, and people—into a common economic space, they promote those gains from trade and specialization emphasized by Adam Smith.

  Thus the Graeco-Roman empires linked the areas around the Mediterranean, the Abbasid empire of the Arabs linked the worlds of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, and the Mongol empire linked China with the Near East. Similarly, the various Indian empires created a common economic space in the sub-continent, while the expanding Chinese empire linked the economic spaces of the Yellow River with those of the Yangtze. It was the British who for the first time knit the whole world through their empire. But most of these empires have ultimately declined. Given the existing technology and the inevitable predatoriness of the state, most of them overextended themselves.

  As for the colonial impact on Indian polity and society the Mutiny of 1857 provides a convenient dividing line for two distinct phases. These phases in turn can be identified with two distinct lines of thought which emerged at the turn of the nineteenth century. These concerned the means for promoting the welfare of the Indian people which had explicitly been made the Company’s charge by the English Parliament in the late eighteenth century. The Mutiny also roughly marks the transition of the British in India from “nabobs” to “sahibs.” The nabobs sought to assimilate and to become a traditional Indian power; the sahibs set themselves apart and above their subjects.

  The notions of racial exclusiveness and the “White Man’s Burden,” so characteristic of the late imperial phase, were alien to India’s early British rulers, who exhibited a more robust delight in both the country’s mores and its women. Like the Moghuls and other past imperial rulers of India, they would have been satisfied to maintain law and order in the countryside in return for the land revenue which had so for long been the loadstone of imperial ambitions. When it comes to evaluating retrospectively the record of the British empire I think the glass is, like for most empires, either half-full or half-empty. One of the best things the rulers did was to implement a series of social reforms which substantially modernized the Indian society. The most important was the suppression of suttee or burning of widows on their husband’s funeral pyre. This was made illegal in 1828.

  In the previous fifteen years, recorded suttees alone had varied annually from 500 to 820. The second major measure was the suppression of infanticide, particularly of female children, whilst the most dramatic was the suppression of “thuggee,” which had involved ritual murder and robbery in the name of the goddess Kali. The reform of education is also worth mentioning. From 1835, an elitist system of providing secondary and higher education in English to the Indian upper classes was implemented. And three non-teaching universities (which were primarily examining bodies for the affiliated colleges) were established in 1857 at Bombay, Calcutta, and Madras. Given their need for Indians to man the intermediate and lower levels of the bureaucracy, the British encouraged literary and philosophical studies in the new schools and colleges. By contrast, both primary and technical education languished.

  However, another positive thing that the British empire achieved was the institution of property rights in the major asset of Indians—land—and that of the rule of law to enforce these rights. By separating the judiciary from the executive, anglicizing the British administration, and separating the commercial from the political interests of the British in India, it sought to erect an impersonal government. The task of enshrining this rule of law in a fully-fledged codification of Indian public law was not completed until 1861. As British law came to cover the most important areas of Indian lives, it was inevitable that there was a vast growth of indigenous lawyers, trained and skilled in operating in the new-style Western courts. They were to provide the backbone of the middle-classes, which were to emerge as a significant factor in India’s nationalist movement and post-Independence politics.

  The worst thing that the British empire did was to implement labor laws and protectionist measures in the late nineteenth century. Instead of promoting infant industries much of this protection shielded established ones against technical changes elsewhere (cotton textiles against Japanese imports) or fostered industries (such as sugar) in which India had no long-run comparative advantage. The ensuing waste of resources imposed lower growth in both employment and industrial output than was feasible. The Indian textile industry, which under laissez-faire and free trade had so triumphantly turned the tables against Lancashire in the second half of the nineteenth century, started declining with the introduction in 1881—soon after similar rights had been granted to workers in Britain—of legislation to protect industrial labor from perceived abuses.

  The British empire’s abandonment of the twin policies of free trade and laissez faire which had led India to be a pioneer of Third World industrialization, based on domestic capital and entrepreneurship and imported technology, led to a near century of creeping and after Independence galloping dirigisme, which damaged India’s growth prospects and the hopes of alleviating its ancient scourge of mass poverty. The breakdown of the global economy for the half-century from the First World War further eroded the incipient integration of India in the world economy, which had occurred during the British Raj. Beginning with the economic reforms of 1991 India, at last, seems to have turned its back on these near century of “inward looking” policies, so that on a long view it seems to back at where it left off at the end of the nineteenth century.

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A conversation with Patrick Moore, for the Association des Climato-réalistes

cropped-patrick-header  Patrick Moore is a Canadian activist, and former president of Greenpeace Canada. Since leaving Greenpeace, which he helped  to found, Moore has criticized the environmental movement for what he sees as scare tactics and disinformation, saying that the environmental movement “abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism.” He has sharply and publicly differed with many policies of major environmental groups, including Greenpeace itself on other issues including forestry, biotechnology, aquaculture, and the use of chemicals for many applications.

  Grégoire Canlorbe: The beliefs and values of an individual generally reach such a degree of interdependence (regardless of the poorly or rigorously logical character of this interconnection) that challenging a particular aspect of his worldview sets the whole edifice in motion, and not just that particular belief or value. When you finally decided to distance yourself from Greenpeace, how much had you been evolving in your personal philosophy?

  Patrick Moore: Well, I have to say even at the beginning of Greenpeace, I didn’t share all the same values and opinions of my comrades. I was doing a PhD in ecology, so I was involved in a science education and, although there were a few people in the original group who had some science education, in the end, science was lost altogether in the Greenpeace evolution, to where during my last 6 years as a director of Greenpeace International, none of my fellow directors had any formal science education. In the beginning, we had a very strong humanitarian orientation to save human civilization from all-out nuclear war.

  That was basically the main focus of Greenpeace. The “peace” part was really what we were emphasizing in the beginning. Our theme was that all-out nuclear war would also be extremely damaging to the environment, the “green” part. So “green” and “peace” being put together in one word was a revolutionary concept and one of the reasons it gained so much authority and power, because it resonated with people that humans and the environment were one thing closely related to each other. As time went on, the peace kind of got lost when we shifted to “save the whales,” “save the baby seals,” “stop toxic waste dumping,” and “anti-nuclear energy”, instead of anti-nuclear weapons. And so the thinking shifted to where we were focusing more on nature, and that caused the “peace” to drop off the end of Greenpeace, a little bit, and by the time I left in 1986, Greenpeace and much of the rest of the environmental movement was characterizing humans as the enemies of earth, the enemies of nature. And this does not resonate with me.

  Being an ecologist, I see all life as one system on the earth. Ecology is about the interrelationships among all of the different forms of life, including humans of course. We came from nature, we evolved from nature in the same manner, evolutionarily, as all of the others species did. So, to see human as separate and, in a way, the only evil animal, is how it is now projected. We’re the only bad animal, the only bad species. Even weeds are better than us, disease agents are not evil, they are just there, part of nature. While humans in a sort of original sin kind of fashion, have become characterized as the enemies of nature, so that’s why I left Greenpeace on the broader front, because I don’t believe in that even for one second, that we are the enemies of nature, and you’ll understand why later in the interview, but, for me, my distancing from Greenpeace began about four years before I left.

  In 1982, there was a meeting of international environmental with about 85 of us, I believe, from all over the world chosen on geographical criteria. I was from Western Canada, the one person from Western Canada in that meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. After the first UN Conference on the environment in 1972 in Stockholm, the first United Nations agency to be in a developing country, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) was founded in Kenya. And in order to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Stockholm conference, we 85 environmental were brought together by the Environmental Liaison Center, which was the environmental NGO’s liaison with UNEP. It was at that meeting that I heard for the first time in my life the term “sustainable development.” That term had been coined earlier in the day at a meeting between environmentalists from the industrial countries and environmentalists from the developing countries.

  Most people think sustainable development was a compromise between environmentalists and industrialists, the development part, but no. It was a compromise among environmentalists, because if you’re an environmentalist in a developing country, you cannot be against development. Whereas most of the environmental people from the industrial countries were basically against mega-projects and developments like large dams and nuclear power plants, huge construction projects they were always opposing, and still do today. But in developing countries, if you’re against development, you are laughed away from the room, because developing countries are developing and that’s all there is to it, they’re trying to have a better life for their citizens and more wealth for their countries.

  So that’s when I first began to realize, this term “sustainable development” told me that the challenge for environmentalism going forward would be much larger than just awareness of the environment. It includes the social and economic dimensions. Sustainable development means you have to take into consideration the fact that there are more than 7 billion human beings, who every day need food, energy, and materials to survive. Food, energy, and materials, all come from the environment. So I saw things in a completely different picture as a result of this new approach. I too, in the campaigning of the environmental movement that what we did 24/7, all we did was think about our campaigns, I kind of had the blinkers on, a little bit and only seeing the ecology and the environment and nature, and not seeing the relationships with the social and economic factors that govern our daily lives, and so I realized that the incorporation of environmental values into the social and economic fabric had to be taken.

  You can’t just say, “Ok, we’re going to save the environment, never mind the people, just let them die, because they can’t have anything anymore, because it will affect the environment.” That’s not a correct approach and I think too much today, if you take for example, the movement against oil, and pipelines to carry to refineries and all of this. It’s basically being proposed that we commit economic suicide. If you look at the environmental movement position on energy today, they are against fossil fuels, they are against nuclear energy, they are against hydroelectric energy, they are against 98.5 % of the world’s energy. This would be suicide, not just economic suicide but really suicide, like dying. So, over 4 years, not knowing or understanding what I could possibly do next after being in Greenpeace for 15 years, right out of university, right out of my PhD, I had no chance to have a “normal” life in industry or government, at this point I was far, too far gone along my way of thinking to do that. So I left Greenpeace.

  Why did I leave Greenpeace finally? Because they adopted a campaign to ban chlorine worldwide. And of this I thought how ridiculous, I’m in this group where all the other directors have no science and they’re saying we should ban the element chlorine from existence in human affairs. They didn’t seem to understand that chlorine was the most important element for public health and medicine and when I saw this I realized they really didn’t care about people. They would ban an element which is so important in healthcare and in medicine, adding chlorine to our drinking water has been the biggest advance in the history of public health in swimming pools and spas where it prevents bacteria from killing us, and most of our synthetic medicines, pharmaceuticals or drugs are made with chlorine chemistry. Chlorine is important, precisely because it’s toxic to bacteria and other disease agents that are trying to kill us.

  So in the end, that was the sharp point of the stick for me. I could not stay in an association, as an international director, that was against the use of chlorine for medicine and public health. And so I left and began a salmon farm in aquaculture at my childhood home on Northern Vancouver Island and, within a year or two, was being attacked by Greenpeace for growing fish. Then I really knew I was smart to get out, because aquaculture, of course, is one of the most important future methods of food production for this world. Producing healthy proteins and fats better for you in a diet than land animals, not that I don’t eat those but that’s a long winded explanation of why I left Greenpeace.

Grégoire Canlorbe with Patrick Moore

Patrick Moore (on the left), in the company of Grégoire Canlorbe,
in December 2017 in Paris

  Grégoire Canlorbe: President Trump makes no mystery of his climate skepticism, thus echoing the own language elements of his Russian homologue. It was revealed that Mr. Putin’s skepticism dates from the early 2000s, when his staff did very extensive work trying to uncover all aspects of the alleged anthropogenic climate warning. Do you believe the Kremlin, along with the Trump administration, has become a front-runner in the fight against climate change totalitarianism?

  Patrick Moore: Yes, it’s been very obvious for some time that the Russians, particularly Russian scientists, do not believe that man-made climate change has been a catastrophe of some kind. I mean, most scientists will say, yes of course, there are over seven billion humans and our missions and our activities, especially the clearing of ecosystems for agriculture, it’s obviously having some effect on the world but whether it’s having a huge effect on the climate is very much debatable, and I don’t really believe it is true. Microclimates, yes, cities have made changes that had make it warmer inside, for example, the “urban heat island effect” as it is called. So everywhere you go where there is a city with a lots of concrete and lots of heat being used in the buildings, you will find that it is warmer in the city than it is out in the country right nearby.

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