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There is only one goal. That is to be whole again.

There is only one goal. That is to be whole again. How human beings live and work determines whether they remain whole or are split. ...


I have been reading the works of Gandhiji for many years now. Recently I decided to undertake a reading of the chronological Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi in 98 volumes. I have just completed volume 1. I was delighted to find Gandhiji's economics to be very clear and focused on the dignity and wholeness of the person even in these early years of writing.

In discussing the treatment of indentured servants and equally applicable to our own so-called illegal immigrants Gandhiji writes
A man is brought here, in theory with his own consent, in practice very often without his consent, he gives the best five years of his life, he forms new ties, forgets the old ones, perhaps establishes a home here, and he cannot, according to my view of right and wrong, be sent back.
What a wonderful statement of an economics that is at once moral, historical, and holistic!


Traveling across the India Gandhiji found former cloth-weavers, who had once been prosperous, reduced to destitution as a result of British India's free trade policies. This was happening all over the country and in direct proportion to the availability of cheap cloth manufactured in England and sold in India.

The free trade argument artificially divides people into producers and consumers. Free trade gives consumers the lowest possible prices and keeps producers in line by only affording them normal profit. According to classical economics free trade results in consumers having the final say in what is produced and that too at the lowest price. In other words consumer is king.

People cannot be split into consumers and producers however! How we spend our money affects what we do for a living. How we spend is how we earn. As India's masses were being coaxed into buying cheap foreign cloth and other products, more and more Indian artisans and farmers were finding themselves unemployed and under-employed, increasingly reduced to working meaningless menial jobs when jobs were to be found at all. Gandhiji observed free trade reducing the standard of living in the country as it reduced the quality of work available in the country.

It was from these travels and observations that Gandhiji decided to focus his economics on swadeshi, the idea that buying and selling were undertaken by people, not consumers and producers, and that a person was not split into king and slave but rather needed to be whole and trade with neighbors who were themselves whole.


I was reading an essay* by Gandhiji the other day in which he suggested swadeshi as an economics principle. He went on to explain that it meant not so much buying what is nationally produced over what is produced abroad, but rather buying from what and who is close to us, our neighbors.

This makes a lot of sense to me. I prefer to buy the food I get at the farmer's market down the street from me. I like to go to my local stores in Berkeley. I do not go to Costco or WalMart or stores like that. This I do instinctively, without a lot of thought. I like being swadeshi.

The economics behind this idea and the local food and other local movements is simple: We are not producers and consumers but people. Buying and selling (and thus working) are two sides of the same coin. How we buy exactly reflects how we sell. If we buy cheaper and cheaper we also, over the long haul, sell cheaper and cheaper. If we buy sweated goods we also sell sweated goods. It is not possible to keep buying mass produced cheap products from thousands of miles away while maintaining or improving our standard of work and hence our standard of living.

Free trade equals free fall. Local trade on the other hand nourishes the organic relationships between people who buy and sell never as the split-personalities of producers and consumers that classical economics would have us believe but as whole people.

*Address delivered before the Missionary Conference on February 14, 1916.