Economic growth and satisfaction are two distinctive, yet inalienable, pillars of modern human existence. They are differentiable in the fact that while economic growth is measurable through indices like Gross Domestic Product (GDP), there are no conclusive measures of satisfaction. Moreover, the term ‘economic growth’ invariably carries a national or social connotation while the term ‘satisfaction’ is a reflection of the state of mind of a given person at a given point of time and essentially is individualistic in character. These differences are instrumental not only in conceptualising them but in studying their co-relations and the need for their equilibrium in the context of the modern and post-modern societies we live in. These societies while having generated unprecedented economic growth are deeply mired in issues of hunger, inequality, fundamentalism, terrorism and war, climate change and unsustainable development and many others. This essay is an effort to capture the myriad contours of economic growth and satisfaction in the context of our achievements and obstacles with special focus on the Indian story.
A peek into history shows us that the story of economic growth begins with the concept of agriculture which was fundamental in establishing land as a resource. The surplus production of food grain made way to the specialisation of labour, which led to the diversification of production and consequently economic growth. While these were happening in the economic sphere, commensurate socio-political changes were taking place in the manner of coming into existence of kings and kingdoms on one hand and also hierarchic division of society. Although not much written evidence exists about the lives of the common people it is anybody’s guess that social divisions on different dimensions was not the key to a satisfactory life. The situation worsened through the middle and dark ages which were characterised by cyclic bloodshed by conquerors complemented by religious and economic oppression of the common man under systems of feudalism. Thinkers like Buddha, Mahavira, Jesus Christ and Prophet Muhammad tried to spread the messages of renunciation, austerity and peace as the path to salvation and satisfaction at different points of time. The transition to modernity through renaissance, for the first time in human history, celebrated the human agency and brought about cultural and scientific revolution. This paved the way for democratic institutions, social inclusion and political equality. While these were characteristics predominantly of the West, the yokes of colonisation, which funded economic growth in Europe, destroyed lives of millions in the colonies-the burden of which is still imprinted on the many.
From the above brief historical review, it is evident that only economic growth cannot be the panacea for human development and some sort of satisfaction is necessary for actors at every level of institutional hierarchy. This satisfaction has to be characterised by the feeling of completeness both in terms of materialistic and spiritual resources of the individual, society and nation as a whole.
The pursuit of bigger cars and bigger houses for individuals come at the price of increased ‘alienation’ from fellow humans as outlined by Karl Marx and social ‘anomie’ as suggested by Emile Durkhiem. Other issues like rising incidence of life-style diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes and suicide rates, secessionist tendencies, uncontrolled public rampage (as outlined by the Supreme Court in view of recent Jat agitations) are on the rise. Insatiable greed breeds practices like tax evasion and corruption which deliver fatal blows to the body politic of the nation rendering governments to the state of policy paralysis. Such actions shift
the costs of greed to the economically weaker sections whose access to services is impeded by biased structural and institutional constraints.
To put the matter into perspective, India a lower-middle income country has more than 50 million people suffering from type 2 diabetes while the suicide rates, according to latest NCRB data, is highest amongst the 15-29 age group with an annual growth rate of 1.4 %. A total of only around 5% of the Indian junta pays tax with which the government has to support mammoth schemes likes the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Food Security Scheme, Rural and Urban Health Missions, Swacch Bharat and so on leaving meagre resources for either physical or human capital formation on which the growth of the nation is to be leveraged. Hence parallel to the pursuit of economic growth, adoption of the philosophy of satisfaction of the individual along with instilling a sense of duty is pertinent in the current context.
This fine balance of growth and satisfaction would then lead to equitable distribution of scarce resources thus facilitating further growth which will generate more resources for all and bringing satisfaction to a larger number of people in line with the utilitarian approach of Jeremey Bentham. This positive cycle will be instrumental in reducing the Gini co-efficient (0.39) for India through reduction of multi-dimensional poverty (currently at 55%) and breathe life to the ideals of social and economic justice enshrined in Part IV of the Indian Constitution. It would also lead to the tackling of problems like shamefully high levels of IMR (40) and MMR (178), environmental degradation, unplanned urban agglomeration through optimal utilisation of local resources to double farmer’s income by 2022 as suggested by the Ashok Dalwai Committee. This would then in turn lead to India’s fulfilment of global commitments as outlined in the new Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris treaty on climate change. It would be instrumental in thrusting India on the international stage as a leader, not only in terms of a booming economy but as a beacon of multifaceted growth and a happy population.
Talking of the global stage, the recent events like rising xenophobia as a consequence to rising refuge from war torn Syria (55% migration of population) which lead to events like Brexit and a shocking recent electoral event are putting us in greater peril every passing day. These are complemented by organisations like ISIS who are spreading the evil of fundamentalism to every corner of the world. A contended world populace would then counter these measures with good sense and use technology to feed the 3.5 billion hungry and not manufacture chemical bombs and drones. As the Mahatma had very aptly said that there enough on Earth for everybody’s need, but not enough for everybody’s greed, the finding of balance between growth and satisfaction is the need of the hour.
At this crucial juncture it is important to look into certain avenues through which the paradigm of balance can be reached between satisfaction and growth. As oft repeated by our honourable Prime Minister it is necessary to look into our lifestyles and adopt practices like Yoga which calm our minds and rejuvenate our bodies. As outlined in Catholic philosophies the actions of man should not only be guided by economic concerns but by evaluation those actions in the light of the human development and satisfaction. Renunciation and austerity is the common thread which runs through the ancient philosophies of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism. It is crucial that we revisit these gems of knowledge not for sake of religious fundamentalism but to appreciate, absorb, implement, reproduce and refine these values nationally and globally. The ideas of integral humanism as suggested by Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay are worth studying to reorient ourselves.
On a materialistic plane implementation in letter and spirit of laws like Corporate Social Responsibility to ensure that the fruits of economic growth trickle down to the most deprived sections and help in satisfying them. Stringent implementation of laws like the Prevention of Corruption Act, The Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, Benami Properties Act, amendments of Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Singapore are other avenues to provide balance and impose fiscal discipline. These will in turn strengthen the public purse which will be reflected through efficient outcome of schemes like Digital India, Skill India, Accessible India, Make in India, Janani Sishu Surakha Yojana, National Solar Mission, Housing for All, Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana (UDAY) and many more.
Internationally there is an urgent need to focus on de-escalating of tensions in all conflict zones through the path of peace as respect for sovereignty as outlined by Pt. Nehru in while formation of Non Allied Movement. Agreements on environment and climate change needs to be adhered to while giving due considerations to special needs of developing countries. This would lead to an international aura of trust building and mutual satisfaction. Separatists need to be brought to discussion table as done recently in India through the Naga Pact. Issue of nuclear disarmament needs to reach an amicable solution acceptable to all.
On a concluding note it can be said that finding the proper balance of growth and satisfaction is impeding upon the young generation, us. The journey towards satisfactory human development started with the Brundtland Commission report suggesting the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals and it has culminated in mentionable efforts like the adoption of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. On a national level the concern for satisfaction vis-àvis economic growth is visible in the establishment of Department of Happiness in Madhya Pradesh, India. It needs to be carried forward and can be done with contribution from all of us and will be instrumental in ‘wiping every tear from every eye’.