Of Liberation and Development

Lord Acton observed that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He was of course referring to political, economic, and social power. I argue that power liberates, and absolute power liberates absolutely. I am referring to power that drives machines, or energy. This point is so important that I am forced to raise it to the status of a law. The The First Law of Liberation.

Since I am at it, I may as well outline the The Second Law of Liberation: Credit liberates, and absolute credit liberates absolutely. The corollary to that is naturally the conclusion that Microcredit liberates microscopically. The Third Law of Liberation states that knowledge liberates and absolute knowledge liberates absolutely and leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment is outside the scope of the present discussion since it drags nirvana into the picture and since for now we are stuck in samsara, I will not insist on absolute knowledge; only the relative knowledge which is our lot in our everyday lives.

So there you have it: power, credit, and knowledge are the basic ingredients for the recipe that liberates. The utility of liberation is expressed in the Zeroth Law of Development which is that liberation is a pre-condition for development. Without freedom of thought and action, nothing of value can be accomplished. At its core, development is about freedom — economic, political, religious, … ad infinitum. Casual empiricism bears out that law: where these freedoms are missing, development is absent. If you really insist on it, check out the human development indicies of countries and you would notice that countries that are in economic, political, and religious shackles are not developed.

Now let us discuss the first of the Trinity: Power. (Just for the heck of it, I like to represent it by Shiva, the Mahadeva in the Hindu pantheon.) Power is another word for energy and it is energy that acts on matter to transform it. The reason that energy can do so is simply because matter is condensed energy. The fundamental point to consider is that it was energy that transformed matter into all the stuff that you see around yourself (not to mention the stuff that is yourself.) Everything without exception. I am writing this on a laptop while flying at 33,000 feet in a plane. Everything that I can see around me has been mined from the earth and transformed through thousands of processes involving technology to create machines that would astound us constantly if were not so jaded by their pervasiveness. Inside this laptop, for instance, there is a chip which processes signals. The chip is made of simple stuff — silicon, a few metals including gold, plastic (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) — the kind of stuff that you can grab in any handful of earth. What transformed that earth into a chip is energy which powered the machines that embody knowledge as technology. The conclusion therefore is that power, or energy, is what you basically need, and if you have sufficient amounts of power, you can do anything that your heart desires.

Power is the fundamental irreducible basic natural resource and all other resources can be derived using it, albeit indirectly. For instance, using power, you can mine any mineral you need from sea water of which there is a practically inexhaustible supply. You can get fresh water as well from it. All you need is power. So the conclusion is that if you have a shortage of power, all other shortages derive from that. Every poor country is one that does not have access to power and every rich country has access to power. Whether the rich country’s access to power is endogenously determined or not, is a different matter. If one has any doubts about how important power is to countries, one just has to remember that in all the wars that the US fights around the world, energy holds center stage.

Next on our list of librating elements is credit. What do I mean by credit? I mean any capital that is available to one for use without having earned it before using it. This is a broader concept than just the money credit that you can access using credit cards, banks, loan sharks, etc. I am referring to capital that has been accumulated for generations which includes machines, buildings, roads, libraries, technology, and so on. If one thinks about it for a bit, one uses stuff that one has not paid for all the time. The current generation has access to and uses capital that it has not paid for. Therefore it can be said that the current generation is using credit. And the more credit that is available to any entity, the more productive it is going to be. To understand this bit, one has to merely look at the credit available to the population of a rich nation and compare that to that which is available to the people of a poor nation. People are born pretty much with equal capabilities on the average. What distinguishes them later in life is whether they had access to credit or not. A surgeon’s son grows up to a professional, while a peasant’s son grows up to be a manual laborer. On a higher level of aggregation, the people of a technologically advanced country have access to greater credit — more machines and more know-how — and therefore they are more productive.

For a glimpse of where I am going with this, I would like to now outline my argument here:

  1. Energy, credit, and knowledge are the basic ingredients for liberation.
  2. Liberation is a precondition for development.
  3. So if one wishes to bring about development, one has to assure the availability of energy, credit, and knowledge.

I will argue that underdeveloped countries have to struggle so hard to become developed because they are deficient in some or all of the three essential ingredients of liberation. I will further argue that it is possible to bootstrap the process of development but only if resources are used efficiently and if problems are solved by addressing causes rather than by alleviating superficial effects. Finally, I would address the question of the use of information and communications technologies for development. The point that I would discuss is that knowledge is the active agent of transformation. ICT, as the name implies, is technology that is concerned with information, and not knowledge directly. Not keeping the distinction between knowledge and information leads to confused thinking and ultimately immense waste of resources.

{Read the next article in the series Of Liberation and Development-II here.}