Inflation, Currency and Development

Currency expresses social values. At any given moment, the value of currency expresses the relative weight, strength and importance of different values in relationship to one another. In addition to that, the money itself has a social value which is also reflected in the final sum.
The present day phenomenon of inflation is primarily the result of changes in the human value of currency. The relative weight and importance of the most basic human values – freedom, equality, dignity, rights – are gaining in respect to the more traditional social values of aristocracy, elitism and wealth. This shift expresses as a devaluation of currency and as an increased value of man.

The growth of society takes place by a horizontal expansion of ideas and activities within the existing framework of social values which both supports and limits its expansion. In the less developed nations this framework is particularly limiting. It is archaic, stifling of initiative, resistant to movement and change.

Development is the process whereby the existing framework of social values gives way to new values expressive of and conducive to the achievement of the ideals the society has come to accept. It is only by this change of social values, releasing the energies of the population from the restricting limitations of the old order, that development can take place.

Development is at once creative of new values and activities and destructive of the old social forms. The first tangible sign of this process is the emergence of the urge for upward social mobility in the society. This urge expresses a desire for a new order in which those who have less can aspire to the position of those at the higher levels of the society.

In the second phase, this urge leads to a gradual erosion of the social barriers which maintained the status quo of the old society, and as a result men at all levels begin to move several steps upward. What occurs is not just a change in the social position of a few individuals by virtue of outstanding capacity or enormous effort. Rather what was once attainable by a few by great labour becomes the right or privilege of all by virtue of changes in social values. For a black American to reach a high level of government fifty years ago or for a harijan to do so even twenty years ago was not impossible, but it could be achieved only by a few rare and gifted men. But today values have changed. What was once a distant possibility has become a right and the doors are opening at all levels of society – in education, employment, administration, etc. – to make possible for an entire community the achievements once reserved for only the truly great.

One inevitable result of this process, which enables the lower levels of the society to rise en masse to higher levels, is a general dilution or lowering of value – standards of excellence, quality, prestige, importance, efficiency, etc. – of the higher levels to which they attain. In terms of quality it is easily understood. When modern education in a country like India is suddenly made available to millions of families with no previous exposure to it, the system of education must necessarily adapt to the lower levels of preparedness and background in the new entrants. The rapid proliferation of schools entails drawing more and more teachers with lower and lower qualification into the system. The huge cost involved results in lower per capita expenditure and poorer facilities, etc. As a result of all these factors, the quality of the education, the standards of excellence, the qualifications of the matriculate, are all substantially reduced.

What is true of quality is also true of status. As more and more people gain entrance to the higher levels which seemed so desirable from their previous position, the social value of these higher levels – the prestige and status which accompany the material benefits and which are usually a more attractive and important motivating force – is itself diluted by the very fact that its exclusivity has been lost. The college graduate, the engineer, the Ph.D., the government official, even the politician in office no longer carry the social weight and status they did before. Today the Vice-Chancellor is gherroed and the engineer must often accept a low grade non-technical position for want of a greater opportunity.

Development is a process whereby the barriers of the existing social order give way to permit the lower levels to rise up and achieve what was once barred to them. The primary motive force for this movement is the lure of greater social prestige and social value, i.e., the social ego. But in the process of development the value of these higher levels both social and material is diluted by the very fact of its having been opened to the many. One expression of this dilution in the national sphere is the erosion of currency values.

Through the process of development, man attains to higher levels only to find that they do not carry the same importance and privilege that they did before the process began. He has aspired for the higher level because of its higher social and material value but in the process of his achieving, and many others with him, that value has been eroded. He judges the present achievement in terms of the old social value which was associated with that level of achievement in the past, i.e., the old social ego, and finds it is severely wanting. It has deteriorated.

Therefore he mourns his “loss” and is disappointed. He does not compare his present position with what he had before which was much less than now, but with what he expected to achieve by his ascent. He is dissatisfied.

This phenomenon arises because the basic urge in man for development is an urge to rise out of his present level, forget what he has been, and become something which he and the society recognize as more valuable. That system of values is the social ego of the society. But it is only by a change in these very values that his upward mobility is made possible. As long as prestige accrued only to the few elite by virtue of their exclusivity, there was no hope for aspirants to enter. The very door which is now opened and by which the lower levels now reach the higher echelons is the door by which the old prestige and status of those levels exits. New values and a new social ego evolve. But the man who newly achieves judges in terms of the old values. He is still in his ego a part of the old society in which his achievement would have been impossible. He is unconscious of the process by which he has ascended and fails to recognize, refuses and does not want to acknowledge, that his rise was not due to any greater value in him but due to a general change in the society as a whole. It is much more a social progress and achievement than an individual one.

Where the society as a whole is unaware of the process by which this change is taking place, when the old values are being replaced by new ones and rapid movement from one level to another is made possible by these changing values, yet at the same time the vast majority of the population including those who have most benefited by the change continue to judge the present achievements in view of the old values – whereby they will always suffer by comparison – instead of in view of their own previous levels of achievement, we may say that the social process is unconscious.

In order to make this process conscious, and thereby eliminate much of the fear and discontent which now accompanies it, it is necessary for the society to consciously accept the new values by which it is already acting and guiding its future course. The chief obstacle to this acceptance is the very urge to achieve the values of the old social ego which has itself given way to a new one which is less inspiring and elevated. In other words, the collective urge of individuals to achieve greater social importance, to raise themselves in their own image, results in a general lowering of the standards and values of the society, a loss of collective social ego, for the society at large.

It is this illusory deceptive possibility of achieving the highest levels of social position and power prevalent in the past that drives man today to aspire for development. But by the very process by which he seeks to achieve it, the attainment of the old levels is made impossible because the prestige and power of those levels is itself diluted. The individual ego in man seeks to fulfill itself by attainment of the highest levels of the social ego. By that process the social ego of the society as a whole – the hierarchical structure of values of relative importance and privilege – is itself diminished or lost. The social ego, based on distinction and difference of value, is replaced by one of equality based on basic human rights and dignity, which is by nature non-egoistic and universal. The individual human ego fulfills itself not by attaining the highest levels of the past but by contributing to the dissolution of the existing social ego. This is the process of social evolution which has its spiritual counterpart in the individual. The individual aspires to spiritual, rather than social, ideals supported by his spiritual ego’s, rather than his social ego’s drive for expansion and greater self-importance. But by the very process of his spiritual ascent, his spiritual ego is dissolved and shorn of its illusory sense of greater value of importance until finally it disappears. The process in the individual is made possible by and to the extent of his willingness to see himself for what he really is, not for what he wants to believe himself to be, by his sincerity. This sincerity enables him to discover in himself all the traits and characteristics he finds in the world around him down to the very lowest levels.

The illusion of importance or distinction is lost and the ego sense gives way to universality. He sees himself in every other and every other in himself. Behind this perception of universal nature, he perceives the spiritual essence in himself which is not this nature at all and which is identical in all beings. He comes to identify with the inner spirit instead of the outer nature, loses the last vestiges of ego, and becomes the universalized spiritual being.

By the same process, motivated on the surface by the urge to fulfill the social ego of the individual and society, man and society evolve – in proportion to their willingness to see and accept what they are – until by that process the distinctions and differences of a hierarchical social structure give way, the social ego dissolves, and the spiritual perception of fundamental human equality emerges. In material terms this expresses as the greater leveling of society in terms of material possessions and social status.

The instrument for this leveling, which alleviates the need for violent social upheavals and revolution, is devaluation of currency, inflation. For by a gradual and irresistible shift in currency values, the changing relationship of social values in society automatically expresses and comes into force, even before the society is consciously aware of it and without the necessity of their consciously accepting it, therefore minimizing the likelihood of social confrontation over the change.

The process of development is made possible by this hierarchical material and social structure; the gap between rich and poor, high and low; the gradient upwards; the social differential. Without that gap, material and social development lack an ideal towards which to gravitate. But the impetus for development is something else. It is the urge in the individual and lower levels of society to rise upward. This urge expresses as and is made possible by a willingness of the society to permit the upward social movement; or in other words, such a movement must itself be a socially acceptable part of the social values of the society.

In traditional societies this is not the case. The gap is every present and very wide. But either the urge of the lower levels or the permissiveness of the society or both are lacking. The traditional aristocratic or feudal society is characterized by this lack of social movement or the aspiration for it. At each level of society the social values embody acceptance of the status quo rather than striving for something more. Man lives more or less at the level of his social values. He is not permitted or does not permit himself to aspire very much above his present level. He accepts a social ideal more or less of his own image.

Social culture as it is recognized and respected in its outer expression is a process that takes place when the process of change is static and the status quo is accepted. After many generations of living at a particular level of material comfort and social position where the idea and lure of rapid advancement is not active, man comes to accept and feel comfortable in his position. The driving force for more is quieted, the restlessness of the nerves settle into a calm routine, the insecurities of physical and social life give way to secure habitual pattern and an accepted level of achievement. Man relaxes, his behaviour and manners soften, and his being softens emotionally and matures in thought. His society becomes cultivated. Even in a society of extreme social differentials, the process of culture can set in at many or all levels where man accepts the status quo. At such times the urge for upward mobility, which is contrary to accepted social value, appears as an act of gross ambition, disloyalty or treachery. The servant desiring to be a master or the aristocrat a king cannot be tolerated. What is condemned as vulgar ambition in the traditional society is admired as dynamism and enterprise in a developing one. A new cycle of development takes place only when this rigidifying structure again breaks down and releases fresh energies for change expressing as upward social movement. One key aspect of this process is that the alternating periods of culture and development have come to embrace the entire society, however limited that society may be geographically. In earlier times, the process of change was limited only to the higher levels with traditional stratification remaining in tact at the bottom. In this century, it has come to include even the lowest levels. As it has expanded vertically to include all levels of society, it has also expanded horizontally to achieve first national and then international boundaries. In previous centuries the village and city state were the limits of the society. Today those limits are breaking national borders and even traditional international levels to encompass the entire world.

As a result of the expansion of the society horizontally and vertically, the process of development has expanded from being development of a class, a community, a state, a region or a country, to becoming international development in the context of a world society. One consequence of this expansion is that the urge for upward social movement has gripped the entire world. The poor strive to achieve the present status, material and social, of the rich. The rich aspire for higher levels once realizable only by a few individuals and now made accessible by rapid improvements in technology.

As the poor ascend – and they have ascended significantly – they find the higher levels already diluted by their mass incursion, the previous occupants having already vacated in favour of higher realms above. The conquest is made less sweet by the loss of its earlier value, and doubly so by the fact that its previous members are now much better off. The social gradient remains intact, the urge is unsatisfied, and the process continues.

At this stage a solution presents itself to the masses and to some naïve thinkers that the best thing is to destroy the gradient by taking from the higher levels all that was once possessed by a few and distributing among the many, e.g. Eric Damman’s approach. The experiment has been tried but it is always disappointing. First, because the great wealth of the few is barely enough to make an impact when it is distributed to all. Second, because the old ideal of achieving the highest level of the few still lives in the many.

As the masses think of expropriation as a solution when social opportunities for advancement do not match the intensity of their urge for more and their social power, e.g. the polish workers today seeking to take power from the communist party, so also when the opportunities are lacking for further development for those at the highest level or when their urge is for the moment satiated and satisfied, the natural reaction of the elite is to move toward the consolidation of their present position, the conservation and preservation of their recent gains, the closing of the doors for advancement, the erection of barriers to movement, e.g. the move for new tariff barriers to imports from Third World or Japan in the USA and EEC today, and the establishment of a more static and tradition-bound social order. Under these circumstances no development is possible. The only alternative is revolution and war.

Because of this conservative tendency among the rich it is recognized today that development on an international scale cannot be achieved on the basis of redistribution from North to South. Instead the emphasis must be placed on the opportunities for people at all levels, rich and poor, to improve their position and move upward to unprecedented levels of prosperity. The social ideal at all levels moves forward and man, with his urge for more, pursues it.

This process of world development, alternating with periods of assimilation and cultural enrichment, is likely to continue until there is a general leveling of material and social achievements throughout the world to the extent that any man by sufficient effort can move from the lowest to the highest levels. Such an eventuality would more or less remove the material and social differential and the corresponding urge at that level, ushering in a period of world culture. A further stage would open for development at the psychological and spiritual levels by a growing general awareness of the higher opportunities for progress in these spheres and the awakening of an urge for attainment.