Two laws of policy realism

A cynic’s perspective on robust policy design

The first law of policy realism
A policy that relies on the Indian citizen to act in selfless public interest will not work. In fact, a policy that expects an Indian citizen to act in anything but self-interest and relative gain will not work.

The second law of policy realism
A policy that expects Indian citizens to adhere to a process—any process—will not work as intended, because people will ignore, work around or actively undermine the process.

Implications of the above:

1. Policies must be designed to appeal to self-interest and maximise relative gains (in other words, the citizen must feel s/he will get more out of it compared to others).

2. Policy design must incorporate processes that are consistent with people’s mindsets and are resistant to being undermined.

On NDTV: The consequences of Hazaremania

A crossroads, not a victory

(You can also view it on NDTV’s website)

The points I made (or wanted to):

1. The conclusion of Anna Hazare’s fast after a compromise is not a victory for anyone. It’s a crossroads. In fact, there are two crossroads here. First, whether we will pursue political agenda by restoring and strengthening faith in constitutional methods or by taking recourse to street protests. Second, whether we will proceed along the path of economic freedom, openness and reform, or retreat into a new form of socialism that has so utterly failed us.

2. Parliamentarians behave the way they do not because they are idiots but because of incentives. The anti-defection law has made them automatons controlled by the party leadership. When they can’t debate substantive issues they choose to raise their volume or engage in disruptive behaviour.

3. Anna Hazare and his colleagues managed to galvanise the disappointment, outrage and exasperation that has built over the last 8 years. The fundamental cause of this is the stalling of the economic reform process. Political parties failed to understand and capitalise on Middle India’s growing but silent dissatisfaction with the state of affairs. We must not conflate Middle India’s sentiment with an endorsement of Lok Pal or indeed of Anna Hazare and his colleagues. The latter are at best trustees and custodians of public sentiment—they must not see this as license to pursue their own ideological and political agenda.

4. Because the moment is so extraordinary, it behoves Anna Hazare and the leaders of the India Against Corruption movement to act with humility, responsibility and good sense. Here they have fallen short.

5. The second freedom struggle is not about a bill. It’s not about a Lok Pal. It’s not even about making India corruption-free. It is about a quest for economic freedom to be pursued using constitutional methods.

Announcing the Takshashila Hyderabad Roundtable 2011

March 6th, 2011, Hyderabad

After the successful launch of the Takshashila Roundtable Conclave programme in Bangalore in December 2010 (see event report), the next stop in our nationwide rollout is Hyderabad. Here’s the blurb:

The Takshashila Roundtable conclave programme aims to create a shared understanding of India’s national interests that can serve as the intellectual bases for public policy. The programme will bring high-quality, cutting-edge discussions on strategic affairs, national security and governance to cities and towns across India, creating a platform for dynamic individuals to connect with each other and to the wider policy-making circles.

The Roundtable will have two parts. In the first segment, it will have focussed discussion sessions on emerging policy issues: from geopolitics to geoeconomics, from national security to social capital. Takshashila Fellows will be present to share their research and insights. The second segment moves beyond discussion: participants will brainstorm, develop and commit to their own personal action plans on how they will engage in public affairs in the year ahead.

Among the distinguished guests expected to join us at Hyderabad are B Raman, one of India’s most perspicacious commentators on national security, Bibek Debroy, professor at Centre for Policy Research and Ajit Ranade, chief economist at Aditya Birla Group. Takshashila Fellows expected are Sushant K Singh, Rohit Pradhan and Jhelum Chowdhury. This is a tentative list as we expect a few more distinguished guests & fellows to confirm their attendance over the next few days.

We will also be making an important announcement in the run-up to the Roundtable.

If you would like to participate, please express your interest at Takshashila’s event page.

Three thoughts for the Republic

Organising our republic, keeping it united and improving its lot

For reflection on Republic day: Pragati’s inaugural editorial; on the grand strategy of uniting India and why we urgently need Reforms 2.0.

The three thought archive:
Three thoughts on on Republic Day 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005;
and on Independence Day 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

Cultivating authority, evading responsibility

“Those who are politically strong are constantly running away from political responsibility,” writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta

You should read his piece in the Indian Express in full. Excerpts:

The prime minister will take you only up to a point. The Centre does not carry any credibility, because there it has no genuine interlocutors. There is no other leader who can carry the imprimatur that they are acting on behalf of the nation, who can provide a healing touch when needed. More and more of our conflicts will require this kind of constant political engagement. Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, in political terms, carry that mantle as much as anyone does; but they steadfastly refuse to risk it on anything other than politically easy welfare schemes. The scandal of Indian politics is not simply that the prime minister is politically weak; it is that those who are politically strong are constantly running away from political responsibility.

And it has sent a message: the purpose of politics is not solving problems; it is the evasion of responsibility. [IE]

Pragati January 2010: Stepping up in Afghanistan

The January 2010 issue of Pragati discusses India’s options in Afghanistan. While there are a number of options ranging from scaling up training of Afghan national security forces to actually scaling down development projects if the United States quits prematurely, editorially, we argue that it is in India’s interests to send combat-ready troops to Afghanistan.

In domestic affairs, we present two perspectives on the demand for the new Telangana state; the challenges before the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir; and the need for an urgent reform of the laws governing political parties.

We’re piloting a new section that presents a synopsis of commentary in the international non-English language media: this month, “alif” has coverage of the Urdu & Arabic press.

There’s a lot more, for you to Read & Share!

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Sunday Levity: Babes, do your patriotic duty

What attracts women?

INI’s resident military affairs expert (no, no pun intended) sends in an article with the following bit highlighted:

Young women who don’t join the army have another important role to play. They may opt to marry army officers and encourage their female friends to follow suit. If pretty young women in large numbers come forward to marry army officers, the stock of army officers in social circles goes up. This in turn provides indirect motivation to other young men to join the corps of officers and serve the nation. [Chitranjan Sawant/Merinews]

Now, Mr Sawant—like the Ukrainian army recruitment department—is not entirely wrong: if army officers get all the babes, then more young men will want to be army officers. But it is wrong to presume that getting women to marry army officers—out of a sense of patriotic duty—will lengthen the list of applicants to military academies.

That’s because of the OMIPP, the Oldest Mistake In Public Policy, which mistakes correlation for causation. In this case, attractive young women of marriageable age might be attracted to young men from a certain industry for the same reason as other young men want to get into that industry. Maybe because that industry pays well, offers a relatively better quality of life, a higher social status or all of the above.

So whether you are recruiting for the army or for the public sanitation department, you are better off making the job profile more attractive. The babes will follow.

Related post: If you don’t think such a grave issue as shortage of army officers ought to be treated with such levity, you can read what we think is the real solution to the problem.

The airman’s beard

Permitting beards, regulating lengths

Other than tradition, there is no good reason for a the Indian Air Force to impose a blanket ban on beards. Sikh officers in all three armed services and the police force are allowed to wear beards and turbans. Beard-keeping is a tradition in the Indian Navy, and naval officers are allowed to keep beards regardless of their religious persuasion. Now, if operational reasons demand it—say, it gets in the way—it makes sense to ask the concerned officers to trim or shave their beards off.

Just like the armed forces have a sensible policy on haircuts, uniform and other aspects of turnout, they could have the same for beards, mustaches, sideburns and eyebrows. It need not involve religion at all, as long as it involves common sense.

The airmen who are fighting to keep their beards on their jobs might be motivated by religion. But the decision to allow them to keep them need not.

Goodbye cotton, hello soyabean

The rational farmers of Maharashtra

Just how does P Sainath position facts that show how Maharashtra’s farmers are capitalising on the opportunity created by rising global foodgrain prices? Oh, by saying that they are replacing one type of volatility (planting cotton) by another (soyabeans).

After pointing out how farmers are reaping the benefits of growing soyabeans, he goes on to point out the risks of growing soyabeans, and the dangers of planting the same crop season after season. As if there are crops that somehow defy these risks.

Mr Sainath, unsurprisingly, fails to underline three really important points: first, that given a chance, farmers can help themselves by taking advantage of available opportunities. Second, information about prices, weather and market conditions enabled this. And third, following from the above, just letting them do what they like (and not placing value judgements on what they should grow) is the best solution.

Related post: Rising foodgrain prices present an opportunity for Indian farmers