President’s Job Initiative and His Development Paradigm
Posted on August 22nd, 2020

Dr D.Chandraratna

It comes as no surprise that with the change of government we have; unobtrusively it may be, moved on to a different political platform/perspective. Briefly stated there appears a shift from the more aggressive neo- liberalism of 2015, towards a reluctant form of socialism. Not quite to the centre of that paradigm yet, but trending in that direction.  Because this perspective has not evolved into a consistent whole, the term ideology may not yet be the appropriate terminology. Traditionally in the neoliberal ideology the concept of choice mattered most but to the radical socialist left it was  ‘circumstance’, or in popular parlance it was class inequality the central theme. To the socialists the default position always came back to minimizing class disparities. It was obvious that much of the agenda of the West engineered 2015 regime was freedom of choice and the compacts, trade agreements, sales MOU’s, signed and unsigned, harboured this ideology. In keeping with this ideology some of their stalwarts often stressed secularism and political correctness while many in the opposition thought such extreme liberality undermined the spiritual values of Sri Lankan society leading to a breakdown in civility, individual morality and family life.

It is in this backdrop that we see the initiative moved by the new president in his manifesto of jobs for the poorest as the initial step in his development paradigm. On the face of it is similar to the ideology of New Social Democracy (NSD) that British labour party of Tony Blair proposed on the advice of his top policy advisor in Anthony Giddens named the Third Way? The ‘Third Way’ went awry with the USA led conflict in the Middle East and had an early death. Left leaning social democrats are those who desire to bring capitalist economies under some form of state control with reforms which are ambitious and interventionist than those favoured by the supporters of the ‘Capitalism with a human face’, the slogan that Chandrika Bandaranaike preferred. The New Social Democracy comes as a more confident form of leftism with the exhaustion of Keynesian welfare and the ascendancy of populist right wing ideas in the West. If in Sri Lanka one were to label it as Nationalist Social Democracy (NSD) it will be closer to reality.

The NSD can be described as radical pragmatism, a means of countering the neo liberal hegemony. This is taking shape as the future of the left at this moment in time. The street marches and cancel culture moves are different strands in this project, struggling to gain its philosophical confidence and yet to form into a cohesive whole. Its emergence was in the 1990’s as a reaction to the American thrust of the global free market, seen in global protests at G8 forums but was stymied by the political upheavals in the Middle East and the rise of China as a world power.

Many in the left have understood that the NSD is going to be the next big thing in western politics. Not particularly reliant on class analysis the NSD lays emphasis on social exclusion and freedoms of the lower classes as the most serious impediment to social justice. But it also has a caveat and that is its necessity to

exist within the free market. When the ‘Third Way’ was suggested as an approach to positive social welfare based upon the notion of ‘life politics’ it meant enabling people to shape their lives with self-confidence and self control while being active in the economy. This is the social democracy of the Third Way that implies inclusion of the poor in society’s way of life rather than direct redistribution.

Tapping Capabilities and Freedoms

This is a political perspective that has resonance with Amartya Sen’s notion of social development through participation and freedom. One sure method of development, Sen noted, is to make development a friendly process. We have been used to the slogan of development as a fierce process of ‘blood sweat and tears’ in which the poor are asked to tighten their belts much to their despair. By allowing people to participate in the process of development through economic activity development is made friendly. Economic power is enhancing freedoms and minimizing deprivations. The importance of this instrumental freedom is that it helps the person to enhance his capabilities and freedoms in the other political, social and security guarantees already provided by the state. When the individual is provided education, health care and so on it enlarges the capabilities of individuals and society generally. The so called East Asian miracle we saw in our neighbouring countries in South Asia was to a great extent a result of opening up freedoms and capitalising on the untapped potential of capabilities in the population argues Amartya Sen.

The job maker initiative by the new President is only one segment of the emerging perspective. There are other elements that characterize the new philosophy. While liberalism espoused free market individualism the new variant is somewhere between state collectivism and free market, permitting an economic and political flexibility that utilizes the strengths of both public and private. The titles adorning many of the state ministries that some people are mocking at are exactly the motive, though unattractive at first sight. The next is its emphasis on meritocracy that is a new strategy to develop equality from the bottom rather than something to be imposed from above.  

The NSD also offers opportunities in return for effort where rights imply responsibilities. This reciprocity is connected with its appeal to the civic sense of community and meritocracy to join in partnership with the state to build a moralistic society.  The President requested the civic community to be a partner in eradicating drugs and the underworld. Finally I may also add pragmatism as a priority given the rapidly changing post COVID environment. The pandemic, which hit us from nowhere, is the best example in which adaptation is the key. In that many countries in the world including Sri Lanka are adjusting the import substituting domestic industry and agriculture. For this there needs a partnership between the private and public sector investment and management. Hence the enthusiasm in efficiency targets, performance related pay, competition, and ‘management speak’. To assess public sector performance as market goods. Development and social justice in this perspective are   not planning to lower the ceiling by taxing for the sake of equality but instead raise the bottom of the social floor. Needless to say there are many critics and the debate will continue.     

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