Date:26/07/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/br/2005/07/26/stories/2005072600131600.htm
Book Review



Home truths about civil society

M. S. S. Varadan


Makes understanding of concepts like liberty, rights, choices, trade, free market economics, democracy, development, poverty, governments and tax a child's play


THE ADVENTURES OF JONATHAN GULLIBLE A Free Market Odyssey (Commentary edition): Ken Schoolland; Academic Foundation, 4772-73/23, Bharat Ram Road (23 Ansari Road), Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002. Rs. 295.

This is an unusual book in a story form by the author, which has made it highly popular. First published in 1987, it is now available in more than 30 languages.

The special feature of the current edition is the commentaries, which give useful insights from the stories. This edition has been first published in India this year. The stories are woven around the adventures of an imaginary character, Jonathan who is shipwrecked on a strange island. There are 40 small stories each with a few questions under brainstorming and a commentary as well as the background.

In fact, the real messages are contained in the commentary and background. Also useful quotations have been published in the margin. All this is accompanied by what are called Jonathan's "Guiding principles".

Guiding principles

The main theme of the book is liberty and free market economics and the futility of government interventions in whatever form and manner they take place. The book is loaded with subtle sarcasm but with telling impact on these efforts.

The stories cover a wide range of topics relating to freedom, liberty, rights, self-ownership, choice, consent, trade, economics, property, prosperity, poverty, development, democracy, progress, governments, politicians, corruption, tax and humanitarian society.

A Jonathan guiding principle in the chapter "Best laid plans" states, "the harvest of your life is your property. It is the fruit of your labour, the product of your time, energy and talents."

A quote from Fedrick Bastiat says, "Under the pretence of organization, regulation, protection or encouragement, the law takes property from one person and gives it to another. The law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few."

Quip on tax

An interesting illustration in this chapter is about the world known city of Geneva. As stated by Christian Michael, "Many visitors wonder why Geneva, one of the world's richest cities, headquarters of a host of banks and international organisations, has no great architecture in which to take pride. But when one needs to get authorisation from pen-pushers and approval by a referendum of philistines to build on one's own land with one's own hands, the result is architecture to please philistine pen-pushers."

It ends with the statement, "In some cities they tear down buildings to save taxes. They might try tearing down some taxes to save buildings." Here is another quip on tax, "A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well."

On rent control

Yet another story on "Helter shelter" is a hilarious one on rent control. The author comments that local governments raise the price of housing by a multitude of zoning laws, building codes, and regulations that primarily serve to eliminate the availability of housing. A quote from a Danish social worker is given: "Cities with rent controls had, on average, two and a half times as many homeless people as cities without them."

While the virtues of private enterprise are very much extolled, state interventions as a rule have been underplayed. But, perhaps this has been done to provide the "effect".

Jonathan's conclusion is: "Having confidence in a free society is to focus on the process of discovery in the market place of values rather than to focus on some imposed vision or goal."

On the whole, the book is easy to read and one can have a good laugh. Many of the messages have a lot of home truths in them though put across in a lighter vein.

It is a must for bureaucrats who revel in making rules, which affect people more than helping them and politicians whose actions do not always follow their promise.

Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu