Clarifying Gandhi: POTUS, Rutherford, and Gandhi on Moral Economics

ECONOMICS, 4 Sep 2017

P.K. Wiilley, Ph.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

30 Aug 2017 – The question of what constitutes a wonderful and advanced civilization is dependent upon Justice, which is buttressed by economics.  All great philosopher-doers, concerned with the betterment of human life have recognized that the handling of the economic means for living life must be guided by ethics and morality for the good of all.  Gandhi was no exception.  He undertook a task, the sheer enormity of which remains unsurpassed to date:  to create a free, truly democratic, independent, unified India, out of dozens of princely states, out of rigid, feudal-social-mindset-stratifications, after nearly 400 years of brainwashing colonialism.  His awesome effort assisted by a less bridled media, gave his voice world-wide amplification.  Gandhi was able to clearly define unifying ideals, to demonstrate ethical means for our awareness to express itself towards and for each another.

In the realm of economics, as with all the ideals he evolved to, Gandhi saw Justice clearly, with moral economics as the means to ensure Justice.  To ensure that all could eat, have education, homes, clothes, decent and meaningful employment, the basics for a good life, was and is, human justice and basic decency to one another.  All economic action and activity that went counter to ensuring Justice, was and is, immoral, unethical, truly wrong.  He said:

          “I must confess that I do not draw a sharp line or any distinction between economics and ethics.  Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and therefore sinful.  Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral.  It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labour.”[i]

          “True economics is the economics of justice.  Those people alone will be happy who learn how to do justice and be righteous under all conditions of life.  All else is vain, a kind of moral perversity that presages doom.  To teach the people to get rich at any cost is to teach them an evil lesson.”[ii]

Gandhi was not alone in his thinking, he found a kindred understanding in the Russian thinker, Tolstoy, in EU’s Ruskin, for what is deeply common to us, is found to be  universal in our awareness.

In the USA, Republican President Rutherford Hayes (Presidential term 1886-1881), lost the support of his party when he expressed his views on the amassing of wealth and influence in the hands of a few.  After his one term as POTUS, he retired to his ample personal library, with a vigorous speaking engagement schedule.  From his diaries while in Office[iii] (1886):

          March 18, Thursday.  “My point is that free government cannot long endure if property is largely in a few hands and large masses of the people are unable to earn homes, education, and a support in old age…”

During a period of US history when being personally circumspect and pious were qualities that received social support, Rutherford saw that distribution of wealth into the hands of the masses to better their lives was of far greater import than philanthropic acts:

          March 19, Friday: “No man, however benevolent, liberal, and wise, can use a large fortune so that it will do half as much good in the world as it would if it were divided into moderate sums and in the hands of workmen who had earned it by industry and frugality.  The piling up of estates often does great and conspicuous good.  Such men as Benjamin Franklin and Peter Cooper knew how to use wealth.  But no man does with accumulated wealth so much good as the same amount would do in many hands.”

“March 26, Friday. “Am I mistaken in thinking that we are drawing near to the time when we must decided to limit and control great wealth, corporations, and the like, or resort to a strong military government?  Is this the urgent question?…”

Today, his questions have been answered.

          December 4, Sunday:  “In church it occurred to me that it is time for the public to hear that the giant evil and danger in this country, the danger which transcends all others, is the vast wealth owned or controlled by a few persons.  Money is power.  In Congress, in state legislatures, in city councils, in the courts, in the political conventions, in the press, in the pulpit, in the circles of the educated and the talented, its influence is growing greater and greater.  Excessive wealth in the hands of the few means extreme poverty, ignorance, vice, and wretchedness as the lot of the many….Let the people be fully informed and convinced as to the evil.  Let them earnestly seek the remedy and it will be found.  Fully to know the evil is the first step towards reaching its eradication….We may reach and remove the difficulty by changes in the laws regulating corporations, descents of property, wills, trusts, taxation and a host of other important interests, not omitting lands and other property.”

Like Rutherford, Gandhi offered this vision for global economic reconstruction:

“According to me, the economic constitution of India and for the matter of that of the world should be such that no one under it should suffer from want of food and clothing.  In other words, everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet.  And this ideal can be universally utilized only if the means of production of the elementary necessities of life remain in the control of the masses.  These should be freely available to all as God’s air and water are or ought to be, they should not be made a vehicle or traffic for the exploitation of others. Their monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust.  The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of the destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but in other parts of the world, too.”[iv]

Gandhi saw that economics must become ‘rural- minded’.  In Gandhi’s day, the majority of people lived in rural areas.  Current World Bank data[v] holds that 54% of humanity now lives in urban areas.  Population concentrations aside, urban lifestyles are still dependent upon rural outputs.

Gandhi saw Justice becoming achievable through what he called the Economics of God, his God – of Truth and Love.  Through his Constructive Program, aimed at poor people, he saw that reviving India’s artisan handcraft skills was crucial.  He wanted to see village India capable of adding economic value to what was produced from the land.  He chose spinning cotton into yarn, the very basic element of cloth production as his personal means to support artisan skill revival, and as the potential means for millions in India to put a few more pence into their pockets and then into their mouths.

Also like Rutherford, Gandhi saw that the ideal of moral economics was thwarted by the energy of selfishness and greediness: such thwarting can rightly be seen as evil.  Gandhi’s Just democracy saw that economics choices of any nation had to take into consideration the climate, geography, and human temperament of its inhabitants.  He wrote to the world through his newspaper (1927):

          “I offer the economics of God as opposed to the economics of the Devil which is gaining ground in the world today.  The latter aims at or results in concentrating a million rupees in one man’s hands, whereas the former in distributing them among a million or thousands; in placing the economics of the spinning wheel before you, I am really trying to establish the economics of God. I ask for the cooperation of Hindus, Mussalmans, Parsis, Christians and all in this holy mission.  The industrialism of today is fast destroying the village in India; it is only by converting every home into a spinning mill and every village into a weaving mill, that we can revivify the village life.”[vi]

Gandhi gave us this picture of moral economics:

          “True economics never militates against the highest ethical standard; just as all true ethics to be worth its name must at the same time be also good economics.  An economics that inculcates Mammon worship, and enables the strong to amass wealth at the expense of the weak, is a false and dismal science. It spells death. True economics on the other hand, stands for social justice; it promotes the good of all equally, including the weakest, and is indispensable for decent life.”


[i]    Gandhi, M.K. Young India. October 13, 1921. Age 52.

[ii]   Gandhi, M.K. Indian Opinion. July 4, 1908. Age 38.

[iii]  Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. (1968). The Annals of America, vol. 11. 1184-1894: Agrarianism and Urbanization.  From:  Selection 27:1886-1887: Rutherford B. Hayes: Wealth in the Hands of the Few.  Pps. 124-125.

[iv]  Gandhi, M.K. Young India. September 15, 1927. Age 57.

[v]   Graph. Urban population (% of total); The United Nations Population Divisions World Urbanization Prospects. As seen August 27, 2017 :

[vi]  Gandhi, M.K. Young India. September 15, 1927. Age 57.


P.K. Willey, Ph.D. (University of CT, USA), a scholar of Gandhi’s ideals, is a parent of two, and a writer.  Willey seeks to foster discussion on Gandhi’s Earth Ethics, to contribute to raising awareness about what is most essential to us all. Email:


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Sep 2017.

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