Atanu Dey On India's Development

Incentives for Better Policies

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This year, 2009 CE, marks the 200th birth anniversary of Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882), and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Contrary to what one may suppose, the phrase “survival of the fittest” does not occur in that book. It was Herbert Spencer (1820 -1903), who coined it in his book Principles of Biology, (1864).[1]

Spencer warned that “the ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.” That observation holds with special force in the context of the misgovernment of India. If the policy makers (the bureaucrats and politicians) are shielded from the ill-effects of their policies, they have little incentive to act prudently. Eventually, as the stock of bad policies keep building up, the country ends up in ruin. We have to remember that in the main, the success or failure of an economy is solely determined by the quality of its public policies.

Allow me a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean.

First, the state of Indian roads. They are generally really shoddily constructed, very poorly maintained, and unimaginably congested. Corruption in the public works department ensures that it could not be otherwise. The residents of the cities suffer and have been doing so for so long that it is taken as normal. That’s just how it is, the person on the street says, and struggles on. The policymakers, in sharp contrast, don’t suffer bad roads and traffic congestion. The roads are cleared of traffic when the top politicians have to use them. Often times, entire stretches of roads are repaired and paved over urgently within a few days in anticipation of a visit by some politician. High level officials (such as judges) and bureaucrats travel around in cars with red flashing lights and traffic yields to them — as if they were imperial rulers riding rough shod over the plebs.

What if the politicians had to use the Indian roads regularly? What if they had to ride the local trains in Mumbai to get to work?

Second, electrical power. The chronic shortage of power is entirely man-made in the sense that is a direct consequence of bad policies. Those who made these bad policies don’t ever suffer a shortage of power, however. In the areas where they live, power is always available by decree. What if power to their residences and offices were turned off first? What if they had to suffer the summer heat without electrical fans and airconditioners?

Ubiquitous bad road and chronic electrical power shortages are just two examples of scores of other ills that arise from the bad policies that are made by people who are insulated from the consequences. One of the most disturbing aspects of current Indian reality is Islamic terrorism. In my view, Indians are suffering because the policymakers don’t suffer Islamic terrorism.

According to the Home Ministry figures, over 7,000 Indians have been killed, mostly but not exclusively by Islamic, terrorism. Average people going about their daily grind end up as terrorist targets, as do the ill-equipped cops and other professionals in charge of public safety. The politicians and high level bureaucrats never die. In fact, every terrorist attack only leads to increased security for them. Thousands of special commandos are deputed round the clock to protect them. So what incentive do they have in actually preventing terrorism?

I think that one of the first steps that needed to be taken is to bring the effects of terrorism on the policy makers. For every act of terrorism, the security of the politicians should be reduced. I do believe that if this were done, they would do their best to see that the police and other law enforcement people are successful in removing terrorism by its roots.

Related posts:

March 2006.Terrorism, the way out.

The people whose business it is to do their utmost to ensure security fail to do their job and the people suffer as a consequence of that ineptitude. All they do after a terrorist attack is to make a bunch of ineffectual and inane statements, and don’t feel motivated to prevent future attacks with any vigor nor make the terrorist pay. Why? Because they don’t feel the pain.

Pain matters. If due to some neurological injury, you were to stop feeling pain, you could be in dire danger. Pain signals that the body is injured and that steps need to be taken to mitigate the threat and to take appropriate action to heal the already damaged part.

Terrorism threatens the body of the society and damages it. It is when the pain of the terrorism inflicted wound does not reach what constitutes the “brain” of the society – the policy makers who control the mechanisms that can prevent terrorist acts and can respond appropriately when they do happen – that society is in danger. The solution is therefore simple: the brain has to know that it will feel the pain if and when injury occurs to the body. Only then will the brain be motivated to seek appropriate mechanisms for stopping terrorists, and be prepared to deal forcefully with terrorists if it does occur.

NOTES:

1. Spencer is one of the greatest of the dead white men that I admire. Why? Read his essay “The Right to Ignore the State” (1884) to know why. [Return]