When I came to America, I found others like me here. Children of poor or middle class Indian families, we had found our way into high education and higher occupations by dint of ability, hard work, and ambition.
The Indian CEOs of global corporations we now take pride in came from this background.
Middle class Indians were unlike Pakistanis and most other foreign students at elite universities. These others came from among their local political and business elite. They had means, we had none. Yet, we found ourselves in the same classrooms and boardrooms.
How did this happen?
If prosperity is the foundation necessary to advance in life, we should not have advanced at all. We did because we felt free to chase our dreams. Freedom gave us the edge, not our means.
There is a notion now with considerable currency in India that we must place primacy on prosperity. If only India were prosperous, all other ills of conscience would somehow fade away.
How is India to become prosperous? Through markets freer than they have been, through industry and commerce, entrepreneurship, and individual empowerment.
I believe in all this. These, after all, are also the ideas that made America where I now live.
Where I struggle is on the notion that freedom of commerce is somehow more important than freedom of conscience.
I'm told I'm old fashioned. The only thing I'm told that matters is the weight of one's wallet, not the wake of one's ways.
Is it possible for a unfree people to participate in a free market?
A free market, after all, is not merely a place where the supply side means of production are free, but also where the demand side is energized by the freedom of choice.
In other words, it can't be a free market if the buyer can't choose freely where to spend and where not to.
Freedom to choose matters. Choice is a manifestation of conscience. A free people have the freedom of conscience.
If one isn't free to think and dream freely, associate with and love who one wants, worship or deny the existence of God, read, write, & speak as one chooses, and - yes - choose what to buy and what to dismiss in the marketplace of ideas and things, can one really be free?
A coerced choice is no choice at all. An intimidated man ain't free.
***Freedom is ebbing away in India, yet we talk boldly of free markets.
I'm afraid, we have it exactly the wrong way around. Freedom of conscience must precede freedom of commerce. Absurd to argue otherwise.
Let me close with words from the introduction to the 1958 classic "The Beat Generation and The Angry Young Men". They were written about the nothingness of modern man living under the mushroom cloud. Their context is different but they are eerily resonant in our present condition where prosperity is being sought at the gunpoint of social coercion.
On the surface of life, it seldom protrudes: the cop blows his whistle, the street crowds move, business goes on from nine to five in a hundred thousand offices. But, the facade of this present seeming normalcy shows signs of weathering; every day the mortar crumbles a little more. Man, behind the masks with which he plays his daily roles, can not be totally blind to the continuing collapse; the consequence is an increasing self-division.