Business People

By Shrii Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar

From "Various Occupations", Human Society Part 1 (1959). Also published in Prout in a Nutshell Volume 1 Part 3, in Supreme Expression Volume 2, and in The Great Universe: Discourses on Society.

Is the medical profession alone floundering in the quagmire of sin? No. Delve into the recesses of any business person's mind and you will find, in most cases if not all, that the garbage of sin collected there has become utterly putrefied and decomposed and polluted his or her entire psychic environment. The situation has become so bad that in most parts of the world embarking on this profession is tantamount to becoming a refined criminal. I use the term “refined” because no matter what type of business a person may start, their success depends upon their skilful use of persuasive language.

Can a business be run honestly? Why not! Of course it can. But an honestly-run business cannot make one rich overnight. In ancient times, when the caste (varńáshrama) system was in vogue, managing a business honestly was considered to be the social dharma of vaeshyas [ancient India’s merchant caste]. But today it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for people to run their businesses honestly.

Capitalists' means of earning a living are such that at any moment they may fall victim to greed and indulge in contemptible activities. So the vaeshyas of ancient India had the term sádhu [Sanskrit for “honest”] attached to their names to help them to keep the ideal of honesty constantly alive in their minds. They were known in society as Sádhu (which became Sáhu in Prákrta and finally Sáu or Sáo [common Indian surnames] today. History tells us that from ancient times vaeshyas have, by monopolizing trade, frequently degraded themselves and betrayed their humanity, and that since the Buddhist Age, they have accumulated most of the wealth in society.

It is worth noting that according to ancient social literature, sociologists and diplomats took a series of measures to save society from the greed and excessive hoarding of the vaeshyas. In the first part of the Middle Ages the power of the government, which was controlled by kśatriyas [the original warrior caste], was used to launch various campaigns whenever and wherever necessary to limit the hoarding tendency of the vaeshyas.

Chanakya [an early Indian politico-economic thinker] said that a business person who becomes extremely rich is harmful to the state. If a king finds that somebody has become extremely wealthy, he should reduce the person's wealth and property by imposing direct and indirect taxes on them. If he does not do this, the vaeshyas may destroy the structure of the government unless they can make it the tool of their exploitation. Chanakya also said that if the imposition of taxes fails to stop or control extremely wealthy vaeshyas, the king should poison them to death through a secret agent. These are indeed strong recommendations, but in that age of social darkness there was no alternative. Vaeshyas received the good advice that their responsibility was to earn money and undertake charity, not to hoard wealth.

But the capitalists of other times and other countries were unable to fulfil the duties connected with their nature. Because the ignorant people of ancient times were more religious, the vaeshyas used to undertake a little charity in the hope of deriving some benefit in their next life. But today in this age of materialism, capitalists are not the slightest bit interested in undertaking charitable work in this life in the hope of gaining some benefit in their next life.

According to Indian social treatises, “Those who donate to others in this life are misers, and those who are misers are actually donors.” This ironic statement was made about hypocritical vaeshyas. “Those who donate to others in this life are misers” means that those who give donations to others in this life have deposited something in their next life's account; that is, they have successfully arranged so as to maximize their accumulation. And “those who are misers are actually donors” means that misers when they die give up all their hard-earned wealth, because they have not deposited anything in their next life's account. But the capitalists of today are not to be charmed by such humour.

Regarding earning money and hoarding wealth, most capitalists today are pishácavats [ghouls]. In Sanskrit pisháca means “one who breaks the neck of an animal and then sucks out all the blood, leaving only the flesh and bones”. In India it is said that it is extremely difficult to understand the nature of these bloodsucking pisháca vaeshyas – because when they drink water, even if it is already pure, they filter it; but on other occasions they drink people's blood, which, even if it is not pure, they do not bother to filter! Sometimes they kick the heads of their customers, and sometimes they lick the soles of their feet.

Incidentally, the word vaeshyas actually means “those who produce through various occupations”. But today the meaning has completely changed. Today vaeshyas means “those who profit by trading and broking without being directly involved in production”. Where profit is the only objective, there is every possibility that all types of selfish and antisocial activities will flourish. In one sense the capitalists of developed countries are better than those of other countries because although they engage in activities which are detrimental to the welfare of the public, they generally prefer not to undertake activities which are harmful to public health, due to either their own consciences or people's awareness of their rights.

If, after analysing the economic structure of society, I described capitalists from developed countries as polished devils, I would find it extremely difficult to find a suitable term for their counterparts in underdeveloped countries. Such capitalists are not satisfied with just sucking people's blood, they often devour their flesh and bones as well; then they beat drums made from the skins of their victims as they deliver religious and philosophical discourses, build temples and construct lodgings for pilgrims, and undertake various other activities. They criticize materialism and try to retard its progress not because they object to it philosophically or psychologically, but because in a materialistic system there is every possibility that their vested interests would be adversely affected. Although they support spirituality, they are not motivated by spiritual sentiments. The fake spirituality they preach actually injects impotency into society. In their endeavours they are assisted by like-minded exploiters who trade in religion.

There is an unhealthy collusion between capitalists and those who trade in religion to try to prevent human beings from forcefully asserting their rights. They try to persuade people that exploitation, the sucking of blood, by capitalists, is not an outrage but a law of nature; that it is useless to try to bring about social welfare by establishing human rights. The exploited people should forget about the world and support those who trade in religion in order to enjoy unlimited happiness in an imaginary heaven.

Now, let us return to our previous subject. The capitalists of today have let loose the reins of their greed. Perhaps they can hear the sound of their death-knell. Because they lack a spirit of sacrifice and are not prepared to undergo hardships in order to progress, the great majority of them are unable to find their path in life. They believe that their business will be short-lived, and like Abu Hussain [a fictitious character who became king for a day] they lack discrimination, plundering as much wealth as they can to satisfy their greed without caring about right or wrong.

Among these vicious capitalists there are some who project themselves as philanthropic politicians. They also devour the people, but they shed a few false tears. They too have not discovered any real meaning in life. Their only aim is to fool the public in order to prosper in business. They try to prevent class struggle by advocating non-violence and preaching utopian philosophies, although they realize full well that if spirituality, whether or not it is practised in individual life, is not practised in at least an important section of collective life then it will be impossible to remove the economic disparity and exploitation of the vaeshyas without conflict.

Only the small number of good capitalists in whom humanism has begun to develop and who have discovered the meaning of life, should be eligible to guide and manage the material affairs of society. Some among them may say, “What I save, I lose. It is a sin to die rich.”

Business enterprises: Is there any way to escape from the uncontrolled propensities and ghoulish hunger of the capitalists? Some argue that all business enterprises should be directly controlled by the state so that people will be free from exploitation. Others argue that all businesses should be run by cooperatives so that people will be able to control their own economic destiny. Still others argue that businesses should be owned by private enterprise, that the state should only indirectly control businesses, and that greedy exploiters should be controlled through legal means; or, if indirect state control is not possible, the state should curb the wealth of the capitalists by imposing high taxes. I prefer not to mention the views of those who directly support capitalism, because their opinions are not worth noting. They want the shortcomings in society to remain so that they can continue to exploit the situation.

The widespread nationalization of industry cannot be supported for a number of reasons. The two main reasons are as follows. First, if a state is completely dependent on its bureaucrats (it should be kept in mind that no matter what people say, bureaucrats will always play an important role in the structure of a government, because without them the administration cannot function), it will not be possible to properly run all the large- and small-scale businesses and industries spread over the entire country. Officials are required not only to keep accounts, but also to supervise workers. Secondly, it is not possible for state-controlled industries to be as proficient either industrially or commercially as private enterprises which can make any product more cheaply and with greater efficiency than a state-controlled industry. Without the backing and preferential treatment of the state, state-controlled industries cannot compete with non-government enterprises.

The proposal to run all industrial and commercial enterprises as cooperatives is also unrealistic. This is because a cooperative enterprise is built with the collective labour and intelligence of a group of people who share a common economic structure, have the same requirements, and have markets available nearby for the goods they produce (or purchase). Although an enterprise may be called a business venture and be run using the limited resources of its members, it cannot be called a cooperative unless these three factors are all present. It will not have the fundamental characteristics of a cooperative.

To run a business as a private enterprise under state control is worse than running a business that is completely nationalized, because it will not only suffer from the defects inherent in nationalization, it will also lead to the creation of a group of rich but vikśubdha [disgruntled] vaeshyas in society who in all likelihood will express anti-national sentiments and stoop to any means to re-establish their power. Indirect state control over industrial enterprises and attempts to prevent them from increasing their profits are doomed to failure, because it will not be difficult for business people to deceive the government by falsifying their accounts with the collaboration of dishonest officials. In such a system businesses will not retain the same prices as when they were non-government private enterprises; they will increase their prices due to increased expenditure.

Most countries realize that only imposing high taxes will not be successful once uncontrolled commercial freedom has been granted to business people. In most countries today the revenue collected through sales tax, service tax, income tax, wealth tax, etc., is only a very small fraction of the total revenue that could be collected. Tax evaders are much more intelligent and skilful than those who collect taxes. They are also united by their mutual interests while tax collectors are not. This is because tax collectors fight among themselves for a share of the spoils, remain divided over policies, and show a lack of mutual trust. Hence it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to curb the domination of capitalists by trying to force them to pay high taxes. Even if this became possible as a result of tremendous efforts, the common people would not really benefit.

In my opinion we should take a middle path in order to save society from the enormous greed of the capitalists. By middle path I do not mean compromising with them and partially tolerating their greed. What I mean is that whatever we do we should do so as to maintain the balance of society. It is inadvisable to act rashly or out of jealousy, because this may adversely affect some spheres of social life, thus undermining the good and honest aspects.

The production and distribution of food and clothing: The most essential things for self-preservation are first food and then clothing. So let us discuss the problems of food and clothing.

In most countries the distribution of food is controlled by business people, and in many countries they control not only the distribution but also the production of food. That is, business people who are farmers in name only own large areas of land legally in their own names or illegally in the names of others, while the farm labourers, peasants or sharecroppers who are the actual farmers, grow golden crops through their own labour and give most of each crop to their non-labouring masters. Almost everyone in the world today has in principle acknowledged that only genuine farmers should own arable land, and that no third party should come between them and the revenue department of the government. So it must be accepted that in the production of food, the question of ownership by non-producing business people does not arise at all.

But those who are themselves farmers, that is, those who, in principle, can be called capitalists, is it proper for them to have individual ownership of land? No, certainly not. The amount of arable land one farmer is capable of farming is not very large, so if he or she owns a large amount of land, it will not be possible for him or her to efficiently arrange seeds, improved manure, irrigation, etc. Personal problems also sometimes arise resulting in seeds not being sown or harvests not being reaped on time. Hence, the land may remain uncultivated. Uncultivated land is a liability for the human race.

Land is also unnecessarily wasted by demarcating the boundaries of privately-owned land. (Actually it is a complete waste of land to demarcate the boundaries of land where land is of the same level.) It is also difficult to introduce improved methods of cultivation on small plots of privately-owned land. Because of this problem many countries, despite being educationally and intellectually developed, have not been able to introduce tractors, the latest technology and scientific systems in the field of agriculture. If anyone thinks that land should be owned by individual cultivators because they are deeply attached to their land, we may also argue that those who own land but do not work in the fields have and will continue to have a deep attachment to their land. Actually in this matter we should give more importance to collective welfare than to the sentiments of the individual.

In my opinion all the land in the entire universe is the common property of every human being. A particular individual, group of individuals or state should only have the right to preserve and properly utilize a particular piece of land. No one should need to worry about the ownership of land.

The preservation and utilization of land should be the responsibility of the local government, which in turn should carry out its duty through producers' cooperatives composed of actual farmers. The disadvantages of private ownership will not manifest if the land is collectively owned in a cooperative system. The use of proper scientific methods will make it possible to increase crop production without much effort.

It is undesirable for business people to have the right to distribute food grains. Only consumers' cooperatives should have this right. As long as the production and distribution of crops is controlled by vaeshyas rather than by cooperatives, it is absolutely impossible to stop hoarding, speculation, black marketing and adulteration in food markets. The slightest weakness in such matters will have extremely dangerous consequences. Such weakness is not at all desirable in those who love humanity and practise politics. It is completely immoral for food grains to lie in the warehouses of black marketeers and speculators to be eaten by rats while people die little by little of starvation.

Besides food and clothing, fuel may also be considered an essential commodity. Distributing fuel through business people has the same drawbacks as distributing food. Local consumers' cooperatives should have the sole right to distribute essential, though not all, varieties of clothing, and the essential fuels produced in their countries (wood is used in some places, and coal or oil in others) in any given age. Producers' cooperatives should have the sole right to produce essential clothing and, as far as practicable, essential fuels. Where this is not possible (such as where the conditions and climate are unsuitable for spinning thread) the right to produce the associated raw or half-finished materials for a particular industry and to supply them to producers' cooperatives, should belong to the state government or local autonomous bodies and not to business people. At most, business people should have the right to produce and distribute non-essential foods and fuels, because then there is virtually no chance of their exploiting the common people by exerting undue pressure on them.

The production and distribution of other commodities: Business people should not be given the right to produce reading and writing materials or any commodities not classified as luxury items (such as razor blades, washing soap, etc.) Only producers' cooperatives or the state government should have this right. These goods should, of course, be distributed through consumers' cooperatives. Business people may be permitted to produce and distribute commodities considered to be luxury items.

Business people should not have the right to produce materials for constructing houses (such as cement and metal products) that cannot be easily manufactured everywhere. Such materials should be manufactured directly by the state government or by large cooperatives which are supported by the state government. Distribution should be directly arranged by the state government or by state-controlled autonomous bodies. Business people should not be allowed to meddle in such matters at all because they will try to create artificial scarcity, to increase the demand for commodities which are in limited supply.

On the subject of housing materials, I have observed that dishonest business people, in collusion with dishonest government officials, compel the owners of incomplete houses to buy cement, corrugated tiles, etc., from black marketeers by creating circumstantial pressure. Those who are socially aware and have had bitter experiences in such matters should carefully eliminate the cause of this problem.

As with construction materials, the manufacture of drugs is not safe in the hands of business people.

Out of their greed some people add flour, guŕer bátásá (sweetener) or other things to milk and then demonstrate its thickness with a lactometer, ignoring the detrimental repercussions their actions have on unsuspecting consumers, especially children and sick people. It is not desirable to entrust the production or distribution of any necessary item to criminals who betray society by adulterating medicines, pushing sick people little by little into the jaws of death.

The right to manufacture medicines should be entrusted to autonomous bodies which can distribute the medicines themselves or through consumers' cooperatives. If necessary, certain types of medicines may be manufactured by the state or central government, but it is preferable for them to be distributed by autonomous bodies or cooperatives.

The production and distribution of housing materials and non-essential food items (such as sweets, betel, etc.) may remain in the hands of business people.

Business people should not have the right to manage banks, because past experience has shown that managers who are dishonest business people have seldom protected the hard-earned savings of ordinary depositors. Many have profited by illegally or recklessly investing the bank's money; their activities have also ruined many middle-class families. The number of middle-class people who have lost the money they were saving for their old age is not small.

The less private enterprise is provided with business opportunities and the more production and distribution is carried out through cooperatives and autonomous bodies, the better. The less the government is involved with the public in the areas of production and distribution the better its relationship with them will be, and the less power the central government has in these areas the better.

Trading: In the area of trade, state governments must have the right to take action against those involved in black marketeering, speculation, adulteration, illegal misappropriation and the creation of artificial scarcity, but broad-based autonomous bodies (such as district boards or municipal corporations) should also have sufficient power to act. This is because if ordinary people want to take action against a local offender they may have to register their complaint with an individual police officer, then with the police station, then with the sub-divisional administration and finally with the district administration, the entire process taking about six or nine months, and when they reach the state capital, they learn that such matters come under the jurisdiction of the central government and not the state government. This type of situation is certainly not desirable. The state government must have the right to pass and enforce anti-corruption laws.

To eliminate dishonesty in business, free trade should be established throughout the world as far as possible and the speculative markets of all countries should be immediately closed down.

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