Gandhi's economic ideals, much like everything else in his life, were governed by ethical and moral considerations. His stress on rural economy and emphasis on a simple life, coupled with his concern for universal well-being formed the foundation of his unique views on economics. Gandhi's economic models were based largely on his understanding of the Indian situation. However, it should be stressed that Gandhi himself believed that the model could be employed on an international scale as well. It should be remembered that Gandhi's economic modes are particularly humanitarian in nature and for him no economic model is worth implementation unless it aims towards the general well-being of mankind.
Seven criteria characterize economic independence acoording to Gandhi:
- Elimination of poverty and the minimizing of wealth.
- Self-sufficiency of each unit in its basic needs.
- Identification of basic human needs and the means of meeting them.
- Agriculture that is respectful of the environment as a basis for the creation of a durable economy.
- Production that is based as far as possible on small groups.
- Control and elimination of distorted views by basic eduction and technical formation.
- Limitations to the concentration of economic power.
I must confess that I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labour. ( Young India,13-10-1921, p. 325)
The economics that disregard moral and sentimental considerations are like wax works that, being life-like, still lack the life of the living flesh. At every crucial moment thus anew-fangled economic laws have broken down in practice. And nations or individuals who accept them as guiding maxims must perish. ( Young India, 27-10-1921, p. 344)
That economics is untrue which ignores or disregards moral values. The extension of the law of non-violence in the domain of economics means nothing less than the introduction of moral values as a factor to be considered in regulating international commerce.( Young India, 26-10-1924, p. 421)
According to me the economic constitution of India and, for the matter of that, the world should be such that no one under should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words, everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet.
And this ideal can universally realized only if the means of production of the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. These should be freely available to all as God’s air and water are or ought to be; they should not be made vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others. This monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but other parts of the world too.( Young India,15-11-1928, p381)
True economics never militates against the highest ethical standard, just as all true ethics to be worth its name must at the same time be also good economics. An economics that inculcates Mammon worship, and enables the strong to amass wealth at the expense of the weak, is a false and dismal science. It spells death. True economics, on the other hand, stands for social justice, it promotes the good of all equally including the weakest, and is indispensable for decent life.( Harijan, 9-10-1937, p.292)
If we will but cleanse our houses, our palaces and temples of the attributes of wealth and show in them the attributes of morality, we can offer battle to any combinations of hostile forces without having to carry the burden of a heavy militia. Let us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the irreovocable promise is that everything will be added unto us. These are real economics. May you and I treasure them and enforce them in our life! (Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 355)
Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible. Indeed the very word non-violence, a negative word, means that it is an effort to abandon the violence that is inevitable in life. Therefore, whoever believes in ahimsa will engage himself in occupations that involve the least possible violence.
Thus, for instance, one cannot conceive of a man believing in non-violence carrying on the occupation of a butcher. Not that a meat-eater cannot be non-violent… but even a meat-eater believing in non-violence will not go in for shikar, and he will not engage in war or war preparations. Thus there are many activities and occupations which necessarily involve violence and must be eschewed by a non-violent man.
But there is agriculture without which life is impossible, and which does involve a certain amount of violence. The determining factor therefore is the occupation founded on violence? But since all activity involves some measure of violence, all we have to do is to minimize the violence involved in it. This is not possible without a heart-belief in non-violence.
Suppose there is a man who does no actual violence, who labours for his bread, but who is always consumed with envy at other people’s wealth or prosperity. He is not non-violent. A non-violent occupation is thus that occupation, which is fundamentally free from violence and which, involves no exploitation or envy of others. (Harijan, 1-9-40)
Now I have no historical proof, but I believe that there was a time in India when village economics were organized on the basis of such non-violent occupations, not on the basis of rights of man but on the duties of man. Those who engaged themselves in such occupations did earn their living, but their labour contributed to the good of the community….
Body labour was at the core of these occupations and industries, and there was no large-scale machinery. For when a man is content to own only so much land as he can till with his own labour, he cannot exploit others. Handicrafts exclude exploitation and slavery. (Harijan,1-9-1940)
The Basic Tenets of Gandhi's Economic Views
Gandhi had an innate sympathy for the poor and deprived. This coupled with a direct observation of the predicament of the poor and the oppressed both in India and in South Africa led him to design an economic model that would alleviate the condition of the poor and the deprived. Gandhi believed that the high capitalist endeavors were at the root of all suffering. He believed that business without ethical considerations was fundamentally evil. This led to discrimination, oppression and exploitation. Gandhi also held that there is enough in this world to feed and clothe all. However, there is poverty and deprivation because one group of people thrives on the labor put in by others. Gandhi strongly believed in the ethics of hard work and that one is entitled to take from the system only as much as he is capable of producing. This according to Gandhi, was the only way to fight poverty and to disarm the world of all its economic woes.
Gandhi also strongly believed that laziness and lack of work can cause immense physical and spiritual deprivation among the populace. It is impossible to ignite the masses towards a revolution leading to a bigger political or ideological goal if they are weak, both physically and morally. He understood that the new industrial modes of mass and large scale productions that have been ousting the age-old indigenous village techniques are ultimately leading towards unemployment and laziness. Therefore, he worked hard for a resurrection of the village modes of production.
The most unique feature of Gandhi's economic model was he wanted to turn the entire flow of profits from the pockets of the big industrialists to the workers. The consumer should, he believed, not only be concerned with acquiring high quality, inexpensive products, but also consider which sections of society are profited by his investment. Foreign clothes may be better and cheaper than the home-spun khadi, but the relentless use of the imported fabric would lead to unemployment of thousands of villagers who have traditionally earned a living by spinning and weaving home-made clothes. The same logic extends to agro-based products as well. Choosing such imported goods would lead to a degeneration of the entire village economy, which was the backbone of Indian economy, Gandhi believed.
But at the same time, Gandhi knew the actual implications of an aggressive capitalism: no such humanitarian economic considerations can possibly curb the relentless advance of the big mechanizations initiated by high capitalist agencies. Therefore, he devised a scheme to suit one and all. A nation low on man-power can well use mechanization to enhance its agricultural and mechanical production. But for a nation with a teeming population like India, it would augur no good. Secondly, he thought that a nation should produce only as much as it needs to produce. Extra production, resulting in the beginning of international economic race, would only lead to exploitation. The condition in India, for Gandhi, was ultimately a manifestation of the aggressive mechanization promoted by the British colonialists.
Rural Economy, Khadi and Handlooms
One of the greatest challenges for Gandhi was to rope in every strata of the Indian society into his ideals of economic self sufficiency. Gandhi understood that the very backbone of India was its villages. Unless the village economy could be reformed, nothing could be achieved on the economic front. In his bid to resurrect the rural economy of India, Gandhi started to advocate the use of handmade tools to plough lands. He did not endorse huge farm holdings with modern agricultural machines. Such holdings, he thought, would naturally bring in discrimination where one would reap the benefits of the toil put in by someone else. Gandhi's more revolutionary concept that gathered great popularity throughout the nation was his defense for the cause of handicrafts and handlooms. It was a pointed attack against the mill-made textiles introduced by the British authorities and was an important part of their economic interests in India. Gandhi gave the call to all Indians to desist from the use of all foreign products and for everyone to spin his or her own clothes. The 'charakha' or the spinning wheel and the khadi, or the homespun coarse cloth became the very symbol of nationalism and a sign for the support for national economy. Gandhi made it compulsory for all satyagrahis to use khadi clothes. It was an important economic statement made by Gandhiji. All forms of rural handicrafts achieved great encouragement from Gandhi.
A Review of Gandhi's Economic Models
Gandhi's views on economics were simple and straight forward at the outset. They have even been criticized at various levels from being utopian to regressive. But it had deep political connotations. He understood economic motives to be the basic principle of imperialism and colonialism. And he therefore understood that the only way to attack and weaken the colonial forces would be to attack the basic economic profits that the British gained from the colonies. This coupled with his actual understanding of the Indian condition led to the development of a unique brand of economic re-orientation of the Indian society that he propagated throughout his life. However, it will be erroneous to consider his economic model to be merely a political tool shrouded in spiritual rhetoric. His concern for the predicament of the Indian villagers was genuine, as was his concern for a heartless mechanization of the world economy sans ethical considerations. In his time, the influence of his economic model was immense and has been dutifully followed in various parts of the world as well as in India, with varied degrees of success.