SBD de Silva & the Gospel According to Unilever: A Great Guru, Part 6


They’d ask him, “Why don’t you give interviews to the media?” He’d snicker: “We should first interview the media!”

Professor SBD de Silva passed away 2 years ago. We recall his near-40-year-old suppressed classic, The Political Economy of Underdevelopment, and stories from the blog eesrilanka.wordpress.com, dedicated to him.  This series was denied publication by all the Sri Lankan media, from the mainstream to the so-called alternative.

Anyone who met SBD de Silva grew enchanted by his amazing insights into Sri Lanka’s economy. They’d always ask him, “Why don’t you give interviews to the media?” He’d snicker. Or more like diss out a sarcastic grimace: “We should first interview the media!”

The media hire either the naive, easily impressed by high salaries and perks, or those from the old boys-old-school network, who would nary ask a challenging question.

What on earth would these reporters know about real economy, and the need for modern industry? To SB, the media, totally in hock to the import-monopoly mafia & their advertising agencies, would simply not be interested in such knowledge.

Most advertising / public relations agencies, and subsequently the media, are controlled by US/EU/English multinational companies. Take the “League of Multinational Corporations” (LMNC), formed in January 2018, to exert even more pressure on the government. These MNCs claim they feel unloved, despite commandeering much of the resources of the country.

The LMNC comprises such behemoths as England’s Unilever, Ceylon Tobacco Company, HSBC, Baur, IOC, etc. These multinationals have bigger budgets than many countries, including Sri Lanka. Many so-called “Sri Lankan companies”, even those who claim to be nationalist “Made-in Sri-Lanka” types, are shackled, head, butt and foot, to them.

I recently wrote an article for an English newspaper, where I quoted the Unilever CEO: He had declared that the market in Sri Lanka’s Western Province alone was bigger than all of Thailand’s market! And Thailand has 70 million people! I was not only asked to provide the source; I was told to be careful in naming such multinationals who provide ad revenue.

And yet this “free” media insists we do not have a large market enough to support local industrialization. Meanwhile Unilever captures the rural home market, so vital for industrialization!

Unilever owns hundreds of companies (SMEs?) in Sri Lanka, also owning several ad agencies, and is directly descended from the slave import-export plantation system. Hilariously, Unilever keeps claiming they “locally manufacture 95% of all the products they market” here. Yet not one single media challenges this bald assertion.

SB would ask: Where does Unilever research, design and make the machines and chemicals they use to manufacture their products? Does any Sri Lankan own the patents for these processes and products?  How much of their profits have they invested – during England’s 225-year-old underdevelopment of this country – in modern (machine-making) industry, right here?

“We know so little about ourselves!” – was one of SB’s favourite maxims. He observed there is still no economic history of Sri Lanka, and very little original research. He surveyed the steady output of economists we see every day-in day-out in the business sections of newspapers and media. He declared their pronouncements, “Eerily the same”.

SB pointed to the post-’77 period, and the types of businesses that emerged, none of which are real industries. Instead we suffer a 20,000-strong executive class, a managerial class, with CEOs paid salaries of many lakhs per month. They enjoy a lifestyle that everyone does not share. This class of ‘executives’ drive about in luxury cars, wearing coats and ties to keep themselves warm in expensively air-conditioned offices in the central district, attending news conferences and meetings. Their press releases extol their greatness, and the media and their economists cut, paste and parrot their vapid pronouncements.

Open a business section, nay, the entire news: these are not articles but “sponsored” infomercials. They repeat ad-nauseam the economist singsong: Privatize public assets, deregulate, call for exports made of expensive multinational imports! They oppose import restrictions, demand weakening of labor laws and reduce welfare. They whine about state corruption and lack of rule of law. Yet none are more corrupt and lawless than the business class, who has captured the state, executive and parliament.

The entire capitalist media calls for the sustainability of the growth rate. Yet real sustainability is based on modern industry. The capitalist media emphasizes lack of investment and projects, but they mean investment in hotels, real-estate, tourism, etc., not investment in industrial processes, where one industry leads to a cluster of interlocking industries. Where capital goods (machinery, equipment) count for more than consumer goods.

Do we need to name these economists? These economists should declare their assets, like they demand of politicians, their favorite whipping boys? What companies and banks employ these economists as consultants? They will not tell. And nobody asks.

Next: SBD De Silva & the Treason of the Economists 

SBD de Silva & Trader Sabotage: Memories of a Great Guru, Part 5

SBD de Silva and the Import-Export Comedy: A Great Guru, Part 4

Two Yakku Haunting the Central Bank, John Exter & SBD de Silva: A Great Guru, Part 3

SBD de Silva, China & the Central Bank: A Great Guru, Part 2

SBD de Silva & the Flames of ‘Cold War’: A Great Guru, Part 1

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