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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hierarchy of thinking about politics and the state

Level 0: Indifference

"Politics: What's that? Gimme my beer."

Level 1: Naivete

"For every problem there is an equal and opposite NGO"


"Let's pick monetary policy by referendum"


"My favourite government program is the answer".

Level 2: Cynicism

"Politics is hopeless. Gimme my beer."

Level 3: The Great Man Theory

"If only Baba Hazare were the Commissioner of Police, torture by the police would come to an end".

Level 4: Small steps

"Civil servants should come to work on time"

Level 5: Fundamental reform

"Rewrite laws, redesign organisations, establish accountability".

"Don't clean the streets. Fix the institutions that clean the streets".


  1. That gets the prize for best blog post under 100 words.

  2. I think you should ask readers of this blog to vote on their level (0 through 5) and then figure out the average and write blogs for that group. Remember, in the absence of folks like you (I guess level 5), level 0 through 3 will take over the debate. But man, it is hard being a level 5 in the presence of level 2 and 3 (as you find out every once in a while from the questions you get). Best of Luck!

  3. Yes, but who's voices are you going to listen to ? Who gets to have a say in the making of laws and fixing of institutions ?

    The question of state capacity is extremely important, especially in India, but it should not be used to brush aside the reality that the major part of our society is rendered voiceless and inarticulate through various means.

    1. There is the question of what is to be done and there is the question of how it's to be done.

      I think there is little controversy about what has to be done. Core public goods are the first priority of the State. Nobody will disagree with the need for things that are non-rival and non-excludable such as the criminal justice system. The question then is of HOW to make the criminal justice system work.

      On the HOW question I would imagine the average voter has little interest or involvement. It is too much gritty detail.

      Hence, this will be an elite led process. Voters will periodically be customers, throwing out political parties that fail to deliver results.

      Similarly I don't expect the average citizen to know or understand the Indian Financial Code. Designing this and implementing it will be an elite led process. The average voter will get unhappy about inflation and low GDP growth.

      Our failures after independence don't seem to be grounded in poor people not having a voice. They are the failure of the elite. It is the elite that downplayed public goods; it is the elite that allowed the criminal justice system to crumble; it is the elite that failed on inflation; it is the elite that lost sight of the rule of law, and so on.

    2. This is a bold admission and a stark departure from others who take credit for the good but blame the poor/illiterate for the failures. Needless to say, I am counting Ajay in the elites. This also places a huge responsibility on the shoulders of elites that I am not sure elites of India are ready for. The educated babu has failed India by either being a part of the corruption ring or standing mute to the running of the corruption ring. I agree there is consensus that public goods and their quality needs to be improved and the road forward has to be an elite driven process. However, the elites of this country have been found wanting on similar occasions....and may be too self-centred to take a larger outlook. It is ironic though....


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