Introduction Mrs. Jaya Arunachalam / Mandeville Lecture 2006

Mrs. Arunachalam, ladies and gentlemen, Welcome to Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Bernard de Mandeville was a philosopher living in the city of Rotterdam in the early 18th century. After becoming a physician practicing in this city he moved after a quarrel with our local police chief to London. In London he wrote his most famous book: The Fable of the Bees, or “private vices made public benefits”.

This fable presents a tale of how prosperous commercial societies, like London and Amsterdam, could be brought to their knees by a sudden conversion of their citizens to “honesty”. Mandeville states that the ultimate motive force behind society is pure self-ínterest.

This self-ínterest, however, does not automatically lead to a state of terror. By converting survival instincts like “eat or be eaten” into less socially destructive vices like envy, greed and stinginess, citizens become very active, making themselves socially useful, helping thereby to create wealth and prosperity.

Thus, private vices become public benefits. Selfishness thus works to the general good and to societal progress.

This ironic paradox, developed and presented by this Rotterdam philosopher, physician, writer and poet has been the basis for the initiative by Erasmus University to start in 1988 a cycle of Mandeville lectures.

As a scientific institution the University grants as a token of esteem the doctorate honoris causa, emphasizing the academic function of the University. We have, however, previously decided that we award the doctorate only on the basis of pure scientific achievements.

This University wants, however, álso to honour persons on the basis of their great service to society. Therefore we initiated in 1988 together with the Club Rotterdam, a club representing the Rotterdam business community, and lately with the Trustfonds EUR, the Foundation Bernard Mandeville that honours a person from within or outside The Netherlands that greatly contributed to society.

Over the past years 11 persons have delivered the Mandeville lecture in this hall. I will not mention every speaker by name.

However, I would like to refer to a few of these lecturers in order to demonstrate how different the successive Laureates have handled the essence of Mandeville’s philosophy that a society of bees can only flourish and be successful as long as egoism, ambition and vanity govern, and that such a society will disintegrate once its citizens suddenly turn to virtue and unselfishness.

Dr. Kouchner emphasized how his foundation “Doctors without Borders” can change a society into a better one by directly targeting and supporting the ill, the weak and the defenceless. Mr. Lubbers emphasized the success of the United Nations Refugee Organization which is of a pure humane character without political purpose.

Dr. Max van der Stoel acknowledged that egoism has always been an important engine for economic growth, but emphasized that naked egoism as a leading principle in the relationship between countries invariably ends in disaster.

Last year mrs. Carla del Ponte explained that nationalism is one of the most dangerous of vices. If carried out by a state as a leading principle, nationalism can turn the relationship between populations into disaster. She stated that a careful protection of peace, safety, and respect for human rights is the most essential priority in every society.

This year’s Mandeville lecturer is dr. Jaya Arunachalam. Dr. Arunachalam is the President of the Working Women’s Forum in India, a social organization initiated in 1978 to develop the human resource potential of very poor women workers. Working Women’s Forum was born out of an activist commitment to facilitate women in extreme poverty to provide them access to financial credit, be it small, to education, and to health care and training in order to promote their social and financial independence.

Apart from this initiative to provide micro-credits to fight poverty, dr. Arunachalam extended her attention also to the poor women’s struggle to fight for land, for housing rights, as well as for reproductive rights concerning the number of children they want and the availability of contraceptives.

Dr. Arunachalam’s initiatives have been very successful and the system of micro-credits has benefited hundreds of thousands poor women in India that were without hope of a liveable life to develop themselves, to take care of themselves, and to build confidence and a sense of dignity. Dr. Arunachalam received many national and international awards, amongst them the International Activists Award and a Honorary Doctorate of the University of Lunenburg in Germany.

The jury of the Mandeville Foundation decided to award the Mandeville lecture to dr. Arunachalam because her activities in many aspects challenge the core elements of the philosophic theories of Mandeville.

Mandeville believed that individualism and the selfish character of man are private vices that will automatically lead to public benefits, making societies economically stronger. The current economic boom in India seems to prove Mandeville right. Social discord and economic competition have made India’s capitalistic society stronger. However, despite this surge the poor in India have not benefited much with even today more than 40% of its population living below the poverty level, leaving especially women and children behind. Dr. Arunachalam’s successful initiatives targeting this group with a novel economic approach challenged Mandeville’s ideas. Recently this approach has been proven to be applicable to many other societies as well, where extreme poverty seemed an unsurmountable problem.

May I invite dr. Arunachalam now to deliver the twelfth Mandeville Lecture.