Posted by: pgprm08 | December 4, 2009

Review of the book “Bazaars, Conversations And Freedom” –Rajni Bakshi — by LG1

Rajni Bakshi in this book of hers has tried to explore ways in which market, unlike in the past, can work differently. An indepth reading of this book gives its readers the impression that we need to choose the middle path. She chooses to put her point across mainly through examples and practices across the world. Her book is not just about stories. The remarkable thing is that she links up the stories with the ideas already professed by thinkers like Gandhiji, Dalai Lama, Amartya Sen and others. She tries to marry their ideas with market. Her work basically reflects hope. To many her ideas would appear ‘utopian’. They would ask, “will companies compromise with profits?”

The initial chapters trace the evolution of market economies and culture to this day. Right from the 1940s when Friedrich von Hayek, the Nobel-prize winning economist, lamented the curbs on a ‘self-regulating market’ and economic anthropologist Karl Polanyi, who described the so-called self-regulating market as ‘utopian’ for its dehumanizing ways, to the contributions of George Soros, the Dalai Lama, Amartya Sen and Muhammad Yunus. From Wall Street icon George Soros and VISA card designer Dee Hock we get an insider critique of the malaise. Mrs. Bakshi distinguishes free market from bazaars and tries to explore how can we bring in the virtues of bazaar in today’s scenario. She believes that growth in current form unsustainable but also recognises the fact that “degrowth” would be acutely painful—causing massive unemployment, reduced competitiveness and a spiralling recession.

The author goes onto re- examine the doctrine of self-interest by looking more closely at Adam Smith through the eyes of Amartya Sen. Mahatma Gandhi’s concept of ‘Trusteeship’ gathers strength as the socially responsible investing phenomenon challenges the power of capital. Dalai Lama and Ela Bhatt demonstrate that it is possible to compete compassionately and to nurture a more mindful market culture. She has tried to re-embed the market mechanism in the social, ethical and environmental consciousness. She abstracts upon what kind of moral order does capitalism rest whereby she cites Bill gates philosophy of “constructive capitalism” which emphasis the role of the markets in adding social dimension to it. She then talks about the Buddhists economics whereby the philosophy of self interest is associated in directing positive results to the society at large and putting people and spiritualism at the centre, which she feels is very significant today.

Her exploration is so deep that she has gone on to question money in its current form and suggest evolving community currencies. The author attempts to rationalize the need for changing structure of conventional money, the scope and attempts of innovation of financial instruments. The use of money  merely as a token of exchange, a commercialized commodity  leaves the scope for element of mistrust  to creep  in markets  along with anxieties of ecological instability.

Next addressing the feasibility for innovation author highlights global financial chaos as opportunity for evolving community currencies so as to work for development an empowerment of community ,so as to implicit economic democracy by working of markets for society and not ruling it. The author vividly explicits the above scenario  by unraveling the details of two community currencies local exchange trading system(LETS) and Time Dollars.LETS  is  a evolved form of barter with better flexibility and convenience.  A system where individual interests r matched with those of community as it is created by people who use it.

Rajni Bakshi looks at the relationship between competition and common good. Understanding the virtue and vices of competition she explores a common ground where ‘self interest’ is backed by common good due to cooperation, led by technology. She believes that competition through cooperation will bring the ‘humane’ factor in profits. Citing the examples of SEWA and Mondragaon the author tries to question that can we see cooperative as an alternative production system.  The idea of ‘trusteeship’ given by Gandhiji is seen by the author as something ‘natural’ as no one really owns anything in this world. The author goes back to history and draws out the idea of gift economy which existed in different periods alongside commodity economy. Can we marry gift culture with commodity exchange today? It is prevalent today in some forms. Eg. Internet and open source. The open source is based upon freedom to cooperate which ultimately brings out the best. Open source does not destroy value but adds to efficiency. The reputation it brings is itself a form of value. The current economic system is restricting freedom, eg. Patents.

One of the interesting chapters was the one titled Cosmopolitan Localism. Here, Bakshi dealt with the issue of a distressed local economy that is often overshadowed by the bigger economy- what the Americans call Main Street versus the Wall Street- with a global perspective. Bakshi’s comparison of Wall Street with Main Street was both literal as well as metaphorical. Wall Street is the centre of arrogance and power, of greed and abuse, and of manipulation and exploitation. Even though Wall Street does not produce anything, any economic matter other than those profits, it is deemed by the present system of economics as the wealth creator of the world when it is not. Profit does not always equate with wealth. And certainly it is not in case of Wall Street. But Main Street is where the real exchange of economic produce and values take place. It is where real wealth is created. And it represents the place where people of varied sections of our society meet and exchange real values and produces. It is where different economic needs, and in turn social needs, are met and satisfied. And Main Street is everywhere. It is the place our grandmothers went for economic exchange. It is the place where timeless, ageless human transaction of values took place till some time ago.

How can any discussion on market be complete without ‘capital’? in one of her chapters she described the power and right of capital which plays a vital role in the tradeoff between market and bazzar. It has highlighted the values of Feuersetine and Mahatma Gandhi, in this regard who chose to follow unconventional way ignoring the severe greed.   Feuersetine set an example by treating its employees as asset rather than expenditure by paying wages when the factory was close for some accident. Gandhi idealized a probable conversion of capitalism into ‘trusteeship’ which refers to including ethics and social responsibility in commerce. CSR was also convicted for facilitating lobby for ‘trade and investment’ and creating inequity and lowering freedom of small entities of ‘bazzar’. Analysis has revolved around several questions like, ‘society or business?’, ‘only self interest or Self interest including well being of workers & environment?’, ‘only profit or integration of environment and social concerns? ’ May be we need to redefine the old adages like ‘the business of business is business’.

At the end she talks about what the world is talking today the most- implications on environment. The carrying capacity of earth cannot support the desire of every human being. She mentions about plan B.3 as recommended by Liester Brown. She also talks about Peter Barnes’ concept of GREENMAPPING- to divert money for good uses. She has tried to uncover all the related issues related to environment and its consequences to the mankind in future. She is able to visualise the scenario trend.

In a nutshell this book has made an effort towards bringing in elements from our past in our present scenario and build into it. Though the ideas do not seem ‘revolutionary’  but if practiced has the potential to turn the current practice of capitalism into capitalism with a human face. So here is a call to the market players to see this as an opportunity in also serving the society and at the same time making profits.


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