iOS app Android app More

Lama Surya Das

Lama Surya Das

GET UPDATES FROM Lama Surya Das

The Dragon, the Elephant, and Regulated Capitalism: Sober Reflections on the Awakening of the East in the New Millennium

Posted: 01/12/11 01:46 PM ET

President Obama was in the Far East not long ago, which reminded me of my decades there and how much things have changed in what we used to call the Third World and developing countries. And yet, change is the rule. The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the French put it. Change is constant. Positive change may be a different matter. And instability is not the same as impermanence and transformation.

Adam Smith and Karl Marx both asserted that unregulated capitalism could never work. Last year when Internet behemoth Google, the veritable epitome of our free-market freedom, bowed to the demands of the Communist Chinese regime in submitting to regulatory online censorship; we who have observed Asia for many decades in the post-colonial era saw how it's going to be with market-seeking entrepreneurs in China as far as unregulated laissez-faire capitalism is concerned: if they want the market share they seek, convert or die. I'm not sure this bodes well for future collaboration between allies East and West. Moreover, China's continued unwillingness to revalue their overvalued currency makes any sustainable balance of international trade unlikely if not impossible.

Communism is like a religion, and China is its new high church. Those who don't believe that China and its highly regulated and similarly awakening democratic cousin, neighboring India, are the new imperialists who will not be limited geographically by the Pacific Rim in their global market-expansion face a similar fate: convert to their way of thinking, or fade away. Nikolas Sarkozy's recent economic wooing and even kowtowing to China's Premier Hu Jintao to help pave the way for the upcoming G-20 summit in France does not auger well for the future of human rights and freedom in the world's largest nation. There are many myths in the narrative of freedom as distinct from a free market; China's dictatorial capitalism is a far cry from what we take for granted in Western society.

The new imperialism and its empires of suzerainty and domination need and want few if any land grabs nor political colonies. Whoever controls the global markets and new resources -- drinking water, for instance, and population as capital -- in the post-post colonial age, whose onset is almost upon us -- they will swim mightily; while others -- such as those in the throes of increasingly impotent partisan politics, like our own, a coarsening culture and increasingly shallow society -- will sink. For example, as clean water becomes the most highly prized natural resource; if China holds on to the country and land of Tibet, it will not be lost on history with its excellent hindsight that it's high Himalayan plateau is the source of all the major Asian rivers.

The rising tides of globalism are ascendant, and we Americans have yet to accept the implications of that fact and adapt accordingly, busy as we are with anachronistic invasions and internal divisiveness, denial, and the naive remnants of American exclusionism/specialness and manifest destiny. China doubles its economy every eight years and spends one billion every day in its effort to develop a world class infrastructure. India is the world's largest democracy; half its population is under 25, 350 million of its citizens speak English. Some naively think that newly burgeoning Chinese consumer society is the panacea for struggling Western economies, although life is not that simple. Obama's autumn visit to India and Southeast Asia only highlights the current economics of real-politik, in which self-interest rules. Who doesn't want to do business with those most populous of emergent nations, regardless of the consequences?

Empires have rarely if ever lasted more than a couple of hundred years, and this observer is not alone in sensing that our American hegemony is almost over. When I lived in India in the Seventies, Americans were optimistic and Indians for the most part downtrodden and pessimistic; this has completely changed. Like China, even slow and backwards India too has been catching up to America and benefitting from what they learned from us, through working hard and investing in the future along with cheap labor and currencies, free markets, education, and access to capital and technology. Our country's worn-out infrastructure, failing education system, and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity which our energetic youthful vigor helped give birth to. I believe that we need new combinations of governments, NGOs and corporations to coordinate global resources to help solve local problems.

Those of us who, like proud and entitled Boomers, used to pride ourselves on seeing what was over the next hill may just be becoming increasingly over the hill. I believe that a new form of reflection-infused and principled action is increasingly being called for. We still have yet to become the leaders we wish to see in this, our endangered, interconnected, shrinking world.

When I see and hear the news I feel the tug of despondency, yet whenever I talk to young people I see hope for the world if not for this contentious country. I would help you, friends, but it wouldn't help. Each of us must awaken the dragon, elephant, tiger, whale, dolphin and endangered mensch within, if we are to co-create a sustainable future and a better world.

Here's the secret: Wake up and smell the poses. Let's become more real and creatively collaborate on feasible solutions to our problems today for a sustainable and equitable future to be possible.


 
 
 

Follow Lama Surya Das on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LamaSuryaDas