Atanu Dey On India's Development

Stealing is a Bad Thing — Part 8

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Things change. That’s the nature of the universe we live in. There’s little we can do about that, and the change is not always to our liking. Still, we are better off with change. Had it been an unchanging world, we would not have been here. We are complex creatures and it takes time for complexity to arise from simpler beginnings. Change and with it increasing complexity has been around since the beginning of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago. By now you would expect that we would have worked out the implications of this and become fully prepared to deal with it. Sometimes in our blindness to them, we fall into traps of our own creation.

The trouble with complexity is that it is hard to understand. Our bounded rationality and limited knowledge cannot cope with the complexity the natural world presents us. Biological entities are a prime example of things that have had billions of years to evolve into massively complex systems under pressure of Darwinian natural selection acting on random mutations. Give even the simplest of systems sufficient time and it will become complex. That’s true of biological system and until recently, it was not true of human artifacts. That’s changed.

For much of human history, the things humans made were simple enough for humans to fully comprehend them. For example, the skill required to build a horse-cart, to understand how it functions and to operate it was well within the capacity of a single human being. But it is evident that no one knows how to build a car, leave alone a large commercial jetliner. They get built but no one knows how to build one in the same sense that one knew how to build a cart.

Human artifacts have become complex enough that it takes thousands of us to build them, understand them and operate them. They are group efforts. Collectively humans have become capable of creating artifacts that no human can ever hope to understand comprehensively. That is not a good thing if the goal is to have absolute control of them. Our ability to create things has exceeded our ability to control our creations.

The prime example of that is the ever present and ever indispensible internet. The beginnings of the internet were simple: it was created to serve as a communications network that was robust for the use of researchers and scientists in a dozen or so advanced science and technology research centers around the US. It was a Department of Defence Advanced Research Project Agency project called the ARPANET. The first message sent across it was just two characters long – “lo”. They tried to “login” but the system crashed before it could login. That was in October 1969. What was later to become the internet, the network then was just a small collection of communications links and nodes or routers (computers which were called “interface message processors” or IMPs). The routers were DEC PDP-10’s and 11’s.The logical map of the ARPANET in 1977 was simple. Try doing a similar logical map of the internet today and realize the impossibility of that. That was then, this is now. The internet has become so complex that no one can fully comprehend it. It’s become as complex as a biological entity.

History matters. What happened then and why they did what they did then echoes through the corridors of time. The decisions they made under the constraints that existed then have profoundly affected how things are done today. But circumstances have changed and with it the constraints have changed. What was optimal then is no longer optimal now.

The ARPANET was designed for a time when the communication links and the hardware were slow, costly and unreliable. The people using the network, on the other hand, were very smart, well-intentioned, and reliable. That’s all changed now. The links and the hardware have become very reliable today but the users of the net are an entirely different breed of cats. If the internet could be replaced lock, stock and barrel, it would be an entirely different system because the design criteria would be different. Today they would make the system more robust to malign human intent rather than unreliable hardware.

If you are wondering why I am going on about the internet, wonder no more. All this was a preamble to my contention that like the internet, other human artifacts too have the feature of being designed for a different time and the circumstances they were designed for have changed. More specifically, the system of governance called “democracy” was designed centuries ago, and the constraints that existed then have changed. Under the altered scenario, the old system cannot work as originally conceived. The idea is good but its implementation has to be sensitive to the prevailing conditions.

India is a parliamentary democracy and it has a constitution. Indians participate in elections regularly and transition of power takes place without violence. Mrs Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship lasted a very short time. It appears that democracy works in India. Or so it seems. We can continue to pretend the system works but really it does not work as it was supposed to.

My contention that democracy does not work in India is based entirely on circumstantial and observational evidence. Did those who framed the Constitution of India foresee that the system will select an inordinately large number of criminals to the highest political posts? And if they did not, why not? Why do people elect criminals? Surely they know that they are electing criminals.

There is an unstated underlying assumption in the design of the system – that people are not self-interested entities and that they will only act in the interests of the broader social good even at the cost of private welfare. So therefore, for example, when the opportunity presents itself to a politician to make a large personal fortune but which will cost the nation a thousand times as much, the assumption is that the politician will do the right thing and be virtuous. But that is not how people behave. The reward of a few billion dollars is hard to resist by the average person – not to mention the manically driven, highly motivated, supremely ambitious people who ultimately reach the dizzying heights of political power.

You cannot fault people for being people. People are self-interested. Criminals are ruling India because the people vote for them out of their self-interest. The natural self-interest of the people is expressed within a system and if the outcome is bad, it is because the system is flawed and not because of the immorality of the public or that their self-interest is a failing. The system has to be designed keeping in mind that people will respond to the incentives. If you want a different outcome, change the incentives.

Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon pointed out, criminals are the chief cause of crime. An astute observation, if you ponder it for awhile. The chief cause of corruption in India is because of the corrupt in power. Antonia Maino aka Sonia Gandhi rules directly and by proxy over a corrupt regime. But what is the chief cause of criminals getting political power in India? I think it is the system. We have to change the system if we want it to select good people. Good people do exist in India, and a few even get to position of some power and influence but their efforts cannot undo the harm caused by the criminals who are naturally more powerful. We must change the system if we have to change anything at all.

  • http://themmindset.wordpress.com/ The Mindset

    Should we leave democrazy ?

  • ND

    Dear Atanu,

    As a long time follower, I hate to say it but your writings are increasingly dark and devoid of hope.

    I can’t blame you for that though – most of us who read your blog or similar blogs were hoping that the people of India would bring back the BJP in 2004 but the worthless masses chose the Congress and Antonia and with it ‘aapne pair pe kurhadi’ types a much deserving situation is now unfolding. The Indian public deserves what it is getting and if this is not enough – there is more on the horizon. Antonia and her minions are going nowhere – her son or daughter or both are the next leaders of India and come circa 2040, her daughter’s children will stand up to occupy their rightful place as India’s leaders.

    Your time horizon is the last 60 years, but I say we’ve always been this way – India is full of cowards – even people like me escaped rather than choose to fight the situation and my US passport is now what I consider my Plan A/B and C. Ruled by Muslims for 800-900 years, ruled by the British for 150 years, ruled by a myriad assortment of invaders for at least 1000 years demonstrates clearly that we the brown people of India are basically cowards who don’t have the guts to stand up and fight for the truth and honesty.

    My basic advice therefore is this: Keep that US passport, stop hoping for change and focus on that next iPad/iPhone, your next trip and your bank balance – India is a lost cause – no amount of crying or hoping or starting forums or “parties” is going to change the situation – hell even Africa will become an enlightened continent but we Indians will be ‘individual contributors’ to the world – but we will never be a nation…period.

  • tp

    “You cannot fault people for being people.” — Never mind who I fault. Nature will, and soon enough.

  • RC

    Looking at the chaos in India some lament that Democracy may be a handicap .
    One of the biggest problems with India is its size and complexity. It is a 1950s style big nation when being a big nation was en vogue. (Having just had the second world war). Since then USSR has broken up and finally parts of it such as Estonia, Czech Republic, Lithuania etc are doing great. Yugoslavia has broken up and the smaller nations are doing better. It was the extraordinary idealism of leaders of freedom movement of India that resulted in India being one country. It should have instead resulted into nations based on linguistic borders. Smaller nations would have had more representative governments and central planning disaster would not have wreaked havoc on lives of countless many. India is actually USSI, India version of USSR, it is just pretending to not acknowledge it or unable to see it.

  • Krish

    Antonia Maino will see to it that India is irrecoverably destroyed before she and her progeny leave the scene and flee to a safer place. All her actions are aimed at that goal. See Shantanu Bhagwat’s latest post at satyamevajayate.