Ancient Bankruptcies

This post was written two weeks back, during one of those days when I didn’t have internet access at home. Posting now. 

In the course of a rather elaborate shower this morning, I started thinking about the global economic crisis. I thought of the crisis of 2008. I thought about the Arab countries where there is revolution. And I thought about Greece. And I began to wonder how such events had been handled in the past.

A long time ago, most parts of the world were ruled by kings. People assumed kings had divine right to rule, and they rather gladly parted with a big part of their income as taxes. These taxes would go into the treasury, and be used to finance, among other things the administration of the kingdom. Those were times of great wars and battles, and hence it was important to keep a ready army, and the treasury also financed that.

The best thing about being a king was that you weren’t really questioned about your spending, and thus kings could also spend a substantial amount from the taxes they collected on themselves. On living a life of opulence, keeping several wives or concubines while large parts of the population went without any, on building monuments to their fathers, their forefathers and to themselves. If Behen Mayawati were a queen, for example, nobody would’ve dared to question her expenses on erecting statues of herself.

This lack of accountability did have an up-shot, though. The large surpluses that were generated for the royal treasury by means of squeezing every last ounce of blood from the subjects (who willingly gave it, remember) meant that kings could invest on art and architecture. Thus, palaces funded artists and musicians. Grand buildings and mausoleums and temples were built, and intricately decorated, the results of which are being seen today in terms of increased revenues from tourism. Sometimes, though, the kings would over-reach and spend much more than their kingdoms could possibly finance. What would happen then?

At first, there would be an attempt to increase taxes. For a while, people, still in the belief that kings were gods, would give in. And then they would begin to protest. And refuse to pay further taxes. In effect, they would go on protests ‘against austerity measures’. In the light of these protests, the king would need greater use of his army in order to consolidate his power. But his treasury would be dwindling.

With the army over-worked, but the kingdom’s finances tight thanks to a depleting treasury, dissent would start to brew in the army. Getting wind of this, a neighbouring king would see an opportunity. Soldiers would be bribed, though one cannot really call it that, tempted with higher salaries backed by a stronger treasury in order to change allegiances. And the neighbouring king would declare war.

The beleaguered king would now come under pressure both internally and externally. He would not be able to keep up the fight for long. The war would soon be lost and the king would either be dead or captured. And the people would gladly accept the new king as their new god, and start paying taxes to him.

The unfortunate thing about this parallel now is that there is now no neighbouring country to Greece that could possibly pull off an audacious annexation. Even the US, the attacker of last resort, has its own set of trouble. Essentially, Greece has chosen a good time to get into trouble – at a time when everyone else is also in trouble. And this also means that the people of Greece will continue to have no respite from this politics. In the medium run (Hail Gebreselassie) they will have no choice but to accept austerity.

Amritsar Update

Got back last night after a short 2-day trip to Amritsar. It was an interesting trip, I must say. Got a lot of fodder for blog posts, but unfortunately I seem to have forgotten most of it, and hence this short summary post. I seriously need to buy a dictaphone with speech-to-text capability. I would observe stuff, and quickly construct a blog post in my head. Unfortunately, I can’t write or type on phone as fast as i can think (i can type on comp at the speed of thought which is why i can blog decenly) so all that construction seems to have gone waste.

If at any point of time, I can remember what I was planning to write, I’ll write. Else unfortunately such great thoughts and essays will be lost to humanity. I still kinda remember what i want to write ABOUT – problem is I’ve forgotten the contents of the essay. So I want to write a commentary on the end-of-day proceedings at the wagah border. I want to write about this awesome temple in Amritsar, which among other things features a carving of a cow’s udders, and directly underneath are statues of a snake and a lingam.

I want to write about the magnificent gore of the Sikh museum, and of the magnificent letdown that was the Maharaja Ranjit Singh museum. I want to write about the assembly lines that operate in the langar at the Golden Temple, about the transportation infrastructure in amritsar, about how the Punjoos in Amritsar are very unlike Punjoos elsewhere.

Tangentially, I need to write about the damage to children’s learning of history caused by Hindi textbooks (I was thinking about this when looking at the gore in the Sikh museum). About the magnificent street food of Amritsar. Ok now Ive forgotten the other topics also. This is like ideas literally slipping away from your fingers before you document them.

Traveled both ways on the Swarna Shatabdi. Return trip cost 75 bucks more than onward trip. Don’t know why – maybe it’s because they served dinner. Stayed at Hotel CJ International which is 100m away from the Golden Temple. First time I used Lonely Planet to find a restaurant and it was a bloody good recommendation. Read half of Nilekani’s Imagining India during the trip. Need to blog about that too.