Freedom is not License

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The issue of globalization cannot but be tackled at two different planes. At the one level it is about an inevitable process of the world shrinking, chiefly because of quantum leaps in communication, both physical as well as in terms of information technologies. As for instance, if physical movements of people were limited largely within their own countries as in the olden days, the dreaded viruses like the one that causes SARS or the later bird flu, which periodically break out usually in remote provinces of China and South East Asia, could not possibly have created the worldwide scares as they have done without fail. In fact, we all remember how the SARS epidemic had a toll even in Canada, located half way round the world from China, within days of its outbreak. But more than the movement of people, it is flight of ideas and ideologies which has become virtually impossible to restrain. Who can dam the flood of information entering everybody`™s lives wherever they are through satellite television, and more than this, the omnipresent broadband internet these days? Not even tough dictatorships, including once in our immediate neighbour Myanmar have managed to do this. True, this new world order has globalized even terrorism, but as former American President Bill Clinton said with such incisive vision in his 2001 BBC Dimbleby Lecture, the peoples and nations of the world cannot simply afford to return to their respective boxes despite whatever the ugly fallouts of this opening up to the new global universe are. This is the Brave New World, to twist and use a phrase author Aldous Huxley made famous, which we have no choice but to face.

But to believe this coming closer together of the world communities is all there is about globalization would be naivety. For tagged along equally inevitably is the market, much bigger now because it is globalized. Despite whatever all the unabashed market worshippers think, it is difficult to believe globalized market, or for that matter any market, can be a laissez fair. It can be a brutal tool in the hands of unscrupulous players, and of this breed there can never be a shortfall in the world of business. In an uncontrolled situation, the market is not at all about fair competition or honing pursuits of excellence through competition, but can be about finishing off competition by big bullies of the game. The repeated failure of the WTO talks to have a smooth sailing is precisely because of disagreements on the insistence of developing countries to have the playing fields levelled out first before a regime of fully open competition is introduced. Moreover, the market forces being driven by profit motive alone, it is devoid of any intrinsic moral. It exploits the weak, but more than that, it also has no real concern for ecology, air pollution, public health, gender sensitivity, child right etc.

We would however not also reject the market outright but take it after necessary controls are introduced. As an example, we are reminded of the private schools and their meteoric rise in Manipur vis a vis government run schools in recent years. And this is a phenomenon repeated in every other field, including the media. At this moment, there is absolutely no point of comparison in terms of the quality of education provided by private and government schools. While the former continues to better their results every year, the latter has been showing a growth in the reverse direction. Yet, it is a foregone conclusion that private schools are not the final answer to quality education for they cannot avail their service below a certain income line. The market logic will ensure that they cater to only those who ring their cash registers. Without some sort of a regulatory mechanism from the powers that be, the service condition within even the most profitable organizations can and would probably get exploitative. In this Brave New World, big players are also always on the lookout to destroy competition and gobble weaker players. We are witnessing how this is happening in the media business in cities like Guwahati which has become the latest battle ground for big money media moguls. Democracy is often described as freedom defined by judicious laws. The free market too needs such a defining criterion before it can actually be free and fair. Free for all is far from freedom. Or to put it another way, freedom cannot be equated with license.

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