Why do establishment politicians show such contempt for people?
Contempt equates to a lack of respect which in turn equates to an unwillingness to support people they are duty-bound to support. This is an outrage.
Health minister Anil Gayan has been hard at work the past week, writing entertaining correspondences to Nad Sivaramen, Director of Publications at La Sentinelle. While the war of words can easily be dismissed as the desperate, erratic punches thrown by a severely tarnished politician, they do offer a glimpse into how the establishment casually looks down on the people.
In his first correspondence to Sivaramen, Gayan expresses concern about the “vitriolic expressions” hurled at him and the Mouvement Libérateur, and accuses Sivaramen of taking the moral highground. Gayan, of course, absolutely has the right to defend himself in the media if he feels he has been unfairly criticised or misrepresented. But instead of factually rebuking those apparently vitriolic expressions and advocating his viewpoint, Gayan, as too many establishment politicians do, goes personal. He demands, among other things, that La Sentinelle publishes the salaries of its employees. In a future correspondence, he tacitly asks how an employee at La Sentinelle, who he says “is not even a holder of an HSC qualification”, can possibly earn about Rs 300,000 a month.
This is extremely revealing of the mindset of an inept establishment. For one, it seems to point to the jarring inability of establishment politicians to debate based on evidence and ideology. They thus descend into the more carnal form of battle of insults and attacks aimed at people’s integrity.
How to attack the integrity of Sivaramen and La Sentinelle? By linking the substantial amount of money some employees make to a sinister sense of immorality and hypocrisy. If you earn a lot of money, the message goes, you cannot genuinely be defending or fighting for the people, as you profess to be doing by attacking a minister. This rides on the characterisation of all rich people as being morally corrupt. It is absurd, as a quick look at history shows. Buddha, who many millions of people around the world look up to, grew up in a royal family as Siddhārtha. The first revolutionary leftist party in Mauritius, the Labour Party, was founded by a doctor. Casting doubt on the integrity of an individual or a organisation is part of a repertoire of attacks that can be launched against anyone: if you are too rich, they accuse you of being a hypocrite; too poor, of envy; too young, of inexperience; too old, of being a dinosaur.
But it is perhaps by bringing academic qualification into the debate that Gayan reveals the contempt with which the establishment really views the people. Gayan seems to suggest that earning around R300,000 a month is unacceptable for someone without an HSC qualification. He is implying that those who have not done as well academically are not as deserving as those who have, conflating academic qualification with merit.
Judging merit based solely on academic qualification makes no economic sense. The economy needs people for the myriad of skills it possesses, not just for its academic prowess. Blue collar workers may not have the certificates but their role in turning Mauritius into a modern country is unquestionable. They have been the bedrock of this country’s economy for years and still contribute significantly today.
Gayan’s suggestion also illustrates how privileged establishment politicians sneer at those people who build their own successes. Without top-notch certificates, many people start from scratch and several become successful entrepreneurs. They build their own businesses, go on to employ people, and contribute to a vibrant and dynamic economy. This is something to be proud of, and it is in the interest of the state to facilitate this process and encourage more people to turn to entrepreneurship. Instead, it seems that the establishment does not deem them as deserving and looks at them with contempt.
Linking academic qualification to merit is not only shaky from an economics perspective, it is also socially toxic. It enhances a modern form of casteism. It automatically divides the population, cultivating a sense of entitlement amongst the academic elites, and one of shame amongst the least academically successful. Those feelings are then reflected in society’s labelling of poor people (many of whom are from the least academically successful demographic) as failures, undeserving of benefits from the welfare state. Instead of advocating for togetherness, establishment politicians are entrenching divisions.
And there’s more. Gayan’s suggestion also betrays a misunderstanding of the capitalist system. Because, in addition to conflating academic qualification with merit, he conflates merit with remuneration. In his mind, it seems that the more deserving get more money.
Academic qualification does not dictate our paychecks, neither does how hard we work, as parents and teachers routinely tell kids. The capitalist system decides on our salaries based on competition. The more people willing to a job, the lesser remuneration some will accept. This forces other workers to lower their demands resulting in lower salaries for the whole bunch. It is a system that is unfair and immoral, one that pays us the minimum it can to keep us alive and prevent an outright riot. Meanwhile, the bosses amass ever growing sums of money, driving inequality. The capitalist system needs to be brought down and replaced by one that empowers people, allows us to have a stake in the industries we work in and remunerates us more equally, enabling all of us to live decently. The first step in achieving this is of course is to have politicians who at the very least understand how the current system works.
It should make us angry that establishment politicians look down on so many people … people who more often than not are in dear need of the state’s support. Contempt equates to a lack of respect which surely equates to an unwillingness to support people they are duty-bound to support. This is an outrage.