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What's Wrong with Economics and how can it be Fixed



 
 
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Old August 20th 04, 02:13 PM
What's Wrong with Economics and how can it be Fixe
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Default What's Wrong with Economics and how can it be Fixed

What's Wrong with Economics and how can it be Fixed

Traditionally economics is the study of how scarce resources are or should
be allocated. In particular, it has involved themes such as choices,
trade-offs, markets, prices, information, needs, behaviour, satisfaction,
business, government, growth and poverty, and more recently the environment
and sustainability. Conventional economics focuses mostly on the following
themes:

· Choices and opportunity costs

· Power of the market

· Making decisions at the margin

· Distribution of income and wealth

· Private choices vs public choices

· Risk and uncertainty

This demonstrates that most economists today only understand something of
the principles of general economy and something of commercial economy. The
inequitable distribution of wealth and resources seen in the world today
must demonstrate that even these parts are still in an undeveloped state.
The study of people's economy and psycho-economy are totally unknown to
modern economists, and as such find no place in the present mode of economic
thinking.

A brief outline of what conventional economists focus on is given below. The
potential scope of what could be considered under these heading is also
discussed, should economists seek to broaden their worldview. Immediately
one can see that the scope of what is presently considered in economics is
very limited, although it certainly is fundamental to economics. However,
the application of a narrow outlook has had diabolical impacts on many
cultures and people of the world. To remedy this shortcoming economics needs
to find a set of foundation principles that are universal in character and
allow economics to be applied for the happiness and all-round welfare of all
of society's members.

· Choices and opportunity costs

In conventional economics, choices and trade-offs are thrust to the centre
of analysis. Associated with all choices are trade-offs. It is true that
trade-offs involve considering and choosing between alternatives in
producing goods and services, in marketing, in investment and savings, in
economic management and in the consumption of goods and services.

However, it is not the case that people have a real option to consider
between alternatives. Where there is no economic democracy, the potential
opportunities (or opportunity cost of what is forgone by a limited choice)
cannot bear fruition and cannot be known or ascertained. Generally, in
economics, the opportunity cost of any option is the amount of other goods
and services which could have been obtained instead of any particular good
or service. Practically, it is the benefits foregone from an alternative.

Capitalism, being materialistically oriented, prevents and creates
hindrances for people understanding subtle aspects of life. As capitalism
focuses only on material increases in living as determined by how much
individuals can accumulate (given that capitalism is concerned with private
property and private enterprise), society will miss out on, or forego,
maximum utilization of metaphysical and spiritual potentialities or these
will take on a degraded meaning for further material accumulation and
exploitation. In this regard there will also be loss of physical
potentialities. Many choices are being made unavailable to the people as a
result.

· Power of the market

A market is supposed to help coordinate decisions and act to allocate goods
and services amongst buyers. Efficient markets are supposed to convey
information and send signals to producers, traders and consumers. Today,
markets pervade every person's life on this planet. Historically, many
markets were established through colonial exploitation in which exploiters
first captured a new market area and then gained control of all the raw
materials available in that area through monopoly rights. They then exported
raw materials and produced finished goods out of the raw materials in their
own factories at home within their own region, only to sell the finished
goods back to the people in the occupied market. Accordingly, this
exploitation results in getting double opportunities to misappropriate
wealth - the exploiters deceive the local population while procuring their
raw materials at cheap rates, and then they sell their finished products in
the same markets at exorbitant prices.

The affects of such colonialism has never been properly or fully addressed
for indigenous cultures around the world and in those countries where
attempts at recompense, rectification or reconciliation have been made, it
has largely resulted in thrusting the indigenous cultures into the
capitalist market place in which limited social and cultural choices are
available. By capturing the local market, colonial exploiters succeeded in
totally destroying the local industrial system. This legacy persists today
and as a consequence many local economies have not been able to develop
wholistically or self-sufficiently. The only development open to them is to
export their raw materials and, in any case, this is all controlled, managed
and owned by multinational corporations who, in essence, adopt the same
approach as the colonial exploiters. Often, these raw materials will be
exported to other countries in which indigenous cultures have also suffered
and as a result of which there are cheap and easily exploited labour forces.

Essentially, today the players in market places are powerful corporations.
Such markets lack proper equipoise and equilibrium with the social and
cultural needs of the people, let alone people's needs in many areas of the
world for basic minimum necessities (eg, food, clothing, medical treatment,
housing and education). To obtain equipoise and equilibrium at the physical
level requires that markets be incorporated as part of local or block level
or regional planning in a decentralized economic democracy.

Demand and supply are important factors in the functioning of markets.
Proper planning requires that the physical demand of the day and physical
demands of the foreseeable future are to be assessed and organised. As well,
the physical supply of the day and the physical supply of the foreseeable
future are to be organised and ensured. The demand function relates to
people's purchasing power (or consumer income), price level and prices of
other goods, family circumstances and natural conditions such as weather
conditions. The supply function or factors which determine level of supply
relates to price of goods, cost of labour, prices of other services and
intermediate products required for production of goods, the number of firms
engaged in producing a product, and levels of capital equipment or
technology.

Where outside controllers such as multinational corporations are in charge
of making assessments of demand and supply in a local economy, the local
economy will always becomes uncertain in such circumstances. Many factors
intrinsic to, or human aspects of, that economy will be ignored. Further,
the foreseeable future of the local economy and community remains doubtful
of consideration and, as stated above, it is both the immediate and
foreseeable future demand and supply which must be assessed, organised or
ensured. The best judge of that is the local community provided it does not
have resources, knowledge or decision-making denied to it. Equity for future
generations of that community will not then fail and the society will be
able to build its culture, rather than be at the whims of economic decision
makers in far away corporate offices.

Capitalism, does not allow for the local community to make the required
assessments of demand, to organise the demand and supply or to ensure the
supply of goods and services to the local community. Democracy is lost in
such circumstances. To grant economic democracy, supply has to be through
local/regional consumer cooperatives and other cooperative structures for
commodities or factors of production. It is essential that money be
circulated within the local markets and that local capital is not extracted
at the whims of global financiers who have no regard to local needs but only
to profiteering for themselves or wealthy clients. For the demand function
to operate properly in the local economy people's income will have an upward
trend for the local people and not be stifled by income going to outside
multinational corporations to lift their global profits. Purchasing power is
only capable of continuously increase for all people under a system of
economic democracy involving local decision-making, local planning and local
cooperative structures and ownership through which to carry out commercial
activity. No economic system in the world has been able to continuously
increase the purchasing power of the people, because economic power is
concentrated in the hands of a few.

· Making decisions at the margin

Economics often is concerned with making decisions at the margin. This
involves considering incremental change and assessing strategies
accordingly - that is, reformist change. In macroeconomic management,
generally, the questions for policy makers are when and how to tinker with
various policies and instruments at the margin. Capitalism has not allowed
for fundamental revolutions to occur in economic thinking and in economic
management. Generally, decisions are based on incremental change or marginal
analysis.

The reformist approach is to go slowly but in reality it is intended to
allow the process of exploitation to continue. The welfare of the society is
not what counts. What matters to these reformists is that they only want to
perpetuate the capitalist system and to temporarily satisfy people's
frustrations by bringing about incremental patchwork improvements.

While marginal analysis remains relevant to both micro and macro economics,
there should first be a fundamental rethink about what economics is about.
The economy and its principles should first be founded on a solid base.
Essentially, this means that the minimum requirements of an age should be
guaranteed to all through adequate purchasing capacity. One way that
marginal analysis then becomes important is in determining how that
purchasing capacity can be ever increasing and then how surplus wealth
should be distributed amongst meritorious persons according to the degree of
their merit as assessed by their social contributions, and their needs so as
to allow them to further contribute to society. Identical distribution to
each person can never be achieved. However, guaranteeing the minimum
necessities to all can be achieved. From there, increasing the minimum
standard of living of people must be and is an indication of the vitality of
society. Increasing wealth disparity for the many and accumulation and
hoarding by a few indicates the dysfunction of society and the mental
disease of the accumulators.

· Distribution of income and wealth

The social and economic objective should be to put an end to hoarding excess
wealth. This cannot be accomplished through reformist means. Rather, society
requires a mechanism by which local economies and people, or the collective
body, has a say in wealth accumulations and approvals of distribution of
wealth and income. This can only come about through a cooperative
decentralized economy. Economic activity and control is currently
centralized in the hands of powerful multinationals and their controllers
(which are certainly not the ordinary shareholders).

The wealth of individuals affects their choices in all areas of life.
Inequity (the opposite of equity) strips people of control, decision-making
and input into their community. A dynamic economy should operate so as to
lead people from a base or crude everyday existence to one which is subtle,
expansive and elevating. Then will the aspirations of people be satisfied.
For that to occur there must be: psycho-spiritual education and
understanding (otherwise society will be balkanised or divided and
antagonistic); rule by moralists (ethical leadership based on universal
outlook); a balanced socio-economic structure (integration of economic,
social and cultural aspirations through decentralized economic democracy);
and ever-increasing purchasing power (so as to guarantee minimum
requirements of life and ensure equity in wealth distribution)..

The truth of the matter today, is that the world can be divided into two
groups: the `haves' and the `have nots'. To say that 80 percent of the
people of the world have only 20 percent of the resources is a reasonable
approximation to reality. Indeed it is probably the case that closer to 10
percent of the world owns 90 percent of the resources and earns 90 percent
of the income. If you are in the group of `haves' you tend not to worry
about the other 90 percent. This situation actually results in
underproduction and unemployment, eg, 80 percent of production may only be
for 20 percent of the people so that the capacity to satisfy the needs of
the other 80 percent of people remains idle as does labour, human capital
and other inputs.

It is the crude attributes or propensities of humans that leaves people
destitute. Accordingly, it is vital that in an omni-dynamic social
philosophy and socio-economic movement there be utilization of
psycho-spiritual potentialities and understanding supported by an integral
moral outlook and ethical leadership. However, economics as it is known
today has not dealt with social, moral and ethical questions. Economics
today lacks the concept of people's economy and psycho-economy which would
deal with social, moral and ethical issues. The sub-discipline of people's
economy which is directly concerned (amongst other things) with the
guaranteed provision of minimum requirements like food, clothes, housing,
medical care, education, transportation, energy supply and water needs to be
developed by economists as does the sub-discipline of psycho-economy which
deals with tendencies of mind which affect economic activity and behaviour
such as greed, insecurity, tastes, compassion and subtle values, as well as
consciousness raising. Once the level of consciousness and awareness, in not
only the socio-economic and ethical affairs of society, is raised but also
spiritual awareness is increased this will have a profound effect on
foreseeable future production and demand and supply of types of goods and
services.

Simply guaranteeing freedom in the socio-economic sphere does not
necessarily mean that there will be liberty in the psycho-economic sphere.
The intellectual ability of the people and awakening of conscience has to be
attained through the liberation of their intellect which is fundamentally a
psycho-spiritual pursuit moving from the crude to the subtle and elevating
aspects of life. If the hunger of the human mind does not seek mental and
spiritual elevation it becomes engaged in accumulating more wealth than what
it requires in the mundane world, thereby depriving others of their share of
wealth. Those who exploit human beings to serve their own self-interests do
not want socio-economic freedom to be granted to people, let alone
psycho-economic freedom. Not only do they exploit people in the social and
economic spheres but also in the psycho-economic sphere so that people are
totally unaware of it, and members of society are unable to develop their
constructive efforts to raise their consciousness. Manipulation of the mass
media such as the radio, television and newspapers is a typical example.

For there to be full utilization of every resource in this universe,
economics must develop universal principles and practices to enable maximum
utilization and rational distribution of all mundane, supramundane and
spiritual potentialities of the universe and maximum utilization of
physical, metaphysical and spiritual potentialities of the unit/individual
and collective bodies of human society.

· Private choices vs public choices

An integral economic outlook leads to the understanding that the wealth of
the universe is the common property or patrimony of all, though no two
things can ever be absolutely equal. The question then turns to the
appropriate usufructuary rights to be granted to members of society or to be
approved by the collective decision making bodies of society. A theme that
runs through conventional economics is that there is a distinction between
private choices and public choices or the private sector and the public
sector. Much of this is an artificial divide.

If you are deciding how best to spend your weekly income, then that is a
private choice. If the government is deciding how best to raise taxes and to
support the management of national parks, then that is a public choice.
However, we know that individual businesses and private operators may do
things which spill over and hurt the public at large. When colonisers of
last century and early this century hunted wildlife to extinction, they were
making private choices which affected all the people or the public of the
area or country, and the opportunity of placing value on seeing rare
wildlife in its natural habitat or retaining wildlife, even if only for its
existential value was lost, and this affected the public interest. For this
reason governments had to intervene. This is just one example, but there are
many instances where it is necessary to have some government intervention so
that externalities (eg external social costs or diseconomies that damage
other people or the environment and which are not paid for or remedied by
those carrying on the activity) do not arise or are properly dealt with.

Much of what goes on now in terms of policy and law to solve this tends to
be reactive. No proper system has been put in place to inherently thwart
private choices taking precedence over public or collective good. Rather
society is demarcated into the private sector and public sector and in some
instances the two are at odds with each other, or business and capitalist
interests feels it has to contend with, or out manoeuvre, public regulators.
Furthermore, even the private sector is demarcated into the owners of
capital or enterprise and the workers (whether manual or intellectual) who
have little say in their workplace roles (particularly when it comes to
economic, social and cultural matters).

A new paradigm in terms of industry and business structures is called for.
What is needed is a three-tiered economic structure which is integrated and
involves small scale privately owned businesses, medium to significant scale
cooperative enterprises and large scale key industries managed by the
immediate or local government. In such a structure key industries remain in
public control and small scale businesses are allowed to exist for
efficiency gains, while everything else is carried out through cooperative
enterprises in which workers feel part of their working environment with a
shareholding interest. Such an economic structure should be based on the
principles of self-reliance, maximum utilization, rational distribution,
decentralization, and progressive increases in the standard of living of all
people.

Key industries comprise vital resources which every member of the public has
right of access to and utilization of. These must never be put in the hands
of capitalists. However, if the time comes or parts can be operated on a
cooperative basis, the cooperatization of such industries or aspects of them
may be possible. The management of key industries is the direct
responsibility of the local or most immediately relevant government and
appointees are basically stewards or trustees of society's resources. Key
industries should run on a no-profit and no-loss basis (after taking into
account costs such as research and development, depreciation, repair,
maintenance and any other costs which may be amortised or involve
replacement expenditure or provision for contingencies such as disasters).
The supply of water is a good example as is the national electrical grid and
main cables for telephone networks.

If the key industry enterprise does make a profit this can always be given
back as a rebate or discount to consumers. Through proper accounting and
insurance arrangement (eg for disasters) it would be unlikely that the key
industry should have to radically raise prices in case of unforeseen events.
The type of electricity outages and shortfalls as seen in California
recently should not arise in a publicly managed enterprise as everyone has a
public interest in the enterprise, so that there is greatly accountability
and vigilance. It is only when capitalists treat these enterprises as their
own for profit's sake, and create artificial shortages, that decisions
against that public interest are likely to arise.

In this sort of structure, the cooperative enterprises are also better
serviced. The dichotomy of worker vs owner, which is an unnecessary
inefficiency in business structuring is removed through the cooperative
model. The owner-worker polarity is divisive and imposes significant costs
on the community and consumers. If an objective of economic activity is to
create effective and efficient production, distribution chains and markets,
then any divisive or fissiparous tendencies should be removed as these only
add to costs at the end of the day.

Costs will be reduced, and effectiveness and efficiency will increase,
through the spirit of coordinated cooperation, for only that can ensure the
healthy, integrated progress of humanity. The cooperative system is
essential to establish such unity. Commodities which are essential
collective requirements, such as food (the most important commodity),
clothing, housing, education and medical care, should be cooperatively
produced. In this regard, a sharp distinction must be drawn between
cooperatives and communes. Communes involve centralized control of the
economy and without a sense of worker ownership. Cooperatives, on the other
hand, will be enterprises with worker ownership and bonuses. A variety of
participative forms can be envisaged, depending on the nature of the
cooperative, eg consumer cooperatives may function differently to producer's
cooperatives or banking cooperatives or superannuation and pension funds.
Whatever, the participative form may take the sense of involvement and
economic rights currently snatched away in the capitalist system must take
predominance. Generally, this will be through allocation of shares in the
cooperative.

Some commercial activities are too small to be run as a cooperative. In such
a case, small private business holdings are the preferred means of
production of goods and services. Of course, if businesses expand involving
more than the closest relatives or associates, for the sake of ensuring the
curbing of capitalist tendencies cooperatization is to be followed.

Under this three-tiered structure, the notion of private ownership assumes
no real predominance or importance. Today, private ownership is generally a
myth as many small businesses are struggling and in debt and the say in
other economic enterprises is non-existent, even with shareholdings. Often
shareholdings are merely to allow for input of funds to be controlled by
others who have no association with the immediate community, region or
country and so place the livelihood of the community at risk. The
three-tiered structure instead allows people to resume cooperative ownership
which also gives them a sense of personal ownership as they can prosper from
dividend distributions and/or returns from their labour. The cooperative can
also assume responsibility for their well-being at times of illness or
retirement by proper integration with other cooperatives specialising in
these functions. The key industries will also allow access by cooperatives
to relevant resources at appropriate prices rather than over-inflated prices
which is an immoral practice for something that is basically a public
resource or infrastructure.

Many antagonistic dichotomies or divisions can be removed by this
three-tiered structure, in particular that of private vs public and owners
vs workers, as well as the elimination of the haves and have-nots.

· Risk and uncertainty

Risk and uncertainty will always be an element in life, both individual and
social and some element of risk arises from any choices, markets, and the
economy. Ordinarily risk is seen as a hazard or a chance of a loss.
Unscrupulous people will also place society's well being at risk through
selfish activity.

Economics catering for the welfare of all reduces the risk of insecurity
considerably.

Lack of security in society leads to the disintegration of society itself.
Economics bears a responsibility for minimizing or eliminating the risk of
social disintegration. If security in society is to be maintained there must
be no economic injustice. Economic injustice is usually the result of lack
of appreciation of the dignity of labour. This is solved through the
implementation of a cooperative system. Occupational distinctions in society
also lead to economic injustice where one occupation is used to set itself
against others, eg management dictated by corporate ideologues inconsiderate
of the financial situations of its workers. Again the cooperative system can
remedy this by allowing for election of managers by those having shares in
the cooperative. It will solve the principal-agent problem which involves
how management can be motivated to act for the benefit of the cooperative or
firm (and therefore cooperative members) rather than for management's own
interests.

Economic injustices also come about because of the hording instincts of
human beings. People want property only for themselves and confine their
mental proclivities and horizons in such a way that it is detrimental to
their spiritual elevation. The cooperative system ensures appropriate
sharing and equitable wealth distribution. In all countries where democracy
is in vogue people have been deceived into believing that capitalism is an
efficient and effective allocator of resources, while in reality the right
of economic and social equality has been snatched away. Consequently, there
is gross economic disparity between the rich and the poor, irrational
distribution of wealth, immense inequality in the purchasing power of the
people, unemployment, chronic food shortages, poverty and insecurity in
society.

A progressive approach to economics will seek to minimize the risk of social
disintegration, instead of merely looking at risk taking in terms of profit
outcomes or the pursuit of accumulation of wealth. Through a proper focus,
an understanding of the consequences of social risk must be gained by
economists.

Naturally, ongoing adjustments are necessary in any economy and society and
in use of resources at all levels, and the method of utilization will vary
as per changes in circumstances. What is important is that these be
progressive in nature. By progressive is meant that universal principles can
adjust and establish parallelism in accordance with the changes in time,
space and person. This is to be judged by whether changes and adjustments
achieve a positive psychic flow in the collective psychology. For example,
has there been a progressive availability of the maximum amenities of life
and minimum necessities to all to satisfy physical needs, so that the
satisfied physical needs lessen the physical obstacles which inhibit human
progress and so that human beings can experience all-round development,
especially in the intellectual stratum, as well as the spiritual.

Conventional economics may attempt to answer questions such as how changing
transport and communications technologies alter the optimal location of
homes, work and optimal routes for commuters in a neighbourhood (where
optimal is considered as providing the best results relative to costs), but
does not have the tools to consider all round social welfare. This is
because of a lack of a sound foundation or intuitive principles and an
appreciation of what is happiness.

Intuitive economic principles for the good and happiness of all

Corruption has by no means ceased in free markets. Instead in many instances
it has become legitimised. Examples abound of large business interests
receiving the corporate dole through subsidies and relocation incentives
while unwilling to act by their own stamina. Or of chief executive officers
receiving tens of millions of dollars in salary each year as a reward
completely disproportionate to effort and at the same time the corporation,
that the CEO is responsible for, seeks the lowest wages it can pay to
workers in third world countries. Economists do not agree amongst themselves
about the foundations of their discipline. There are those economists in the
'Chicago school of thought' who believe that the unfettered market place is
the best means of resolving important private and public choices. An
opposite view is that of the 'neo-Keynesians' who believe that considerable
intervention in markets by government is required to counter the power of
large corporations and to provide appropriate safety nets in society because
without the preservation of a base the private sector will fail to
appreciate the broader needs of society and will only be profit-oriented.

Most countries in the world - whether capitalist or communist - have adopted
the policy of economic centralization. The economies of the capitalist
countries are centralized in the hands of a few capitalists or a few
capitalist institutions. The economies of the communist countries are
centralized in the hands of the party. To assess the standard of living of a
country, the main issue is whether or not economic exploitation has been
eradicated and the common people have been guaranteed ever-increasing
purchasing capacity. The fact is that in a centralized economy there is no
possibility that economic exploitation can ever be eradicated or that the
economic problems of the common people can ever be permanently solved.

Furthermore, history reveals that in the past economies have declined
because of environmental damage, eg rivers drying up or changing course,
deforestation and desertification. Also, the decline in small-scale, rural
or local industries has destroyed the balance of economies of many regions.
In addition, a defective educational and social system can destroy economic
equilibrium by giving free scope to capitalists.

A developed economy should consist of four parts: people's economy,
psycho-economy, commercial economy and general economy. This quadro-division
of economics is a vast expansion on contemporary conceptions of economic
activity. This involves planning on a devolved basis starting at the block
or local level. Such an economy aims to achieve all-round development and
welfare of the human society in a progressive manner. In a balanced economy
there is a close relationship between the economic prosperity of people and
their psychic and cultural development. Improving individual and collective
life depends upon the all-round welfare of people. In capitalist economies
local people do not develop a sense of self-confidence in their economic
activities, and through this mental weakness the community becomes an easy
victim of economic and psycho-economic exploitation by vested interests.
Capitalists also degrade themselves by their materialistic orientation and
mental obsession with objects that are finite and which can never provide
them with an inner sense of happiness and psychic well-being

The overall well-being of society is to be achieved by a decentralized
economy which will bring about economic prosperity as well as ensure greater
opportunities for the psycho-spiritual elevation of all members of society.
In centralized economies there is no possibility for the economic liberation
of the people. To make democracy successful, economic power must be vested
in the hands of the local people and the minimum requirements of life must
be guaranteed to all through adequate purchasing capacity.

For this, fundamental socio-economic principles must be adopted that are
immediately appealable to the human psyche and which satisfy the aspirations
of all people while elevating society so that the human consciousness is
capable of evolving to a higher level. This does not mean that what
economists currently focus on needs to be abandoned. What is does mean is
that a deep intuitive understanding is required which is developed through a
deeper knowledge of the human mind and spirit. The PROgressive Utilization
Theory or PROUT as propounded by P R Sarkar is such a theory and part of it
formulates socio-economic principles upon which policies and practices may
be developed in a progressive way so that the all-round welfare of all
people is attained and fortified in any age or era.

The relevant socio-economic principles of PROUT that must be adhered to in
this regard (and which have formed the basis of the above discussion) are as
follows:

· Diversity, not identity, is the law of nature.

· The minimum requirements of an age should be guaranteed to all.

· The surplus wealth should be distributed among meritorious people
according to the degree of their merit.

· Increasing the minimum standard of living of the people is the indication
of the vitality of society.

· No individual should be allowed to accumulate any physical wealth without
the clear permission or approval of the collective body.

· There should be maximum utilization and rational distribution of all
mundane, supramundane and spiritual potentialities of the universe.

· There should be maximum utilization of the physical, metaphysical and
spiritual potentialities of unit and collective bodies of human society.

· There should be a proper adjustment amongst these physical, metaphysical,
mundane, supramundane and spiritual utilizations.

· The method of utilization should vary in accordance with changes in time,
space and person, and the utilization should be of progressive nature.

Progressive thinkers and activists need to consider the practical
implications of these principles. Good people of the world cannot fail to
ignore them. Any step, no matter how small, towards their implementation in
the short, medium or long run can surely cause no harm to any person or
society, but will only elevate the human condition.


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