Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In defence of individualism

In defence of individualism by Sauvik Chakraverti

Posted: Thu, Mar 5 2009. 12:06 AM IST

A conception of the social order based on false collective identities creates problems and not solutions 

The words “I”, “me”, “my”, and “mine” are precise words. They identify an individual and his properties. Ownership is precise. The word “we” is utterly vague. Where does it begin? Where does it end? Which is why “we, the people” usually becomes “wee—the sheeple”. 

In the civilized world of the urban market economy, “we” is utterly meaningless. Every entrepreneur is an individual, responsible only to himself for his gains and losses. He does not obey any chief—as would be the case in a tribe. Managers in a firm compete just as workers compete for the next promotion: There is no class interest. Life is competitive and individualistic. We compete as buyers; we compete as sellers. Socialism is thus atavistic—the yearning for a life led by remote tribal ancestors. 

In the urban market economy, we serve strangers and are served by strangers in turn. There is no “we” at all. And in these interactions, a natural order prevails because all of us are rule-following animals. Posses of armed policemen are not required to maintain law and order in any crowded city marketplace, anywhere in the civilized world. This implies that we need a social science that is based on an understanding of the rules that individuals are already following in market interactions. These rules must be the basis of any civilized order—that is, the extension of this urban catallaxy to more and more friendly strangers, so that the market order continuously expands, which is what the pundits call economic growth. 

In the market economy, we serve strangers and are served by strangers in turn. There is no ‘we’ at all

Note that the individual is not aware he is following rules. His participation in the urban market economy is powered by a sense of gain—and that is all. His trading activities lie between instinct and reason: He has overcome the instinct to plunder—but he has not reasoned why. He has learnt by imitation that trading is the only way of acquiring desired objects. Civilization is learnt behaviour. 

The first rule that all individuals who trade in markets follow on their own is possession indicates property. The fish in the fisherman’s net are his despite the fact that the ocean did not furnish him with a title deed to his catch. Thus, if it is Jagannath’s dog that barks outside his house, the house belongs to him, and he deserves a marketable title to his private property from the local government. 

The socialist vision of collective property is a hoax. The public sector units (PSU) is very much the private property of people who claim to represent the public—just as the minister’s official bungalow is his private property and we the people cannot party on his lawns.

Note that in urban areas the only collective property we need are public roads and public parks, which all the people, including visiting tourists, can use for free—and we do not have these. We need public squares in all our towns and cities where physical markets can be located— but we do not have these. And our roads really take the cake. 

Meanwhile, the socialist central planner’s Golden Quadrilateral is a five-city vision. India needs a hub and spokes expressway network, plus twin coastal expressways: the 1,000-city vision. 

Indeed, while the socialists refuse to privatize, villagers throughout India are crying out for sadak (road). If I had my way I would sell every PSU—and invest the public treasure in the best network of roads that money can buy: true collective property. Finish the ugly beast of socialism once and for all. And replace it with individualism. 

Remember, both pain and pleasure are subjective. Only you can feel your pain and only you can feel your pleasure. You try and avoid pain and pursue pleasure—so you must have liberty. When we chose the central planner, we chose one man to decide for a billion people: wee—the sheeple. 

Yet, classical liberals do possess an idea of limited government—but such a government, which we believe should be based on the principle of subsidiarity, would give maximum resources as well as powers to the local city or town mayor. Furthermore, the principle role of this government would be, apart from providing roads, parks, market squares, garbage collection and not much more, to inflict pain on outlaws. If this is achieved, all individuals will be possessed of liberty under law: They can freely pursue their own ends, secure in their liberties and properties. The government, which exists to inflict pain, will not interfere in the just pursuit of pleasure—the word just implying that no injury is inflicted upon any other individual. Capitalism is about individual liberty and individual rights. It is about the individual pursuit of happiness. 

There is thus a valid social science that understands society very differently from the manner in which the collectivists did. Their objective, of course, was not to pursue knowledge: Their objective was to pursue and worship state power and execute social engineering upon “wee—the sheeple”. Our society is a failure today because this philosophy is wrong. 

As a wise man once put it, no system of government can succeed if it is not based on truth and justice. A basic truth is that property is private. Another basic truth is that trade is justice while plunder is injustice. The socialists got their morality wrong by thinking profits are immoral and property is collective. They elevated their The State to the commanding heights of the economy without thinking of what just government really is. Hence the predatory state. 

What do we do now? All I can say is that I am not guilty. I am just the messenger. As an old album of Elton John was titled, Don’t Shoot Me! I’m Only The Piano Player. 

Sauvik Chakraverti is an author and a columnist. He blogs at Comments are welcome at