17 September, 2014

Why independent Scotland brings forth a new economic order

The prophet of the New York Times, Paul Krugman, has told the Scots that if they secede, they should be: “Afraid. Be very afraid.”

Now that’s the kind of economic advice I like to hear. “Boo!, said Mr. Krugman to the defiant Scots. “If you don’t listen to me, the Loch Ness Monster will come get you.” It adds color to this whole thing. Plus Krugman is getting far too boring, lecturing to everyone in obscure Economese and making them thinking that American economy is more complicated than it actually is. In fact, there’s little mystery to the American economic model of monetary growth—print money, print more money. And print more money. Just keep on printing. Right around November 3rd, America’s going to hit hyper-inflation and the dollar’s going to collapse, but  Mr. Krugman doesn’t know this yet.

Now the reason why independent Scotland is going to be such a good thing for the whole world is this—England has been following the path of privatization and globalization, as led by the Americans, for a few decades too long. And with  this model has come a whole host of problems, including slavery in the Middle East, from where oil is extracted by big British companies who turn a blind eye to the activities of Gulf business practices; the complete collapse of local economies within Europe, including garments, shoes and other essential items which are now made in free economic processing zones in Asian countries where women are locked up under tin roofs for 100 hours, seven days a week, with no access to the bathrooms; obscure and unaccountable financial transactions and companies that posture as real banks and get huge amounts of people into untenable debt, as seen in the United States’s mortgage scandal; medical institutions whose main aim is profit, not healing; and a whole host of other social, environmental and ethical problems.

Scotland being free won’t automatically solve all these problems. But it does send a message outwards that the British Isles and its fabulous financial record is not all its hyped up to be. London’s eager wooing of the sheikhs and their Sovereign Wealth Funds may make it rich, but its not going to give them the moral cache to keep the Scots in the same house.

I woke up last night and was scratching my head for a bit, wondering why Scotland had fired up my imagination. And then I got it. In 2012, I visited Oxford University, where I presented a paper at a conference. England, in my imagination, is still the England of 50 years ago, as remembered by my parents-gracious people with good manners, expensive high quality manufactured goods, beautiful fabrics and tailored coats. But alas! All the supermarkets were filled to the hilt with the same cheap crap as everywhere. The prices were high, but the products were the same. I looked in vain for something local to buy-it was a lost cause. The British apparently no longer make any clothes themselves.

And then I saw this long store that looked sort of bare, and had one green woolen sweater in the window. It was woven in the Scottish tartan pattern. I think somewhere in there it said simply: Scotland.

I stared. Every item in there was green, wool and tartan. I loved it. It was a defiant statement of some sort—economic, political. A flag being hosted up a flagpole, with bagpipes playing, would have gotten the same attention. I wanted that sweater. I immediately went in and had to confirm for myself the wool was from sheep raised in Scotland. It was local! Never mind I was a poor Nepali tourist. I was willing to pay however much they were charging, because for the first time it felt like I’d seen something local, that hinted at mountains and sheep and real wool and an industry tied to the land. This was what I’d come to see! Not floor after floor of crappy Gangzhou coats.

Talking of English coats, I have a funny story.  When I was small, my father used to own beautiful coats made in London—they were distinctive, and they were quality. I even wore one of these coats from London, a blue wool coat cut exquisitely. It belonged to my mother, and fitted me perfectly at age 12. The joke about the blue wool coat was that it looked so good I even got access to a special puja at Bishwanath Mandir in Benaras one evening, when I shouldn’t really have. The temple was packed to bursting that evening, where a rich seth who was holding a puja. The pujari/priest kept on shooing away everyone angrily, including my mother. But he saw me—actually he saw the blue Oxford Street wool coat I was wearing—gave me an ingratiating smile, and let me to the front, under the delusion I was related to the seth. My mother winked at me, so I stayed there. Then somewhere in the middle of the ceremony the priest saw me looking at my mother, and realized I was a little scamster in my blue coat—and shooed me away angrily. My mother and I walked home that night laughing all the way about the stupid priest.

Unfortunately those coats no longer exist. I look back now at all the brocades and fancy fabric I gave away over the years—fabric that would have lasted, but which I causually thought I could replace. The problem now is that over the last decade, all countries in the world sell the same crappy clothing—even if people have money, you can’t buy items of good quality. The classic example is of jeans. I always thought I couldn’t get good jeans in Nepal—the blue Mao fabrics that were posturing as jeans annoyed me. Let me get to America and I will buy a real pair of jeans, I thought. So this summer, when I visited the USA, I made a special effort to set aside a few days to find some real jeans. Imagine when I realized, to my horror, that there is no “real jeans” in the USA anymore. As in Nepal, the jeans there, branded ones, are made of flimsy and disposable cotton.

Welcome to the neo-liberal, globalized world. But perhaps Scotland will lead to a change towards a localized economy, which signals a more responsible economic world order.