Perils of prioritizing economic benefits over normative rights and morals

Michael Munger of Duke University eloquently describes the history of slavery in one of his recent podcasts. Prof. Munger explains that the idea of 'slavery is bad' wasn't obvious in those days. The intelligentsia of those days justified slavery citing its economic benefits. Several analysis were put out demonstrating that societies with slavery are well-functioning economic systems and that slavery keeps it going. The obvious question then is - what about normative rights (human rights)? The answer of proponents of slavery was - the normative rights don't matter as long as slavery serves economic purposes OR that economic benefits take priority over the human rights or morality.

Fortunately, such arguments that put economic benefits of a practice over the normative rights were countered and humans got rid of physical slavery. However, the dilemma of choosing between normative rights (human rights or morality) and economic benefits keeps recurring. The latest one being the case of Donald Trump.

Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and a famous venture capitalist is one of the outspoken supporter of Donald Trump. Thiel's WP article summarizes his arguments. The central argument of Thiel is that

Trump gets things done.
Thiel argues that in a slow moving and broken economy, it's important to get things done, and that Trump is good at it, and hence Trump should be voted.  This immediately evokes a counter argument as like the case of slavery- what about Trump's comments on minorities, his track record on respecting human rights? For Thiel, the normative rights don't matter, as long as Trump 'gets things done', because economics trumps rights.

A section of 'Hindu NRI Nationalists' have reportedly given similar arguments in support of Trump.
"Mr. Trump is all about development, development, development; prosperity, prosperity, prosperity; tremendous job growth. "
The rationale here again is here - normative rights are a non issue as long as economic benefits are promised.

India is no exception to such arguments. We have a poor track record of electorally punishing human right violators. We have often prioritized promises of economic benefits over questionable records of politicians.

The worrying trend is that the earlier phenomenon of overlooking human right violations is slowly turning into active defense. It is broadly in four forms.

One, the electoral victory of politicians appears to vindicate everything they did in the past - corruption, crime etc. It doesn't matter what you have done in the past as long as you secure electoral victory. Recall the awe with which such leaders are praised on the day of electoral victory. All the past records of politicians are set aside and an unfettered praise follows. It equally applies to the election managers. Their administrative capability is object of unfettered praise which turns into admiration, with utter disregard to their questionable past. As discussed, victory vindicates everything.

Two, in some cases, the argument currently seems to be - May be (s)he has questionable record of human right violations in the past, so what? (H)She has brought or will bring economic benefits. Economic benefits is the urgent need of the economy. So, it's time to support him/her.

Three, his/her criminal record is a testimony to the fact that (s)he can stand up to the system and get things done!

Four, justifying human right violations. This takes the form of justifying riots, extra judicial killings. It is argued that there is nothing wrong with either riots or extra judicial killings. They are termed as compulsions of politics or carried out to teach a lesson. 

The first form, victory vindication, is a case of unconscious overlooking. The second, need for economic benefits, is a case of deliberate overlooking of human right violations though acknowledging the negative value associated with violations.  The third form, ability to navigate the system, is a case of making the rights violation itself the eligibility for election, a bizarre indeed. Fourth, justifying violation, takes the argument completely to the side of 'active justification of violations'. In this form, the negative nature of human right violations itself isn't acknowledged, instead it is actively advocated for or justified.

Clearly, we haven't learnt our lessons from history. If there's one lesson from history, it is this : the arguments of economic benefits in all such cases as proclaimed by the proponents are nothing but a mask to cover up human right violations. The proclaimed economic benefits are either ways to justify the existing or earlier violations or/and an agenda to carry forward them in future. Unfortunately, we constantly fall prey to them.

When the economy is in shatters, everything looks bleak and the short term impulses can drive people to prioritize economic benefits over normative rights. If we don't think from a long term perspective and don't defend hard earned freedoms, those with track record of human right violations or those who have disregard for human rights come to power in the name of providing economic benefits. However, after coming to power, true to their nature, they don't bring economic benefits as promised but they mainstream bigotry and create fissures in the social fabric. Economy may be rebuilt but social fabric is much difficult to build, once ruptured.

It's time we learn our lessons from history. It's time we prioritize normative rights over falsely proclaimed economic benefits. It's stop we stop eulogizing electoral victory of those with questionable records. It's time we don't fall prey to the false promises of those with track record of human right violations. It's time we shed the dilemma of normative rights vs. economic benefits. It's time we consider human right violations or any one with disregard to constitutional rights itself as a disqualification criteria, a criteria to not to vote. It should be regardless of other qualities of the person (it doesn't matter if some things don't get done for few years because the costs of such false decision are much higher in long term). It's time we save humanity.

In short - No Trump. No other such leaders in India who promote hatred between communities or have questionable records.

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