05 December 2012

True conspiracies

There was a time when the SLBC program titled ‘Subharathi’ was dishing out the Eelamist line (in federalist terms of course).  Time passes and that kind of politicking was hoofed out.  What we have now is a different ‘Subharathi’ (except for the theme music at the beginning and end of each program).  It is, for the most part, like programs in all state media, a forum for the government line.  Nothing unusual about it.  The guests are considered ‘safe’ I suppose, in that even if they are not necessarily comfy about regime they would not be necessarily comfy with regime-haters either.

This morning (December 3, 2012) the topic was ‘conspiracy’, i.e. against Sri Lanka.  The discussion invariably slid to the ‘hot topic’ of the impeachment move against the Chief Justice.  I’ve written enough of on the matter, so I won’t go over it all over again. 
A caller made an interesting comment.  He spoke about the economic system, the disparities and other depravations that remain unaddressed.  Shamindra Ferdinando, one of my oldest journalist friends, responded.

‘What that gentlemen said is true.  There is a lot of talk about economic growth and prosperity, but the fact of the matter is that when it’s said that our Per Capita Income is US $ 4000, the number is derived by taking Harry Jayawardena’s income and dividing it up.’
What gets divided on paper does not get divided and dished out. 

Sure, it’s just an indicator and no one thinks that he or she has some legal right to 4000 US dollars every year.  This is the division fallacy which also provides politicians with bragging rights and boosts the ‘national’ feel-good factor, but fools no one, least of all the non-recipient of national prosperity. 
There is no national ‘common wealth’, if you want to put it that way.  A Beetle Bailey cartoon in the eighties put it well: ‘nothing trickles down except pain’.  Of course, we are not a starving nation, but at the same time few would say these are amazing times, economically. 

It may be because we are not at starvation point that the vast majority of the people are not taking to the streets, a non-action that could and does lull the powerful into thinking that all is well.  It is strange however that the cries of ‘shame’ and ‘out of order’ and ‘unjust’ raised with respect to the impeachment procedure that’s underway, there is very little that these self-righteous objectors have to say about the structures injustices of both institutions and economic system.  You do see regular lip-service being paid to old left sentiments on the subject, but that’s limited to May Day carnivals, occasional trade union action and JVP uttering around budget time.  These injustice-fighters forget these issues when they bed with the aforementioned self-righteous hordes.  Then it’s about politics, in particular regime-change efforts. 
Even the calls for system overhaul, interestingly enough, focus on getting the institutional arrangement right but let’s Mr. Economic get off scot free, wiping the grime of surplus extraction off his invisible hands. 

In the meantime, there’s this figure of 4000 whose original is a secret and whose residences are mysterious.  There are questions that are not being asked.
Whose labor congealed and got printed into the relevant number of currency notes?   How much of that labor, in money equivalent, came from those who get to horde an innumerable amount of 4000 dollar ‘pieces’?  Is there a justice issue here? 

Years ago, when I worked at Upali Newspapers, I met Prof Carlo Fonseka, who had come to hand over one of his books to the then Deputy Editor, my friend, colleague and batch-mate from Peradeniya University, Prabath Sahabandu.  As he is wont to do Prof Fonseka could not resist taking a verbal jab at me, all in good humor.  I distinctly remember something I told him that day.

‘Sir, all you “Left” people call me names such as Sinhala Buddhist extremist, chauvinist, racist etc., but the Left has conveniently stopped talking about capitalism, stopped criticizing capitalist; I still do.’
‘I know and I appreciate,’ he said.  He was not joking.

A decade later, those who like to be thought of as ‘Left’ have let their words follow the dictates of the donor dollar market.  They talk of ‘peace’ now and now of ‘reconciliation’; they’ve hopped from tree-hugging to the climate-change bandwagon, while trading occasionally hot commodities like good governance, human rights and election-monitoring.
There are no NGOs to talk about corporate crime, none to take on capitalism; no bucks for these.  But they serve, nevertheless.  They get paid (whether they like it or not and whether or not they are conscious of the fact) to help people forget Mr. Economy (that lovely pseudonym preferred by Mr. Capital) and all the harm he does to the earth and its creatures (including – and especially -- human beings), all the human rights he violates and the significant role he plays in rendering good governance untenable.  I am pretty sure that the movers and shakers among this bunch get more than 4000 US dollars a year.  Heck, some probably make that amount in a month. 

Shamindra pointed out something else which actually speaks to this 4000 dollar business: ‘It is not about “conspiracy” and “politics”; it goes beyond all that.  It is about money.’   Jehan Perera, a well-known and frequently quoted NGO operator once confessed that if the donor bucks dried up he wouldn’t be able to get anyone to join him on a protest.  Shamindra is right, therefore.
So we get back to Harry Jayawardena’s annual buck-cake being cut into little slices each worth 4000 dollars.  Well, not just Harry but let us say a few hundred of like-minded and like-doing individuals.  Between that operation and the number crunching that gives us a per capita income, in figure and not currency notes, there’s a huge lie.  A huge racket.  And we are buying it, wholesale!  Now that, ladies and gentlemen points to THE CONSPIRACY of our times. 


h. said...

Per capita income is important not as a measurement of how much money you can spend for your next meal but as a collective measure of prosperity. This IS important for investment and investors and therefore ultimately has long-term benefits if the measure is good.

Now RW's government was/is always praised for good economy (which can only be said with similar measures) but the difference then was the average citizen WAS in fact starving. No salary increments and no jobs in the govt sector. No concessions for the farmers, etc.

In that sense, I think there is a much better balance now. There's no conspiracy.