MSAS Seminar: TT19: Week 4: The Paradox of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism

Conveners: Faisal Devji, Polly O'Hanlon, Kate Sullivan de Estrada, Nayanika Mathur, Mallica Kumbera Landrus and Ali Jan

Speaker: Mick Moore (Institute of Development Studies)

Sinhalese Buddhism nationalism (SBN) has been the dominant socio-cultural-political force in SL since Independence. It has captured the state. SBN had strong class and materialist roots: it was originally a successful vehicle for extending and defending the claims of the poorer (Sinhalese) population to state resources. But it has also assisted in the defeat of a range of competing popular movements, and thus contributed to the general political demobilisation of a formerly activist citizenry. Liberated from organized, class-based, ‘popular’ pressures, the political elite has steadily replaced high-spending entitlement-based welfare programmes with successively smaller and more complex patronage-based packages. Governments most closely aligned to SLB have been most responsible for undermining the state’s revenue base, thus ruling out any return to significant welfareist policies. At a time of growing inequality, state capacity to spend on the poor is very limited. How do we explain this paradox? There is very little evidence on which to convict the obvious suspect: ‘capitalist forces’. 

Professor Mick Moore, a political economist, is Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies. He has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has done extensive field research in Asia and Africa, especially Sri Lanka, Taiwan and India. His broad research interests are in the domestic and international dimensions of good and bad governance in poor countries. He focuses specifically on taxation and governance, and is the founding Chief Executive Officer of the International Centre for Tax and Development (ICTD). He began researching in Sri Lanka in 1975. His major book on the country is The State and Peasant Politics in Sri Lanka (CUP, 1985). His most recent publication is ‘The Political Economy of Long-Term Revenue Decline in Sri Lanka’ ICTD Working Paper 65Brighton, February 2017 -

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