If all the snow flakes were candy-bars and milkshakes

It is incorrect to argue that the effect of reservations will be rendered irrelevant by an increase in the number of seats. On the contrary,a quota-less increase in the number of seats will make reservations unnecessary in practice and hence contribute towards the improvement of social equality that everyone wants.

Oh what a world it would be!

If university students were toddlers and the kept prime minister was a purple dinosaur then his story of a future without scarcity would have been believable.

First, the question of capabilities and intent. There is no evidence that the UPA government, pressed as it is by spending commitments, has the capability to even find the additional financial resources required to fund the massive expansion in the intake of higher-educational institutions. Moreover, what intent it has expressed of late came as an afterthought. For that reason it lacks any credibility. The only commitments that have any credibility are those in its common minimum programme.

Second, and more important, is whether the story makes sense. It is especially rich for an economics professor to claim reservations will become irrelevant if seats became a lot less scarce. More than absolute scarcity, it is a question of relative scarcity. The number of seats will always be less than the number of people who want them. Due to heavy government subsidies, the “price” in the market for seats is denominated not in rupees but in examination scores. Reservations will artificially zone out a large chunk of the supply and take it out of the open market. This would have the effect of raising prices in the open market. As demand increases — due to population growth and (hopefully) improvements in primary and secondary education — the relative scarcity created by reservations will remain, or as is more likely, only get worse. In other words, it is incorrect to argue that the effect of reservations will be rendered irrelevant by an increase in the number of seats.

But what is true is that a quota-less increase in the number of seats will make reservations unnecessary in practice, and hence contribute towards the improvement of social equality that everyone wants. And the government can do this without having to double its expenditure on higher education. That’s by way of privatisation and a pro-market policy orientation. Take telephones for example. Hundreds of millions people in India — regardless of caste, religion or even privilege — own, or have access to telephones. Each month, millions more are getting access to arguably some of the cheapest telephone services in the world, not because of government-imposed quotas but because of a lack of them. College seats can go the same way. And they must.

In the meantime, those who are fighting for equality must not be fooled by false promises and faulty logic.

10 thoughts on “If all the snow flakes were candy-bars and milkshakes”

  1. Nitin – I agree with most of what you say. Nonetheless we should not forget that the greater negative impact of the quota system is in perpetuating the caste system.

    Scarcity of seats is a problem too but that is relatively easy to solve with a nation-state’s resources behind it.

  2. Its been after a long time that I’m visiting this blog, and quite a few things have changed, in my opinion.

    I have to agree that the PM is in a tough spot. But all this said, with all the negative effects in mind, I still tend to tilt towards favouring the policy if all of India has to progress.

    Reg you first para: I agree totally.

    Reg your second paragraph: After the ‘promise’ of keeping the General seat number same, Do you think that the seats being taken away will be so many that the huge current population (increasing incrementally) will be so much deprived of it. Its funny actually how the argument has been put, to be frank. If, lets say, 2 general quota people have been deprived of one seat because of reservation does that mean that both would’ve got admission if the reservation was not there? I think I know the answer, but I’ll let you think about it.

    I admire the spin doctory. You mentioned telephones: You should take a survey yourself about which households have got a phone (even now in 2006 A.D.). The numbers will tell for themselves, not just in the villages where I’m very much confident, but also in the cities. I’ll talk about getting a phone for ‘those’ people, in the first place, later.

    BTW, I read the post about Sameer Wagle. Its hilarious that the promoters of right of freedom and equality have no problems with hushing up a section of the opposing view. I don’t want to waste my time looking up the links about democracy from your previous blogs, but you yourself know how much print space had been wasted advising other countries about it. After reading that blog, I’d say its not just the quality of Indian media, but also Indian bloggers has gone down (serious bloggers, unlike poor me! Mine was down anyways)

    Manu: I agree that with reservations the caste system will not go away, but was it going away anyways? For argument’s sake, lets say, it was, then how correct will it be to have the the lowest rung of people always come up the last? Its like giving them the leftovers after the rich are done (and I’m not talking about just the moral correctness). Also, why is it that the people who oppose reservations in India will not have any problems in using a minority owned business’ tag when they’re in US? Its not just hypocracy, which unfortunately south asians are so famous for, its Hilarious.

  3. As long as we have faith in your own cause and unconquerable will to will, victory cannot be denied us. We should not lose faith in ourselves and in the purpose of our cause. We must remember that the future of fifty crore people hinge on our behaviour.

    Mahatma Gandhi is a good example of a man with cause. He could go weeks without food in pursuit of his cause and endure tremendous pain for the sake of his convictions. We all need to emulate Mahatma Gandhi and pledge ourselves to restoring equality in the society.

    If we give up the cause history will not forgive us. The oppression on us will keep continuing. Crores of people will continue to suffer when their future will be stolen from them. Their moans of agony on being deprived of their future will curse us.

    We cannot let down these young bright students of our country. We owe it to them and we should fight for their cause. We should fight for our children’s cause. These young people may be our children. We should fight for our future and the future of our children.

    We should fight for a good society, where everybody is treated equally. It doesn’t mean not helping the poor. Every day we can work with NGO’s to make the life of poor children better.

    We can make all students of the country above after second year of pre-university spend their one year in community cause, but we should not let our future get destroyed.

    The most important point in the reservation debate is that any social engineering process should be based on an economic theory to support it. The answer to suppression and inequality of thousands of years on one section of society is not to suppress the other sections so that they are prevented from further progress, but to inculcate good features into society so that there is an accelerated development of this section.

  4. Sachin,

    But you missed the entire thrust of my arguments – these are:

    a) The best way to ensure the masses get access to good primary, secondary and university education is through liberalisation. The market may do it imperfectly. The government can’t do it.

    b) Democracy without individual rights and equality of all its citizens is tyranny by another name. I’ve run through this argument in great detail in a discussion which included you, in a previous post on reservations. Discriminating against person A today because Person A’s ancestors (even parents) dicriminated against everyone else is unjust. That this is done in the name of social justice is one of life’s little ironies.

    c) This is also about how India wants to organise its society. Do we want to be a society that rewards individual initiative, achievements and strives for excellence; or merely one that predetermines how and how much people should get based on their birth?

    As for falling standards, that’s for you to judge. But this blog has long held that reservations are the single biggest threat to national security. This has been the position since the UPA government first made noises to this effect.

  5. Reg a.: I agree with the liberation and reform, rather than just privatisation. Mere privatising will lead to donation-limited enterprises, and we very well know how much better (or worse) that will be.

    Reg b. and c. and the ‘thrust’
    I agree with the points again but my tilt changes depending on from where I look at things from.
    If I look at the ‘crux’ from a reasonably affluent section, I cannot even try to be pro-reservation.
    But my tilt changes when I look at things from the other side. Our ancestors are gone and I will let their souls remain at peace rather than bring them up. If you take right this moment, can anyone honestly say that there is no discrimination just based on caste which impacts the people of lower castes much worse than those of higher? I could’ve sat quietly if even the percentage section that we’re talking about wasn’t that much, leave alone numbers. But its almost 50% of Indian population, if not more. If the individual excellence of a lower born are not awarded the way of a higher born, why should’t there be positive discrimination towards those? (I’m talking about the averages, of course there are individual examples to counter this). We city guys tend to see the cities as our whole world, but life in India also happens in the villages where majority of human right violations happen.

    There is a reason why communism isn’t dead and why India is fighting a dangerous Maoist insurgency in large parts of its underdeveloped areas. It has suddenly taken a worse form but why has it still happened when India was ‘Shining’? Don’t you think these are also major threats to national security? We can kill them all, but can we? Or will it just go away even if we do? Sure, creating more jobs in the areas will help, but what happens when the jobs are cornered by the dominant higher castes?

    I would prefer to support the underdog rather than a section which can find ways around the problem. My support to reservation is not blind and I know its harmful. UPA is certainly playing the cards in an ‘interesting’ way, for example, Jats and Jains have been bought in to dilute the opposition. I admit, I would’ve preferred much differently but I’m choosing between the lesser evil.

    The government and we as individual citizens are all to blame for the state of affairs. But someone said it and some others heard it, Nothing is done beyond that. I hate to do this, and I may be wrong as I’m an infrequent visitor here, but I don’t remember your blog ever posting about the underbelly of Indian caste couldron either.

    In my view, Debates should be on who/why/where/when/how the people should be given the benefit of reservations, rather than totally disregarding them. Leave it for later, but not just yet.

  6. I think it’s time for me to stop paying attention to Indian domestic politics, at least as long as the current bunch of pandering clowns is in charge at the Center. It’s just too painful to watch. As much as I’d love to see India go on a fast track to economic development and modernization, given all my family ties, it’s evident that it just won’t happen in the near-term. For after all these years, the Indian masses still haven’t learned that socialism doesn’t pay, that protectionism breeds backwardsness, and that merit is superior to entitlement.

    When these attitudes start to evaporate, or when a politician emerges who’s capable of delivering a much-needed wake-up call to the masses regarding them, I’ll have a change of heart. Until then, India appears doomed to remain a chronic underachiever in the socioeconomic realm.

  7. Conflicting views…Yet,

    1.Anti quota supporters could look at this:
    Right to equality/comes under Indian Consti/ Fundamental Rights
    art 14-equality b4 law
    art 15-no discrimination on grounds of religion, sex,race,caste or place of birth
    art 16-equality of opportunity in matters of public employment
    ART 44- UNIFORM CIVIL CODE for citizens

    2. Pro quota supporters lean on this..
    Directive principles of State PolICY
    art 44 -promo of edu & eco int of SCs, STs, OBCs
    Art330-342 –[i think this covers a whole range of issues of spl provisions relating to certaqin classes]

    3. Democarcy vs Int of common good, haves vs have nots, politician vs Supreme Court vs Central Govt,Ambedkar/Past era vs Arjun Singh/Present era, and lastly, students vs students

    [and loads more views cld be added]

    If I were a politician belonging to utopian thought, I wld support the latter. But, reality speaks otherwise !Guess u wld have read the latest devep in this issue/strike been called off in Northern India while Tamil Nadu Govt goes ahead in satisfying its vote bank by ratifying reservation [except in minority insti]….Beyond the caste/merit face off, i think one must exercise objectivity by looking at the economics behind it..

    Only the future will decide the mess that UPA has got the nation into.The following link is makes an intersesting read on the quota stir

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