I've been having a chat over email with one of India's new "political parties" [let me call it the TT party] that prides itself in the "quality" of its people (mostly engineers).
Won't reproduce the entire conversation but a few short extracts.
==EXTRACT FROM MY EMAILS==
A casual look through TT policies shows that these do not derive from a foundation of liberty but involve considerable ad hocism, interventionism and micro-management.
Not every well wisher of India can help India. Praying for a sick man is not enough; he needs a competent doctor. If we are to succeed in changing India’s political system we should insist on 100 per cent alignment of philosophy and approach. If TT puts out policies that others can’t agree with, we are unlikely to get very far.
I'm pleased that you’ve lived in Melbourne. The question for me is the extent to which, during your stay, you studied the Victorian governance system. As for me, I'm a policy 'freak'. Not only have I worked inside policy “engine rooms” in India and been a keen student of policy for my entire life, but I’ve been working inside Victoria’s economic policy “engine room” for nearly seven years now. I see practiced here on a daily basis what is taught in the best universities of the world.
That's why Melbourne is what it is (the world’s most livable city) and India's states and cities are what they are. India specialises in the world's worst policies. If we can implement some of the policies applied in Victoria (and elsewhere) in India in our life time, we’d have done well.
Imagine implementing a third rate IT system in your job. Clearly that won't get your company very far. We, however, insist on implementing third rate economic policies in India.
It is such learning and experience (over 30 years now) that underpins my approach and strategies for India. For instance, I’m currently scoping a world-best governance ranking project for India (http://govrank.in/) which could (if implemented well) help nudge Indian state governments towards this goal. As part of this, I’m in touch with a number of experts, and will explore this rigorously through reading and consultation till I get it right.
The West is fortunate to understand the elements of liberty – which were introduced by its philosophers and political leaders over the past three hundred years. The idea of markets (liberty) is therefore not anathema to them. Even socialist Europe allows markets to play a key part. Australia’s Labor party, despite its class war mentality, has been the harbinger of huge economic reforms in Australia.
In India, however, most of our best people – for the past many generations – have been illiterate in basic economics and disregard individual liberty. Arthashastra, which does hold the seeds of excellent economic analysis, has long been forgotten.
To address this gap in economics literacy and appreciation of liberty, I have been writing and speaking my mind for over 14 years now, with a hope that these suggestions will be seriously taken.
India can’t succeed without its best people (like you) getting involved. But India can’t be unshackled from its (self-imposed) chains if we accept bad policy thinking. I must pin down all inappropriate approaches- so these can be fixed.
There was a time, not long ago, when even finding a single educated Indian interested in political reform was impossible. Luckily, things are now changing and excellent people like you are stepping into the “dirty” water of politics. But just entering politics is not enough. The right policy approach is imperative.
By 2006 (after a number of prior efforts and experiences) I had come to the view I should not try to engage with those who don't understand basic things like liberty, markets and the price system. I decided to first find the “converted” and to expand from there. That's why FTI. I now engage in detailed policy debates primarily on FTI’s internal forums, where vigorous and intense discussions take place.
Through this process (of writing, engaging on FTI, etc.), I hope to find sufficient people in India who understand liberty.
[Things soured a bit as this gentleman engaged in a tangential personal attack]
It is surprising that you'd consider the policy perspectives of the ONLY Indian who has worked both inside Indian government and a world-class Western government to be "armchairish". Also, give that my writings on economics and public administration have the support of some of the world's top most authorities in these areas.
As Rumsfeld so famously said, we don't know what we don't know. I suspect you are a scientist. If you were describing world-best quantum mechanics to a village blacksmith he wouldn't understand what you are saying. Similarly, it takes someone who understands, to understand what I'm saying. I strongly urge you to read not just BFN but the 1000s of other related books/journal articles and understand the empirics of policy making. Then you might understand what I'm saying.
Liberty or equality – these are the only two overarching principles for political formation. That, too, is something you probably won't understand at this stage. All I can say is that unlike a blacksmith who can't read, you can read and will considerably benefit from comprehensively reading the literature on these two subjects (one based on Hobbes/Locke/Mill and Indians like Rajaji leads to free markets with accountability, the other – based on Rousseau/Hegel/Marx/Keynes to socialism).
Given its fundamental lack of understand either of economics, politics or public administration, TT's policy positions are ad hoc, confused, piecemeal; neither fish nor fowl. Please research this point.
Just having one or two "good" policies (randomly pulled out of a hat) doesn't make a political philosophy. You need a theory of state. (Btw, the TT position on income tax is inconsistent with the theory of state founded on liberty, and also its many interventionist approaches). And TT doesn't have any.
I decided some years ago not to debate with those who don't understand even the basics of what I'm suggesting. Once you understand the basics of my suggestions, you and I can discuss – but on FTI's forum/ my blog, not by email.
I dream of the day when India will actually change, but I'm constantly disappointed. India's is a case of self-inflicted wounds. Deep wounds, all caused by its "best" people.
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