January 11, 2016 Sujeev Shakya

Prithvi Narayan Shah and Adam Smith

Prithivi Narayan Shah understood that Gorkha was not a wealthy nation. Had he heard of Adam Smith’s definition of wealth as the annual produce of the land and the labour of a society, he would have agreed. Born in the same year, both Prithivi Narayan Shah and Adam Smith shared an interest in the wealth of nations. However, if Adam Smith’s motivations are widely believed (rightly or wrongly) to have been philosophical and intellectual, Prithivi Narayan Shah’s are generally seen as real and practical—he strove for personal enrichment. He had had a modest upbringing, for a prince—eating sugarcane for a treat and keeping pigeons as a hobby. An annual clothing budget of six and half rupees and pocket money counted in quarters—all in the coinage of the valley kingdoms, were his other, equally unimpressive royal privileges. This austere upbringing, coupled with a long standing family desire to capture the wealth of Kathmandu, undoubtedly inspired him to lead Gorkha on a warpath towards Kathmandu.

A year after Prithivi Narayan Shah’s death, Adam Smith would publish his magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations. In his book, Adam Smith presents the notion of the invisible hand as a natural force which guides free market capitalism through the competition for scare resources—regulating it in the absence of state control. Smith believed that the greatest benefit to a society is brought about by individuals acting freely and in self interest in a competitive market—leading to specialization and diversification in the economy.   However, even if Adam Smith were himself the personal advisor to the kings of Nepal on all matters economic, he would have found it an extremely arduous and painstaking job, if not an impossible one, to convert the late eighteenth century feudal rule of Nepal into a free market economy.

When The Wealth of Nations was published, it practically founded the science of economics, at a time when the words economics and capitalism were not even in common use. The American nation had just come into being in 1776 while Germany was about a century away from establishing itself as a nation.

Before his death, Prithivi Narayan Shah was able to present a vision for the nation popularly known as the Divya Upadesh.  The dictated vision of Nepal’s conquering king contains the seeds of a Nepali national identity, a strong affinity for the traditional Hindu caste system and a tacit acknowledgment of the diversity present in Nepal.

– Just went through these excerpts from Chapter 1 of #UnleashingNepal – “Isolation, Isolation and Isolation” and wondering even after 250 years, Nepal still remains so isolated in terms of joining a globalized economy. Good to reflect on Prithvi Narayan Shah’s birthday to see how even after his 240 year old dynasty came to an end nearly a decade ago, Nepal continues to remain isolated.

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