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Swadesh Shanghaied

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
September 2014
Swadesh Shanghaied

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

In an earlier column titled “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants,” the following piqued my interest: “Gandhiji intuitively understood that swadesh (self-sufficiency) was both a strategic instrument to swaraj and a practical tool for a village-based economy.”

I know that Gandhiji was trained as an attorney, not as an economist, but what would he think of the fact that practically everything on the shelves of stores in the US is made in China, and now we are going to raise chicken and send it to China to be cooked and processed for chicken nuggets, soup, restaurant food, and fast food?!

Dangerous to our health now, as well as to our economy!

Dear Friend,

“The £ 3 Tax.” (M. K. Gandhi)

While most Satyalogue columns discuss issues at a personal level, the question raised here is about the ethics of globalization—a social, political, and economic phenomenon.

Many protectionists ask questions similar to the one you’ve posed about whether “Made in China” is the first step toward America becoming China’s “Maid in Chains.” Are Americans becoming so subservient to, and dependent upon China that we can no longer be a manufacturing power? Should our government establish a tariff, an import tax curtailing free movement of goods, to enable domestically manufactured products to have a fighting chance?

Let’s explore Gandhian thinking around taxation. “The £ 3 Tax” is the title of a chapter in Gandhiji’s autobiography condemning the taxation of indentured Indians in South Africa. What follows is a précis of that situation:

“About the year 1860 the Europeans in Natal, finding that there was considerable scope for sugarcane cultivation, felt themselves in need of labour... The Natal Government therefore corresponded with the Indian Government, and secured their permission to recruit Indian labour.... But the Indians gave more than had been expected of them...

They entered trade.... The white traders were alarmed. When they first welcomed the Indian labourers, they had not reckoned with their business skill. They might be tolerated as independent agriculturists, but their competition in trade could not be brooked. This sowed the seed of the antagonism to Indians.... [and the introduction of] an annual tax of £ 25.”

While the £ 25 tax on those who refused to return to India or renew the indenture was eventually reduced to £ 3, one need only substitute “Chinese labor” for “Indian labor,” to see a parallel. Perhaps a modern-day Gandhian would see that like the Indian traders who alarmed the South African “white traders” in the mid-19th century, Chinese traders of the 21st century have outcompeted the same outsourcers who first saw them as a cheap source of labor.

While in his lifetime, Gandhiji sought to promote a village-based economy, today, he would most likely understand that the world itself is now a highly interconnected village.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]


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