“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
—George Bernard Shaw
Ideas arise in human minds. They have to be expressed for them to be conveyed to other human minds. That immediately means that if there are limits placed on the freedom of expression, the increase in the stock of ideas will be curtailed. Worse yet, the good ideas which invariably threaten powerful vested interests will be prohibited and society will lose.
The development and growth of an economy depends on the generation and adoption of good ideas, which in turn depends on the freedom to express ideas. Thus there should not be any limits placed on the freedom of expression for the very practical reason that that freedom has an instrumental role in promoting the development of an economy.
To some, absolute freedom of expression may seem like too much to grant. “Yes, but, shouldn’t there be some limits on what could be expressed?” they may ask. My response is, “Who defines those limits?” Surely the powerful will define those limits, whether individuals or collectives. The record of the powerful in the past when it comes to defining limits has been dismal. Just two examples from the past: the Catholic church and the communists. Every good idea was resisted by those two.
In India, the freedom of expression is severely curtailed. The government is deathly afraid that the truth will come out. Banning of blogs or books is only part of the story. The larger story is about what is called “official secrets” which basically shields the powerful from the scrutiny of the people. Politically unpopular views don’t get to see the light of the day. The government censors and prohibits publication of ideas under the guise of “national security.”
India’s development is dependent on absolute freedom of expression.