Is India Important for America's Freedom?
The visit to the U.S.
of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November of 2009 focused on important
geo-political and economic issues. But this visit also should focus
attention on the role India might play in an emerging global culture of freedom, helping both America and India. Friends of liberty should take note.
an unlikely candidate to enhance the planet’s freedom. Its culture has
been steeped in irrational religious beliefs, mostly unleavened by
modern intellectual enlightenment. Religious violence between Hindus
(80 percent of the population), Muslims (13 percent), and Sikhs (2
percent) goes back centuries. While tamped down, it still breaks out
today. Particularly anathema to individualism is India’s
caste system, which sets human worth based on accidents of birth rather
than personal achievements. Couples are still murdered for marrying
outside of their castes. Most marriages are still arranged.
In their century-and-a-half rule over India,
the British contributed railroads and other infrastructure, and they
tried to ban some odious practices such as wife-burning. The Brits also
offered educational opportunities for India’s
small elite. Sadly, most of India’s post-independence leaders were not
taught the free-market philosophy that made Britain the 19th century’s
economic leader but, rather, the Fabian socialism that would contribute
to Britain’s and India’s late-20th-century economic stagnation.
Central planning failed in India, as it did in other socialist countries, and India was—and still is—burdened by ossified and corrupt government bureaucracies. Interestingly, India was so isolated from the global economy that it neither exported nor imported very much, and thus, unlike Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina, it did not rack up huge international debts in the 1980s. India had nowhere to go but up.
Starting in the 1990s India
began to adopt free-market reforms. The Index of Economic Freedom ranks
it 54.2 percent free: not a great score, but considerably better than in
the past. Economic liberalization brought dramatic economic growth
averaging nearly 6 percent annually over the past two decades.
India ’s population of 1.16 billion is second only to China, with 1.3 billion. By contrast, there are 308 million Americans. America’s GDP of $14 trillion is still the world’s highest; China’s is $8 trillion, while India’s is just over $3 trillion.
Most American policymakers focus on China rather than India as the country’s most important relationship in Asia. China is seen as America’s major emerging economic rival as well as a potential economic partner. China is America’s largest creditor, holding over $650 billion of the country’s debt. China’s growing military poses security concerns. China’s global security interests are often at odds with those of the United States. And it’s difficult for the U.S.
to pressure the country that holds so much of its debt to act against
its economic self-interest by taking strong actions against regimes
with which it trades but which also sponsor Islamist terrorists.
mix of capitalism and socialism with non-democratic communist rule and
restrictions on freedom pose wider problems. The emerging global
culture requires open trade and communications between individuals to
support economic liberty. It requires respect for the freedom and
dignity of individuals and an appreciation of the value of a rational,
this-world approach to life.
Friends of freedom who want to live in free countries in a free world thus should consider the promise that India offers toward reaching this goal.
Seven promising points
First, in spite of the unfortunate socialist infection that India caught from Britain, the former British Raj gave India’s educated class familiarity and experience with the economic, legal, and political ways of the West.
Second, India is a democracy, an imperfect, sometimes repressive one to be sure—but politically better off than China. India is more likely to meet its challenges with debate and votes rather than guns and prisons.
Third, the British bequeathed to India’s
educated class the English language. English is the international
language for business, science, and virtually everything else. The
Indian government tried for decades to push Hindi as the national
language, even though it is only spoken by about one-third of the
country’s population. But English has remained a language that allows
Indians from different parts of that multi-lingual country to
communicate with one another. It also lets them integrate more easily
with the rest of the world and, most notably, the American economy.
has in fact become a location of choice of many American firms for
service jobs in high-tech, publishing, and 1-800 help lines. These are
not the low-skilled assembly-line jobs often associated with emerging
economies. They are high-skilled jobs at enterprises set up by Indian
entrepreneurs. Indians in these jobs frequently interact with American
Some Americans complain about such outsourcing, but, of course, both countries win in these relationships. And when individual
Indians and Americans deal openly and directly with one another, it is
a cultural as well as economic plus. Meanwhile the Chinese government
works hard to censor and restrict communications with the rest of the
world, leaving channels open just enough to allow economic transactions.
the economic opportunities have produced an Indian middle class that,
while certainly not as prosperous as America’s, enjoys the basic
comforts and pleasures of life—and it numbers 250-300 million, as large
as America’s entire population. Certainly this will be an important
market for American goods as well as ideas in the future.
And we see in this
middle class many of the values and aspirations of free people in any
healthy culture. For example, the productions of India’s dynamic “Bollywood” movie industry often celebrate love and life; Bollywood-influenced Slumdog Millionaire garnered eight Oscars in 2008, including the award for best picture.
Sixth, there is a growing interest in India about the ideas of freedom and reason. For example, Google Trends shows from where in the world the most inquires come for given terms. It shows that India
ranks either first or second, depending on when one checks, for the
terms “Ayn Rand,” “The Fountainhead,” “Atlas Shrugged,” and
“Objectivism.” This interest reflects a thirst for a philosophy of life
on this Earth.
Further, there are two excellent libertarian think tanks in India, the Liberty Institute and the Centre for Civil Society. They are run by Barun Mitra and Parth Shah respectively, and both are strongly influenced by Ayn Rand.
is dealing with its domestic violence between Hindus, Muslims, and
Sikhs better than most other countries in the region. For example, the
2006 train bombing and 2008 massacre by Islamists in Mumbai didn't
result in the kinds of massive, hate-motivated demonstrations seen, for
example, in London
in reaction to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed. Muslims and Sikhs as
well as Hindus hold top political and business positions in India and thus have an incentive to keep the country peaceful and stable.
Person to person
Part of the emerging synergy for freedom between the United States and India is seen in the growing number of immigrants to the U.S.
from that country. They and their descendants are realizing the
American dream. This is a highly affluent immigrant group. Many are
medical professionals. There is a strong and successful community of
Indian-American businessmen and entrepreneurs who tend to be free
is interesting that in the mid-1980s, shortly before her murder,
India’s then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited the U.S. and spoke to
a group of émigrés with what she described as mixed feelings, because so
many of the best Indians had left their homeland.
thanks to easy communication and travel, Indian-Americans are able to
keep in closer touch with family, friends, and business associates back
in India, facilitating more cross-cultural contact and serving as a potential bridge for the best pro-freedom ideas from America.
The greatest number of foreign students in American universities come from India. This is particularly important because these students will have a deep personal connection with the United States
and appreciations for its freedoms and culture -- unless they're
corrupted by America's socialist professors! They will be the leaders
of their country in the future.
Namaste to freedom
values of individual liberty are universal, appropriate for all people
regardless of country. Americans today should be thankful that our
country’s Founders put these values into practice in the U.S. government. Today those values are under threat.
can help preserve and protect them by fostering their flowering
throughout the world, not so much through armies as through ideas. Many Indians
have come upon these ideas and said “Hello” to freedom on their own.
Americans who still love freedom should see those individuals as
potential partners in liberty, for the good of Indians and Americans
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Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of
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