Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pragmatism, ideology and the middle path

Tread the Middle Path has tended to tow a moderate line on issues - avoiding ideological extremities and positions. There is always a middle path on several contentious issues that one can find if one is willing to rise above ideological prejudices. This is not to imply that ideology is in itself not worth following - it must be tinged with the realities of the time.

This piece titled "Defending Ideology" in the context of free trade by Tibor Machan refers to the ideology of pragmatism - referring to a belief in something that works, is practical and feasible. However he also refers to the importance of an ideological position.

"It is very common among intellectuals in our time to demean ideology. Thus if one supports, say, free trade with foreign firms, one is belittled for doing so on grounds of one's conviction that free trade is generally better than trade that is regimented by government. A "free-market ideologue" is what one is snidely called in such circumstances....
Pragmatic justifications usually focus on whether a policy works, whether it is practical. But how is that ascertained? How do we know whether a policy works? Well, is there sufficient evidence that it achieves the goal or purpose for which it is proposed? 
In the case of international free trade that goal or purpose would be mutual wealth creation. If through such trade the parties gain more wealth than by some other means, like government planning – setting quotas, protectionism, etc. – then free trade will have been pragmatically justified or vindicated; it will have been found the practical, workable policy to follow.  
Then, of course, pragmatism is itself an ideology or theory of action wherein what is workable, practical, is preferred as against what isn't. Why should people proceed only when their objectives are feasible? Pursuing the impossible dream could well be a good policy for purposes of gaining stamina, for honing one's tenacity and grit. 
There is really no hope in resting proper public or even private policies on nothing more than that they are practical. Human beings need also to be sure that their choices, including those pertaining to public or political policies, are worthy, have overall merit, square with a proper moral outlook. Belittling that goal by labeling it ideology is a cheap shot. The issue should be which ideology makes the best sense not whether something is ideological."
Ideological positions in matters of international trade are bound to exist. We see it especially int he context of domestic policy space independence. Is the international economic order a neo-imperialist design or is it a boon for the developing world? Does trade with reduced barriers help countries to grow or does it stunt growth? While ideological positions are important to provide a historical perspective, it is also necessary, I think, for countries to take pragmatic, practical steps in order to benefit from the international economic regime. Merely criticizing it and rejecting it would neither provide the benefits. Engaging in a manner that pursues one's national interest in the context of the overall limitation of international rules seems to an ideology in itself worth pursuing. 

No comments: