Adjusting to economic systems

Ancient people observed that in a race those who go ahead do not stay there indefinitely, but are overtaken by those behind. This is the moral of the rabbit and tortoise story.

In life both as individuals and collectives, we must observe the need for constantly adjusting to changing times and environments. Some of those who are in front remain there much longer than others. We know this in international football matches. A national team of one country may maintain a winning streak before it loses its places. Another team may win twice consequently before it loses and then disappears into oblivion. The manner they handle their success may provide lessons for those who compete in other activities.

Before Adam Smith, the pioneer economist, there was an economic system in which governments intervened in economic activities, especially international trade. They sponsored the Dutch and British East Indies and prohibited others from competing with them. That system called mercantilism was condemned and replaced by laissez faire. This new system and its concomitant free trade was advocated by nations like Britain which were industrially well ahead of others.

When other nations like Germany and the United States (US0 started surpassing Britain in certain economic spheres, then British economists started calling for modifications to laissez faire.

This is what the US resorted to. At one time it advocated free trade, but when Japan was outpacing its businesses both at home and abroad, America started saying free trade was not enough. It must also be fair trade. US President Donald Trump has gone further in relation to China. “America first” is the slogan that reminds us of the era of beggar thy neighbour.

Individuals, States and businesses that remain in the same front or keep progressing ahead know the value of constantly learning from others. Even when they are well already ahead of others, scientifically keep sending key students to foreign countries.

You will find thousands of Chinese students in Europe and North America as well as elsewhere even though China is now the greatest economic power minus one. They read books and journals published in other countries and in foreign languages. This is a point which our leaders seem not to bother much about. They think because we have universities and colleges, we are fully equipped to make progress.

Thirty or 40 years ago if you visited the Times Bookshop, Malawi Book Service and others, you would come across UK and US quality magazines and also from India. Now all these can hardly be seen around. This is the road to stagnation.

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