By Panduka Karunanayake
Leftist ideologues like to create an image of ‘the market’ as a terrible place, like how grown-ups frighten children with their ghost stories. The market is portrayed as a ruthless, heartless machine that thrives on unfairness and corruption, crushing the poor and fattening the rich. It must have become easier to create this image after the Soviet bloc fell in the 1990s and China emerged out of communism soon afterwards, because after that people quickly forgot that socialist and communist economies too have markets – even markets every bit as ruthless, heartless, unfair and corrupt as any capitalist market. Today, these ideologues can write as if the market and capitalism are synonyms. Everything ‘un-socialist’ can be easily ‘explained away’ by saying that it ‘promotes marketisation’.
No amount of argument or explanation would change these ideologues’ minds – after all, an ideologue is a person who pursues an ideology in an inflexible manner. But let me set out some related matters, for the benefit of the rest of us.
Emergence and evolution of the market
Markets have probably existed throughout human existence, because human beings are social animals that thrive on social interaction. There is an illuminating passage in Charles Darwin’s book The Voyage of the Beagle, where he described an encounter with the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego in South America, who were ‘primitive’ hunter-gatherers and nomads with no previous encounter with civilisation:
“Some of the Feugians plainly showed that they had a fair notion of barter. I gave one man a large nail (a most valuable present) without making any signs for a return; but he immediately picked out two fish, and handed them up on the point of his spear. If any present was designed for one canoe, and it fell near another, it was invariably given to the right owner.”
This passage shows that they were well-versed in the moral principles – such as free choice, trust, fairness and reciprocity – associated with exchange of goods and services that form the basis of the functioning market.
The market became prominent after the emergence of agriculture about 10,000 year ago. Agriculture enabled farmers to produce a food surplus, which then enabled the rest of the villagers to work on other crafts – promoting division of labour and specialisation. This created an overall increase in the quality of the villagers’ lives, because they now had a wider variety of produce to consume. Villagers now depended on each other more, for the produce they wished to consume. As the village increased in size and complexity, a place where producers and consumers could meet, to exchange goods and services, became a necessity. In the physical realm this was the marketplace, and in the conceptual realm it was the market. Initially, exchange occurred through the barter system without a medium of exchange, but the invention of money made it easier.
But until industrialisation, this market was small and sluggish. It produced very little, compared to today. Most of what a village produced was consumed within it, and only a tiny proportion of it left the village, to be consumed by outsiders – the market was still not much more than the marketplace.
Reason for smallness
The reason for this smallness was not entirely because there were no industrial factories. The villagers could have produced more if they wanted to, but they didn’t, because they saw that any extra produce created problems. There were difficulties with storing it, protecting it, preserving it or transporting it elswhere, and in any event the lords could easily expropriate it under the feudalistic modes of production. Items that were considered luxury items were an exception; they were carried to distant destinations by camel, caravan or boat.
But starting in the eighteenth century, industrialisation changed all that. Factories produced large quantities of produce (or ‘commodities’) cheaply, and the market expanded to distribute a much larger variety and quantity of goods much more widely. Specialisation became the norm and a necessity. The crucial factor that made all this possible was probably the improvement in transport. Look at your lunch plate today, and try to figure out from where and how far each of the food items on it – not to mention the plate itself or the energy for the fire that cooked your lunch – have come from.
Today, production and consumption are almost totally separated from each other (with a few exceptions, like farmers who sell their produce by the roadside in front of their homes, and ‘factory outlets’). It is the market that enables this to happen. The market, which is no longer simply the marketplace, gives us access to a bewildering variety of goods and services, thereby enabling us – even the poorest amongst us – to enjoy a greater choice and higher quality of life, compared to pre-industrial times. The healthcare and education that even the poorest amongst us enjoy would not reach them if not for the market.
As an example, let us take soap. Until industrialisation this was a luxury item that only the elite enjoyed. In Roman times, even the elite cleaned themselves mostly by simply immersing themselves in their baths and rubbing off dirt; indeed, using soap would have made the bath too disgusting to get into. Soap was available only to those in the very highest echelons of society. The masses were ‘dirty’ and their skin was infested with scabies, pediculosis and lice, and they commonly suffered diseases like impetigo and erysipelas – they lacked even the water necessary to wash themselves (especially hot water in cold climates). But today, soap is so ubiquitous that we take it for granted – it was industrialisation that enabled its cheap mass production and the market that enabled its wide distribution.
Value of simple things
The real value of something as simple as soap was driven home powerfully to me in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, when people had lost everything and were accommodated in make-shift camps. What did they ask for, from the donors and volunteers who went to help them? First, they asked for food, water and certain medicines. A few days later, they began asking for soap, a change of clothing and sanitary pads: after three or four days, they were itching and suffering with fungal skin infections. That was an unfortunate re-enactment and reminder of the pre-industrial life of the masses. I remembered how a textbook of public health that I had read a few decades earlier had cleverly classified infectious diseases according to whether they were prevented by soap and water, clean drinking water, safe food, and so on. The post-tsunami experience showed me the sagacity of that – and the value of the ubiquitous soap, industrialisation and the market.
In his book The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler compared a modern-day market to an efficient telephone exchange or switchboard. A switchboard connects thousands of senders and recipients accurately and enables messages to be sent across to their intended destinations – like producers, consumers, and goods and services in the market. Like telephone messages, goods and services are produced, sent across and consumed according to need and availability: demand and supply.
Such a market cannot exist on its own. It needs inputs from important sectors in society, such as law and order (which upholds the right to private property, prevents or punishes theft, and arbitrates when there are contractual disagreements), education (which creates an educated and trained workforce, not only for manufacture but also for distribution), communication, energy, transport, ports, etc. Such external supports have existed not only in capitalist markets but also in pre-capitalist and socialist markets. These supports are provided because everybody realises that markets are useful to everyone, especially when the population expands and the demand for commodities increases.
So, to say that something should be abhorred because it promotes ‘marketisation’ is disingenuous.
Organising the market
Markets can be organised in various ways. It helps to think of these as lying on a spectrum ranging from capitalism to communism, which are the extreme forms at the two ends. In-between, there are lots of compromises, combinations or ‘middle ways’. For instance, the current Chineses model is sometimes called state capitalism – a good example of a middle way.
But the natural form of the market that emerged spontaneously was the free market: a market where no authority-imposed restrictions or controls, nor introduced any encouragements or inducements. The activities in the free market merely recognised the concepts of private property and voluntary exchange, and operated on demand and supply. That was all.
Throughout this time, the free market has had many opponents who have tried to impose limits or controls to it. Division of labour and specialisation were resisted – by the cultural elite who tried to maintain the status quo in society, such as the caste system in ancient society and feudal-peasant relations in medieval times. During industrialisation when factories came up, that was resisted too – by guildsmen who felt that their business was threatened, and those like the Luddites who felt threatened by the new manufacturing technology. Karl Marx proposed that private property, including ‘the means of production’, should be taken over by the state and brought under its control.
Some of the concepts that they used against the growth of the free market were traditional values such as loyalty and caste-based duties (especially upheld by the cultural elite), simplicity in life and charity as well as opposition to ‘ursury’ and banks (especially the clergy), and equality. It is only now, after centuries of change, that words like ‘industry’ (which initially meant industriousness), ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘individualism’ have emerged as ‘good words’, to create an environment conducive to a free market. Charles Dickens’ novel Martin Chuzzlewit nicely captured the mood of the era when industrialisation was struggling to emerge through the feudal society, by portraying the struggle of a typical ‘upstart’ who had to go to America to make a fresh start.
According to Stephen Fry, even today, the typical British comedy mostly parodies the upstart’s ineptness (“celebrate failure”), whereas the typical American comedy glorifies the industrious entrepreneur or smart-aleck (“life is improvable”). When we read comments about the market, we must take care to ‘read’ this subtext too.
Ironically, inequality had previously been tolerated and even celebrated, as long as the only inequality was between the elite and the masses – the masses were ‘equal’ in their poverty and the elite were rich by birthright. But after industrialisation, the moment the masses gradually became enriched and a middle class emerged, inequality became a big social issue. When a part of the masses remained poor and another part became better-off, socialism was born. Different segments of the masses quickly became each other’s enemies – thanks to socialism. It was an example of applying the brakes even before the vehicle had started to move in earnest. They were ennobled by socialism’s new words, like ‘fraternity’ and ‘equality’ – which basically meant, ‘Those who are not poor like you are not one of you, and have no right to be rich if you too cannot be rich’.
But while the leaders of socialism may have harboured such beliefs, their proletariat comrades had simpler minds. In his book The Road to Wigan Pier written after World War One, George Orwell, himself a socialist, reflecting on the tensions and contradictions in English society as it grappled with this new-found inequality and ‘class struggle’, wrote:
“To the ordinary working man, the sort you would meet in any pub on Saturday night, Socialism does not mean much more than better wages and shorter hours and nobody bossing you about….[No] genuine working man grasps the deeper implications of Socialism. Often, in my opinion, he is a truer Socialist than the orthodox Marxist, because he does remember what the other so often forgets, that Socialism means justice and common decency….His vision of the Socialist future is a vision of present society with the worst abuses left out, and with interest centring round the same things as at present – family life, the pub, football, and local politics.”
Orwell’s main message was that any effort to ‘improve’ society, by whatever name, that had lost touch with the common man was bound to deteriorate into a fascism. The remainder of the twentieth century proved him right.
Today, Orwell’s England has come through quite nicely in spite of the disintegration of the British Empire soon afterwards, and shows none of the class struggle and poverty Orwell’s and Dickens’ books have recorded. So, should we champion an equality of the poor, or should we patiently work towards a gradually enriching society with a tolerable level of inequality?
At the same time, it is also advisable to control some forms of exchange in the market. For instance, if a country considers that it is necessary to ensure food security through its own, local cultivation of important crops, it is wise to put in place some safeguards to protect local agriculture from the adverse effects of competition from imported foods, at least for important foods. Even advanced capitalist countries like USA and Japan do this (for wheat and rice, respectively).
Similarly, it would be prudent to protect certain crucial markets, such as the energy sector and ports. It is also important to ensure distribution of crucial goods & services (such as healthcare, basic education, basic housing, basic clothing, basic transport) for all members of society, with a view to protecting the poor who have limited purchasing power. This requires the institution of safety nets and price control. In this age of climate change, resource depletion and environmental degradation, nobody would argue against environmental protection, which naturally requires the imposition of certain restrictions on the free market. Finally, nobody would argue that sectors such as national defence and law & order should be floated in the free market. So markets do need judicious controls and regulation.
More than ‘free’
On the flip side, in some markets there are mechanisms created specifically to encourage a bigger flow of goods & services than what the natural, ‘free’ market would sustain. These include patent laws, laws restricting monopolies, bankruptcy laws, the financial and share market, and so on; some of them may be good, while others are not.
The market is then not merely a place of exchange; it is also a place to make massive profits, where the falling crumbs accumulate to produce huge volumes of ‘wealth’. There are those who would profit exactly from this, while such ‘wealth generation’ or ‘productivity’ brings no intrinsic value to society while needlessly destroying our environment and culture – this can then become the new status quo that these new elite wish to protect.
A free market would promote exchange of goods & services and increase the volume of exchange, and this in turn would increase employment, productivity, taxation and funds for welfare expenditure. Both restricting it and encouraging it, while sometimes necessary, must be done only cautiously. Naturally, therefore, both extremes – and their supportive ideologies – are not good. What we need to have is a ‘middle-way’ market that enables enough economic activity and protects the poor, while protecting the environment for future generations.
So, there is no need to fear the market. What we need to do is understand it, be able to predict its behaviour, and try to modify it so that it creates the benefits we need and avoids harm. The child must grow up, overcome the fear of ghosts and learn to deal with darkness. Disingenuous, sleight-of-hand arguments that promote the darkness are of no use, and their supportive ideologies can only lead to fascism – as the twentieth century amply taught us.
The writer teaches medicine in the University of Colombo (email:
firstname.lastname@example.org). He acknowledges helpful comments from Professor Sirimal Abeyratne (Professor of Economics, University of Colombo) and Dr G. Usvatte-aratchi.
Lingering world disorder and the UN’s role
Russia could very well be questioning the legitimacy of the UN system by currently challenging the right of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the conflicting accusations of genocide brought against each other by it and Ukraine. Russia has countered Ukraine’s charge of genocide, occasioned by its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by accusing the latter of perpetrating the same crime in the rebel region of Eastern Ukraine, which is seen as being within the Russian sphere of influence.
As is known, when Russia did not participate in a hearing sanctioned by the ICJ on the charge of genocide brought against it in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to halt the invasion forthwith. Russia, however, as reported in some sections of the international media, reacted by claiming that the ICJ has ‘no jurisdiction over the case since Ukraine’s request does not come within the scope of the Genocide Convention.’ The main sides to the Ukraine conflict are at present reportedly stating their positions in the ICJ with regard to the correctness of this claim.
Whereas, the law-abiding the world over would have expected the ICJ’s word to prevail in the Ukraine conflict, this does not seem to be the case. More precisely, it is the moral authority of the UN that is being questioned by Russia. Given this situation, the observer cannot be faulted for believing that Russia is ‘sticking to its guns’ of favouring a military solution in the Ukraine.
Considering the foregoing and the continuing lawlessness in other geographical regions, such as South-West Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the commentator is justified in taking the position that little or nothing has been gained by the world community by way of fostering international peace over the decades.
Most distressing is the UN’s seeming helplessness in the face of international disorder, bloodshed and war. The thorny questions from the 9/11 New York twin-tower terror attacks, for instance, are remaining with humanity.
One of the most dreaded questions is whether the UN Charter has been rendered a dead letter by the forces of lawlessness and those wielders of overwhelming military might who couldn’t care less for moral scruples. Those state actors who display these traits risk being seen as destruction-oriented subversives or terrorists who are impervious to civilizational values.
Commentators are right when they point to the need for UN reform. This is, in fact, long overdue. Of the original ‘Big Five’ who went on to constitute the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the end of World War 11 and who oversaw the establishment of the UN, only the US and China retain major power status in the true sense of the phrase today.
The rest of the original heavyweights cannot be considered ‘spent forces’, but there are other powers of more recent origin who could easily vie for their positions. Some of these are India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Inducting some of the latter into the UNSC could help constitute a more globally representative UNSC. That is, they will help put together an UNSC which is more faithfully reflective of the current global power distribution.
Theoretically, a more widely representative and inclusive UNSC could be a check against the arbitrary exercise of power by the more ambitious, expansionary and authoritarian members of the UNSC but a foremost challenge facing the UN is to induce such new members of the UNSC into representing the vital and legitimate interests of the ordinary publics within these states and internationally. Minus such representation of the world’s powerless UN reform could come to nought. In fact, this could be described as a prime challenge before the UN which could decide its enduring relevance.
Admittedly, the challenge is complex and defies easy resolution. Not all the countries that are seen as prospective UNSC members are democratic in orientation. That is, they would not be people-friendly or egalitarian. Most of them are governed by power elites that are part of what has been described as the ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’ and could be expected to be repressive and parasitic rather than caring or egalitarian. How then could they be expected to be committed to re-distributive justice within their countries, for example?
In the short and medium terms, the UN system could bring into being systems and institutions that could make it comparatively difficult for the power elites of the world to be parasitic, exploitive, self-serving and unconscionable. Strengthening and giving added teeth to systems that could prove effective against money-laundering and allied practices of self-aggrandizement is one way out.
Ironically, it is perhaps the UN that could lay the basis for and provide these mechanisms most effectively and non-obtrusively. It would need to work more with governments and publics on these fronts and lay the foundation for the necessary accountability procedures within states. It should prepare for the long haul.
In the longer term, it’s the coming into existence of democracy-conscious governments and ruling strata that must be sought. Here too the UN could play a significant role. Its numerous agencies could prove more proactive and dynamic in inculcating and teaching the core values of democracy to particularly poor and vulnerable populations that could fall prey to anti-democratic, parochial political forces that thrive on division and discord.
UN aid could be even directly tied to the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions in particularly impoverished countries and regions. Thus will the basis be laid for younger leaders with a strong democratic vision and programmatic alternative for their countries. Hopefully, such issues would get some airing in the current UN General Assembly sessions.
Accordingly, the broad-basing of the UNSC is integral to UN reform but the progressive world cannot stop there. It would need to ensure the perpetuation of the UN system by helping to bring into being polities that would respect this cardinal international organization which has as its prime aim the fostering of world peace. Democracy-conscious populations are an urgent need and systems of education that advocate the core values of democracy need to be established and strengthened worldwide.
The coming into being of rivals to the current Western-dominated world order, such as the BRICS bloc, needs to be welcomed but unless they are people-friendly and egalitarian little good will be achieved. Besides, undermining the UN and its central institutions would prove utterly counter-productive.
Country Roads …concert for children
I’ve always wondered why those who have hit the big time in their profession, as singers, have not cared to reach out to the needy.
They generally glorify themselves, especially on social media, not only with their achievements, but also with their outfits, etc. – all status symbols.
I’m still to see some of the big names grouping together to help the thousands who are suffering, at this point in time – children, especially.
However, I need to commend the Country Music Foundation of Sri Lanka for tirelessly working to bring some relief, and happiness, to children, in this part of the world.
Country Roads is said to be Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s longest running charity concert for children, and this year, they say, the show will be even better.
This concert has consistently donated 100% of its proceeds to children’s charities in Sri Lanka. Over the past 35 years, this has resulted in several million rupees worth of aid, all of which has contributed directly to addressing the most pressing issues faced by children in Sri Lanka, a common practice since the concert’s first edition was held in 1988.
In 2014, the concert contributed Rs. 500,000 to Save the Children Sri Lanka, to support its mother-and-child programme for local plantations. During the same year, another Rs. 100,000 was given to the Oxonian Heart Foundation, to help treat impoverished and destitute children suﬀering from heart disease, while a further Rs. 100,000 was donated to a poor family caring for a special needs child. In commemoration of its landmark 25th anniversary concert in 2013, CMF donated a million rupees to aid in a special UNICEF project.
The 2023 musical extravaganza will feature the bright lights and panoramic cityscape of Colombo, as its backdrop, as it will be held at the picturesque Virticle by Jetwing, which is situated high above the city, on the 30th ﬂoor of the Access Towers building, in Union Place, Colombo 2.
The 35th anniversary Country Roads concert for children will take place on Saturday, 7th October, 2023.
Feizal Samath, President of the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the concert organisers, commented: “We are very much looking forward to this event as it’s being held after a lapse of five years, due to unavoidable circumstances.”
Fan favourites the Mavericks from Germany and Astrid Brook from the UK will once again return to headline the 2023 concert, and joining them on stage will be local outfit Cosmic Rays, as well as the Country Revival Band, with Feizal and Jury.
Dirk (from the Mavericks) has this to say to his Sri Lankan fans: “2018 was the last time we were in your beautiful country with the Mavericks band. Then Corona came and with it a long break. I missed you very much during this time.
“It has now been five years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. A lot has changed. The sponsorship that has always made this trip possible for us is gone. But we didn’t just want to end this tradition, which we have learned to love so much since 1992. That’s why we’re travelling to Sri Lanka this year entirely at our own expense, because it’s an affair of the heart for us.
“We very much hope that it won’t be the last Maverick performance in Sri Lanka. We hope that this unique journey will continue, that there will also be a Country Roads concert in the years to come.”
The 35th anniversary edition of the Country Roads concert for children will be supported by Official Venue Virticle by Jetwing, and Official Airline SriLankan Airlines, as well as its other partners, Jetwing Colombo Seven, Cargills, LOLC, and Fireﬂy.
Tickets are currently available, for a charitable donation of Rs 2,000 each, at Cargills Food City outlets at Kirulapone, Kohuwela (Bernards), Majestic City, Mount Lavinia (junction) and Staples Street.
Healthy, Glowing Skin
Give your skin a boost by including the following into your diet:
Avocados contain healthy fats which can help your skin stay moisturised and firm.
They also contain vitamin C and E – two important nutrients that your body need to support healthy skin and fight free radical formation.
Avocados are also rich in biotin, a B vitamin that some nutritionists believe can help promote healthy skin and hair. A deficiency of biotin can lead to skin problems, such as rashes, ache, psoriasis, dermatitis and overall itchiness.
Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which fights against sunburns, cell death, and wrinkles. Vitamin A also adds a healthy, warm glow to your skin.
You can get vitamin A by consuming provitamin A through fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Your body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to protect your skin from the sun.
Provitamin A can also be found in oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers, broccoli and more.
* Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate is beneficial for your skin because cocoa powder boasts a bunch of antioxidants. These antioxidants hydrate and smoothen your skin, making your skin less sensitive to sunburn and improves the blood flow of your skin. Make a healthy choice by opting for a bar of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa for more antioxidants and lesser added sugar.
* Green Tea:
Green tea has been said to protect the skin against external stressors and ageing. This is because it is antioxidant-rich and contains catechins that protect your skin, reduce redness, increase hydration, and improve elasticity.
A diet rich in antioxidants along with adequate hydration may even out your skin texture, strengthen your skin barrier and improve your overall skin health.
Avoid adding milk to green tea as the combination can reduce the effects of the antioxidants present in green tea.
Additional tips for healthy skin…
Don’t forget to stay hydrated because water plays a big part in the appearance of your skin. Water ensures your skin has enough moisture, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps with nutrient absorption, removal of toxins and blood circulation.
Besides food and water, it is important to observe proper hygiene. This means no touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. Your hands carry more bacteria than you think and the occasional touch here and there can add up. After a long day out, cleanse your face thoroughly.
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