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Victim Blaming: An Orientalist Pastime

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It’s an indisputable fact that British colonizers built roads and railways in India, they established missionary schools, colleges and universities, they enforced English common law and the goal of exploiting natural resources and the 400 million strong Indian manpower at the time of independence in 1947, and trading raw materials for pennies and exporting finished goods with huge profits to the Indian consumer market never crossed their altruistic minds.

Puns aside, there is an essential precondition in the European Union’s charter of union according to which the developing economies of Europe that joined the EU allowed free movement of goods (free trade) only on the reciprocal condition that the developed countries would allow the free movement of labor.

What’s obvious in this stipulation is the fact that the free movement of goods, services and capital only benefits the countries that have a strong manufacturing base; and the free movement of workers only favors the developing economies where labor is cheap.

Now, when the international financial institutions, like the IMF and WTO, promote free trade by exhorting the developing countries all over the world to reduce tariffs and subsidies without the reciprocal free movement of labor, whose interests do such institutions try to protect? Obviously, they try to protect the interests of their biggest donors by shares, i.e. the developed countries.

Some market fundamentalists who irrationally believe in the laissez-faire capitalism try to justify this unfair practice by positing Schumpeter’s theory of “Creative destruction:” that the free trade between unequal trading partners leads to the destruction of the host country’s existing economic order and a subsequent reconfiguration gives birth to a better economic order.

Whenever one comes up with gross absurdities such proportions, they should always make it contingent on the principle of reciprocity: that is, if free trade is beneficial for the nascent industrial base of the developing economies then the free movement of labor is equally beneficial for the workforce of the developed countries.

The policymakers of the developing countries must not allow themselves to be hoodwinked by such deceptive arguments, instead they should devise national policies which suit the interests of their underprivileged masses. But the trouble is that the governments of the Third World countries are dependent on foreign investment, that’s why they cannot adopt an independent economic and trade policy.

The so-called “multinational” corporations based in the Western financial districts make profits from the consumer markets all over the world and pay a share of those profits to their respective governments as bribes in the form of taxes. Every balance of trade deficit due to the lack of strong manufacturing base makes the developing nations poorer, and every balance of trade surplus further adds to the already immense fortune of the developed world.

A single large multinational corporation earns more revenue annually than the total GDP of many developing nations. Without this neocolonial system of exploitation the whole edifice of supposedly “meritocratic” capitalism will fall flat on its face and the myth of individual incentive would get busted beyond repair, because it only means incentive for the pike and not for the minnows.

Regarding the technological progress, I do concede that the Western countries are too far ahead and even the Far Eastern nations, like Japan, South Korea and China, that attained their independence later than India and Pakistan, have become developed and prosperous nations, while we have lagged behind. The way I see it, however, our failure is primarily the failure of the leadership.

It’s a fact that the European culture evolved in a bottom-up manner during the Renaissance period especially after the invention of the Gutenberg’s printing press when books and newspapers became cheaper and within the reach of the common man, but when we look at the technological and economic development of nations in the 20th and 21st centuries, that happened mostly in a top-down manner, especially in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and in China after the Maoist revolution in 1949.

Cultures take centuries to evolve and the basic driver is always the level of socioeconomic development of the masses, therefore, our primary concern should be to improve governance and invest in the infrastructure development and the technical education and vocational training of our labor force. In the long run technologically advanced and economically prosperous nations are more likely to bring about a cultural change, too.

Regarding the contribution of British colonizers to India, the countries that don’t have a history of colonization, like China and Russia for instance, have better roads, railways and industries built by the natives themselves than the ones that have been through centuries of foreign occupation and colonization, like the subcontinent. The worst thing that the British colonizers did to the subcontinent was that they put in place a tyrannical governance and administrative system that catered to the needs of the colonizers without being accountable to the people over whom it was imposed.

It’s unfortunate that despite having the trappings of democracy and freedom, India and Pakistan are still continuing with the same exploitative traditional power structure that was bequeathed to us by the British colonizers. The society is stratified along the class lines, most of our ruling elite still have the attitude of the foreign colonizers and the top-down bureaucratic “Afsar Shahi Nizam” is one of the most inefficient in the world.

Notwithstanding, the basic trouble with the 21st century social reformers is that they have lost all hope for bringing about economic reforms; nobody talks about the nationalization of the modes of production and labor reforms, anymore. Laissez faire capitalism and the consequent social stratification is taken for granted; thus, if reforming the economic system is out of question, the next best thing for the chattering classes to espouse is cultural reforms. It must be kept in mind, however, that reforming the culture is many times more difficult than reforming the economic system, which the neoliberals have already given up on, because it appeared daunting and impossible to achieve.

Truth be told, the victim-blaming Indo-Pakistani neoliberals lack any original insight into the social and political phenomena and they uncritically imitate the views of the Orientalist academics. After the onset of the Industrial Revolution, when the Western societies had been riddled with social disparity, the response of their intellectuals had been to come up with theories of economics such as socialism, Fabianism and Marxism; however, in the age of neocolonialism and corporate imperialism, the condition and social status of the labor in the developed countries has improved; therefore, their focus has shifted from economic reforms to cultural reforms. Our gullible intelligentsia, on the other hand, is fixated on bringing about cultural reforms without the essential prerequisites of socioeconomic development and investment on education.

The public schools of the developed world provide quality education to all the citizens irrespective of their social status, because in a country like UK the budgetary allocation for public education is $150 for a population of 65 million, while in a Third World country, like Pakistan, the education budget is only $5 billion for a population of 200 million.

Thus, the fundamental social axiom of the egalitarian modern world view: that is, the equality of opportunity, which is directly linked to the equality of elementary education, has been ensured in the developed world, but not in the Third World countries where education systems are highly stratified along the class lines. Although, the elite schools of the Third World countries provide quality education to the children of the upper classes, but their tuition fee is generally so exorbitant that it exceeds the net income of the majority of the households in Pakistan and India.

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Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and Petroimperialism.

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