Vested Interests and the Government
The usual: full chai and single-idli-single-vada. Frayed hair, crumpled shirts, dusty floaters and barely-opened eyes. All four zombies looked the same, aloof and unaware of their environment. One person raised his hand, slowly, in a precise calculated move, cleared his throat to speak but then decided to stop. His hand flopped down.
Saturday mornings, you see, when it dawned upon me that I didn’t eat much the previous night (in all its revelry) and needed a solid breakfast to get me through the day. And it turns out that I managed to lose some part of my voice too. Was I screaming the previous night? No idea.
The first sip of that frothy chai. Soothing. My eyes finally opened. Woh! I was nowhere near my bed. Oh well, things like this keep happening. What’s new?
Hey! Whose this fourth guy? Generally three of us head out for breakfast. After a courteous “Hi! Hello! Erm, who are you?” it turns out that he’s a friend of a roommate and will stay with us for a few days.
Slowly, various body parts realized they existed too. My arm responded back. Good, good.
So, a new guy eh?
I’ve played this bit out before, and this time nothing changed either. In half-an-hour we were all arguing at the top of our voices.
“Libya provides for 2% of the world’s oil man .. Gaddafi is totally bought over!”
“Yes, I know, but that doesn’t change the fact that Anushka looks good in Band Baaja Baraat.”
“Why can’t my office provide such decent idlis and vadas?”
“That’s because there’s no communism in office. What is communism by the way?”
I’ve tried to provide a gist here. You can, however, see that it makes no sense to provide any gist whatsoever. Skip? Yup, let’s skip it.
Anyways, all this fueled a burning question inside: how does a government handle vested interests of corporations? At the end of the day, corporations and high net-worth individuals have a far greater influence on the organs of power – the government – than the middle and poor classes. With this inherent skew, how does the government go about doing its usual business?
The Worst Example
Lets assume that rich individuals and big corporations have interests that are directly conflicting with interests of the general population. We see this happen many times: farm / tribal land annexed for open-pit mining, large slums razed to build gated communities, the unfortunate ‘collateral damage’ in the business of war, drug and tobacco profits versus the health of the people. The point is that competing with the sound theory of economic profits is like taking on a bull by its horns.
How does a government handle such situations? Look at Libya. It’s got a lot of oil. Large oil corporations have been milking Gaddafi for 40 years and aren’t going to give up so easily. What they want is consistency in the functioning of the government – that it should always be on their side. It makes natural sense to promote autocratic power. The problem with democracy is that you never know when an opposition may come in power. That could mean repeating bribes with new officials or, gasp, get oil-block licenses revoked and given to competitor companies. Ouch.
Autocratic government it is, then.
Human rights violations? Meh. Tell the autocratic ruler to handle it. That’s what he’s being paid for, right?
Luckily That’s Just a Few Countries
Most countries have managed to function for the people. In that aspect, democracy was a brilliant idea! If the organs of power are elected by the people, eventually corporations and rich individuals will have interests that align with the interests of the people. Either you appease the people, pander to their demands or you fool the crap out of them. Sadly, our politicians have found loopholes to maximize on the latter method. Bummer.
So, What’s the Best Example?
Communism? No, and that is not my point. Let’s just reverse the worst example to create the ‘best’ example: that the interests of the people are are treated at higher priority than the interests of corporations or any other interests.
Let’s list this down. Considering the interest of the people:
- There would be no alcoholic beverages. Bummer.
- There would be an upper limit on the amount of work an individual would do (and this would be an average figure, meaning that people who could be more productive, the upper crust, will not be able to) in the name of fairness.
- The environment would suffer. Tigers would be killed because they harm humans, fragile hill stations would lie in waste as humans bulldoze over the mountains.
- The population would explode, or be far more if you call the current growth an ‘explosion’ anyway.
- Pollution, and lots of it. Enough to hasten our demise.
[Maybe universal suffrage, the right to vote, should extend to animals and mountains too?]
What The? Don’t Confuse Me!
Okay okay, I’m not clear with what I’m trying to say. In a way, I’m trying to define what a government should do, starting from the basics.
We’re clear that the government should work in the interests of the people. What it should also work towards is a better nation – that includes its natural resources, its flora, fauna and ecology. Some interests have to precede the interests of the people so that our future generations can enjoy their years.
Things get complex when corporations and rich individuals come into the picture. Corporations and governments have a give-and-take relationship: companies need the government and the government needs companies to build its economy.
So Basically, It’s One Helluva Compromise?
A great government is one that can handle all the vested interests and merge them into one. Make people realize the importance of forest reserves for tigers, and they won’t mind not killing tigers. Make people realize that they don’t need tiger bones in their balms. Make corporates realize it’s no longer profitable to make these tiger-bone-balms. See – all interests merged into one!
It’s not impossible, nay-sayers. We can work towards this!
I’ll quote a classic case: Polio vaccination! Pharmaceutical companies along with governments of different nations have ensured that almost all children in this world have had this vaccine. We’ve almost eradicated polio from the face of this Earth!
Let’s accept the fact that there are vested interests, but with some concerted effort we can combine them to make this world a better place!
If that doesn’t happen, bummer. But there’s always more chai to argue this over with.