Friday, 21 October 2016

Why the Human Rights based approach to Development is either unnecessary or counterproductive

The Human Rights based approach to Development stipulates that all human beings have inalienable rights to what Rawls called 'primary goods' including food, water, sanitation, education, due process of law and so on. These rights create a corresponding obligation on the part of the State with respect to all residents within its borders.
Some, if not all, primary goods are scarce (i.e. their use has an opportunity cost) and thus come within the purview of Economic Science. This raises the question, is Rights based Development compatible with Economic theory?

A sanguine response might go as follows- 'If Society treats human beings decently, they will be more productive. Society will be better off. A virtuous circle would be created. Furthermore, wealthy countries could help poor countries. As these poor countries rise up, they will buy more from the wealthy thus enabling their economy to expand. War and Religious intolerance and institutionalized Misogyny and the stigmatizing or scapegoating of minorities will come to an end. The World will be peaceful and prosperous.'

The problem here is that if human beings are rational and if the above arguments are empirically valid, then there is no need for a 'Human Rights based approach' at all. People and Nations would spontaneously follow the policy prescriptions of this approach without any need for a costly bureaucracy to enunciate its precepts.
What they wouldn't do, however, is to Legally enshrine human rights to scarce primary goods.
Well, if all human beings are granted a legal entitlement to scarce primary goods, then it follows that the obligation bearing party must either have been granted legal rights of control over scarce resources so as to fulfill these entitlements or else have appropriated such control by some means, fair or foul. If the obligation bearing party has no control over the allocation of scarce primary goods, legal or appropriated, it can't fulfill the 'vinculum juris'- the bond of law- between it and the rights-bearers. This does not mean that primary good entitlements will definitely not be fulfilled. Private charity or Exit by the Poor or a self-help program may fill the gap. However, the law in this respect would be a dead letter.
Let us now look at the sort of legal rights of control which the obligation-bearer may be awarded in order to comply with Laws granting a Human Right to a particular primary good- let us say drinking water, which, clearly, is essential to human functioning.
Imagine you are an invalid living in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. You pay up to 50 times as much for drinking water as the wealthy residents of Muthaiga. Clearly, your human right to water is not being met because you have no income. Your health is in danger because you are probably using less water than is compatible with health and hygiene.
What happens if the State not just passes a law assuring you of sufficient water at a price you can afford but, what's more, enforces this law against the Municipal Water Company?
The answer depends on whether the Municipal Water Company is granted a corresponding legal 'right of control' over available water resources. Ideally, the Water Company will calculate how much water it has to distribute for free, or at a very low cost, and find the most economical method to distribute it to the poorest and most vulnerable. They will then calculate how to sell their remaining water so as to generate a surplus. This is called 'price discrimination'. It works if the market can be segmented at low cost such that people who can afford the high price can't buy at a low price.

If the Water Company is run by benevolent people of the highest integrity, the story ends here. However, in that case, there would have been no need for the law. In fact, the law has created a problem for the Water Company which it didn't have before. What is that problem? It is that it now has a residual right of control over a scarce resource. Bad people, who previously weren't interested in this form of social work, want to get control over the Water Company. If they succeed, by hook or crook, they can borrow money on the strength of their property right over locally available water and use that money to bribe poor people to leave Kibera. In other words, the creation of a property right to offset an obligation to satisfy a human right can skew wealth distribution in a manner which creates a runaway process unfavorable to the poorest and most vulnerable.
From the Economic point of view, it may look like a 'fair' exchange- a 'Hicks-Kaldor' welfare improvement- if a poor man takes money to leave a place where he has an entitlement. Actually, it is nothing of the sort.
Human rights have created a Property right inimical to the very human beings in whose name it was created.

What if we don't create any new right of control to water? We could say to the Water Company- 'we don't care how or from where you procure the water. We certainly aren't going to give you any legal right to any water anywhere. You buy your water from wherever you like and sell it at whatever price you like but just make sure everybody's human right to water is met.'
In this case, though the Water Company gains no new 'right of control', it can appropriate such a right without legal backing. How? Well, it can ration water such that rich people are told that their taps will stay dry on certain days so that the poor can get their share.
This may sound like a good thing. Why should the rich not suffer a little?
The answer is that a 'parallel market' will develop based on a mix of technologies. The very rich will bore their own tubewells and have ample underground reservoirs for their own gated communities permitting them to exit the Water Company's network. The middle class will have to make do with storage tanks replenished by tankers. The working poor will take the brunt- paying high prices for jerry cans. The destitute may initially still get their legally mandated entitlement. But, at the margin, their condition deteriorates. Why? Well, even if ground water is non-depleting or there is plenty of riverine water (i.e. water isn't scarce, only the distribution network uses up scarce resources) then, though no ecological crunch occurs, it is still the case that Man does not live by any one primary good alone. When the poor, as a group, have to pay more for an essential item the whole ecology of their neighborhood changes. Niches which permitted the poorest to survive can suddenly disappear.
The effect of 'appropriable rights of control' turn out to be the same as that of residual rights of control. Both end up enriching the few and pushing the very poorest towards the wall.

In practice, there is a middle way. What is it? Well a mixture of residuary legal rights and de facto appropriable rights can create an opaque rent seeking environment- it may look 'privatized', it may appear 'public-private', it may be wholly State owned- in which there is no accountability, no efficiency, some people get rich and either some nationalized banks or funding organizations get stuck with bad loans or else the whole thing is buried in the Public Sector's Borrowing Requirement. Once again it is the poorer and less sophisticated element of the working population which pays the price for the inevitable macroeconomic day of reckoning.

Finally, let us mention what actually happens in many 'illegal' slums across the world. Here public provision of stand pipes or water trucks creates an economic rent which is captured by the local slum-lord or 'water mafia'. This by itself can lead to the political instrumentalization of disorder from which once again it is the poorest who suffer most.

Let us leave water aside. We are nowadays all too aware that water is scarce over large parts of the globe. What about a different type of Primary Good, one free from ecological constraints- what about the Right to Education as promulgated in India? What is wrong with saying that the Schools for the Rich should admit a percentage of poor kids from the neighborhood? After all, many of the leading families in India are descended from very poor kids who managed to get a scholarship. Poor kids are just as good as rich kids- in fact they are more likely to be of good character and to have a thirst for knowledge.
The answer, of course, is that this reduces the incentive of the more vocal and socially conscious poor families to apply pressure to their elected representatives to ensure that State Schools are fit for purpose. Indeed, India's R.T.E legislation is premised on the notion that State Schools are worthless and nothing can be done about it because Govt. School teachers- who are far better paid than those in the sort of private schools which have enabled the urban poor to rise up- count the votes in Elections.

Still, leaving aside the issue of getting State Schools to perform, what great harm does it do to force good private schools to admit a portion of poor kids? The answer is that good private schools have only become good by making students pass rigorous exams. Students who fail exams are kept back or expelled. This isn't allowed under R.T.E because otherwise the fear is that elite schools will get get rid of unprofitable or underachieving students from economically weaker sections of society.
What has the outcome of R.T.E been so far? The answer is that it has failed utterly in at least 90 percent of cases. On balance it has reduced life chances for the poor because good unaided schools lacking infrastructure were closed down while bad aided or Govt. schools were exempt from the requirement to have adequate infrastructure.
Going forward, some good unaided schools may actually honor the 25 percent quota- but they would have done so anyway- while the vast majority will flout its provisions by paying a bribe or using their influence. Aided schools will either become indistinguishable from the State Schools they compete with- i.e. worthless- or else game the system to capture rents.
In theory the Indian RTE act was the best in the world because, unlike America, it was the Government's duty, not the parent's, to ensure every child got an education whether or not they had money to pay. Yet, it is a miserable failure which has made things worse for everybody concerned.
No administration will repeal it but it will be ignored like Vinobha Bhave's crackpot 'Bhoodan' scheme which led to almost all the land in Bihar being gifted away to the poor. The result of that piece of nonsense was Bihar's decline into anarchy.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Philip Cole on Ethics and Migration

Why is it we live in a world of Nation States which give some coalition of their citizens or subjects the right to decide who can and can't migrate and take up residence within their borders?

Economic theory can give us quite a good account of why this should be. Indeed, for all we know, this is also the 'regret minimizing' strategy for humanity. It so happens that Economic arguments can be marshaled, at the margin, to decide on the loosening or tightening laws and procedures concerned with migration. Indeed, there is a specific sort of Jurisprudence- that of Coase, Calabresi and Posner- which can relate these Economic arguments to what Coke called 'the artificial reason' of the Legal system.

What of 'natural reason'- more particularly what might be called Ethics based on 'natural Rights'? Can it give a coherent account of why the World is as it is and likely to remain so, or does it have to turn back in horror from Reality to engage in bogus breast-beating?

Phillip Cole, in an article in the Eurozine, addresses this question. Unfortunately, he appears to be unaware that Britain is a democracy and working class people have votes. Thus they are part of the coalition which decides migration policy. Cole might think it immoral that working class people can be decisive within the relevant coalition. However, he does not actually come out and say so.

Instead he writes- 'Let us accept, for now, the concerns about the impact of immigration on the working class in the United Kingdom. Despite these concerns there are clear moral arguments against using immigration controls as a means of protecting workers from these impacts. 
A clear moral argument against a specific policy action can either impugn the method by which it was done or the act itself. In this case, impugning the method also impugns the right of working class people to be members of a decisive coalition regarding at least one policy action. Impugning the act also impugns the working classes' 'Agency'- its right to act in its own self-interest even if its actions have uncertain results. 
In my view, no clear moral argument obtains because Cole has not produced any argument for why the working class mustn't have Agency.

But can we appeal to some kind of special connection to our workers which justifies us in prioritising them over outsiders? Particular connections and loyalties often push against the universality of ethical principles, and it is not always obvious which should take priority. Some would say that national loyalties have to carry some weight here, and that to insist on the priority of some vague idea of universal ethics is to inhabit a realm of cosmopolitan moral fantasy. The standard example is that there are two children in a burning building and you can only rescue one of them. If I ask you why you rescued this child and left the other to die, and you answer 'because she is my daughter', this reply carries immense weight. Any ethical theory has to make room for this kind of reply. But on the other hand we need to see that you made a tragic choice, not an ethical one, and that we should all be haunted by the child you left behind.
What's more, while family ties are important to many of us, others may reject them for good reason, and in many cases following family loyalty is clearly ethically wrong – if my daughter murdered someone and asked me to conceal her from the legal authorities, for example. Family and other loyalties can sometimes pull us in a particular direction but it is not necessarily the right direction, and universal moral principles help us to see that. Furthermore, the kind of loyalties we (often but not always) find between family members cannot be used as a model for national loyalties. If we return to the burning house and this time your answer to my question is 'because she is English', then not only does this fail to carry the same weight as the previous answer, it may actually strike us as morally repellent. And so we cannot reject the universal pull of moral principles by arguing that ethics begins 'at home' – very often what happens at home is shown to be deeply morally wrong in the light of universal moral principles.

The problem here is that if I save my daughter from a burning building, one reason I do so is coz everyone knows my wife will beat the shite out of me if anything happens to that precious lump of fat. Cole thinks families are composed of moral beings motivated only by love and altruism. They aren't. A guy who doesn't stand up for his wife or daughter will get a reputation as a coward. Nobody will have his back. He will suffer the social death of ostracism.
Human beings have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. They know 'cheap talk' is enough if there is no reciprocal bond. You weep over the kid you couldn't rescue. But, if you failed to rescue your own kid- or that of someone with whom you have a reciprocal bond- you are going to have the shit kicked out of you. The reciprocal bond, to be worth anything, requires a 'costly signal'. There is a 'separating equilibrium'. 'Cheap talk' ethics can pretend there is a pooling equilibrium, but there really isn't.

British soldiers and sailors and diplomats and so on have a duty to save British people. It would be nice if they also rescued non Britishers. But if they don't rescue a Britisher and that fact becomes known, they may face very personal consequences. Why? Well, they live in Britain, their wages are paid by British people, if they don't honor the terms of the relevant 'separating equilibrium' then they will be penalized. Not to do so is 'incentive incompatible'. It will crash the system.

In the short run, of course, things might not work out like that. Thus British soldiers were persecuted for supposed war crimes because the Govt. thought this was the best way to prevent the European Court sticking its oar in. The Govt. acted foolishly. Long term, the unwritten rule has been re-established that no viculum juris, no bond of law, exists such that a British official must treat non Britishers exactly the same as British people for any purpose for which a separating equilibrium exists. Econ. theory predicts this will be the case iff scarcity obtains.

Cole admits that the British working class is justified in demanding stricter controls on migration- even at the price of Brexit. He says-'So while in general immigration, all things being equal, tends to bring economic benefits, there is evidence that people in vulnerable and weak positions can lose out.
But to use immigration controls to address this problem seems odd, because they leave in place the structures of power and inequality that make those groups weak and vulnerable.
Cole thinks that the 'structure of power' which brought in migrants to directly compete with the indigenous working class for congestible or otherwise scarce resources was somehow benign. It wasn't. It answered to the bosses, not the workers. It remains to be seen whether Brexit will actually result in the 'structure of power' genuinely reducing wage competition for the unskilled. However, the depreciation of the currency has by itself had a deterrent effect on migration. It has made it cheaper to make things in this country. There remains a lot of uncertainty as to how things will eventually turn out. Who knows? Perhaps Exchange Controls will be resorted to if the pound goes to parity as a result of fears of a 'Hard Brexit'. If so, controls on Capital, matching those on Labor, can certainly improve the latter's share of National Income according to conventional Economic theory.

 It is not immigration that causes their social position, but their position that makes them vulnerable to competition from new immigrants. If we were seriously concerned about their vulnerability then we would surely address it in the name of social justice, and immigration controls will not help us do that.
No Working Class British person believes that any one is now, or has, in the recent past, been offering 'Social Justice' as opposed to a Credentialised Ponzi Scheme whereby young people get into debt so as to earn worthless degrees and couch-surf till they are in their Forties.
Before the financial crisis, some people bought into the notion that our infrastructure and Social Capital would grow by leaps and bounds thanks to our Visionary Leaders having been the first to throw open the gates to East European immigration. 
I personally love the Polish plumbers and Romanian dentists and so on- they are likely to more than pay their way. The problem is that Merkel suddenly decided that genuine Refugees- of whom there can never be an end- who need massive help to rebuild their lives, should be admitted en masse. Germany might just possibly manage to pick up the tab- they have a demographic problem- but Merkel's insistence that the rest of Europe shoulder an equal burden was simply more than the British people could swallow. One reason is that many migrants will prefer to move to the UK because of English's international standing. Europe, in any case, appears to be imploding.
Immigrants may be participants in a global economic order that creates poverty and hardship for many throughout the world, and some of those who suffer poverty and hardship are in the United Kingdom. But we are all participants in that global economic order and some agents are more powerful and more responsible for the creation of that poverty and hardship than others. To pick out immigrants as somehow the main culprits, such that we are justified in using coercive power against them, seems clearly unfair. This, then, is the key argument the left has to address – immigration controls would seek to protect certain sections of the poor and vulnerable by punishing other sections of the poor and vulnerable, leaving the rest of us untouched and evading the question of who is really responsible for global poverty and hardship, and who, although not responsible, is complicit in it.
Cole thinks the Left has a problem if Working Class people act decisively in their own best interest. Why? Has the Left stopped caring about the standard of living of the less skilled or less wealthy section of the population? Or is it rather the case that Ethics, as propounded by Professors, is wholly irrelevant to mundane reality?

Friday, 30 September 2016

Horace Epistle V- Quid non ebrietas dissignat?

What Promethean elixir does Epimethean inebriety not unseal? What occult malaiseNot heal? What dim and festering secret not with Jovian laughter erase? Chiron's mentor, Bellerophon's mount; upon Laocoon's eels to the more daintily supToasting itself, Drunkenness drains Hope's Tantalus cup. Ah! Torquatus don't you see?Tho' aught I indite but invite to Ind's Poverty- Dionysus conquers only to set free 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Tagore updated

& the Thekedar sells such Whiskey as duty-free we might buy
Where the world is not dissected by narrow domestic walls
From Tripoli's shore to Montezuma's halls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Like a bollock naked old Sadhu to abash prurient youth
& tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
which e'er must elude or succumb to infection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
& only loiters by the school-yard with itself to yet play
Where Thought is led forward to, in ever widening faction, partake
Rot thy 'Heaven of Freedom', Father : let my country awake!

Note- the first couplet is adapted from  one by Sanjay K. in an earlier comment on this blog.
In this context, the Thekedar is the Govt. appointed contractor for the sale of alcohol in a given area. TAMSAC, the monopolist in Tamil Nadu, was professionally run but appears to be selling sub-standard stuff. The 200 ml bottles bought by the poor appear to maximize negative externalities without boosting revenue much.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

For Paul Murdoch

Here too is that Healing whose beginning was the Word
Helping Voice Hearers gain a Voice to be Heard
Whether treading the tight-rope or tumbling in free fall
Within each is the web, all spin to save all.

'To meet in combat' is the original meaning of 'to cope'
A war of attrition allowing its conscripts little scope
For mutual caritas. The baby-birthing 'Proletariat'
Set up only to war with 'Welfare's' Commissariat.

Tikkun Olam- Cosmic Repair- commences in a tick's nurture of tock
If Kairos is Beauty's camera, Parrhesia is its aperture & dock
Paranoia its own Wailing Wall- a perpetual Tisha B'Av
Metanoia, St. Paul, blither laughter at failing Love.

Prince!  The greatest tribute you will ever earn
Is just to live & Love, to its Lord, return

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Did Vishvamitra eat dog meat? Bibek Debroy's theory.

Bibek Debroy, one of our less objectionable Economists, has written some tendentious volumes on the Mahabharata. In 'Sarama and her Children', he makes two ludicrous claims which any ordinary Hindu reader would immediately know to be false.
These claims are-
1) that Vishvamitra stole dog meat because he was hungry but did not actually eat it. This was because it rained and so plants began to grow and, by the Economist's standard assumption regarding a one period economy, this meant they became available to eat immediately. 
If Debroy is right, the meaning of the relevant Mahabharata episode is not 'break religious taboos only if life is in danger' but rather 'steal dog meat and offer it in holy sacrifice if there is a drought'.
2) Every Hindu knows that Vishvamitra means  'World Friend' or the World as the theophany of the God Mitra. Why? Vishva means 'World'. Mitra means 'Friend'. Just as 'Ashvamitra' means 'Friend of Horses' so too does Visvamitra mean friend of all the World. 
Debroy however thinks Vishvamitra means 'enemy of the World'. Why? Well 'amitra' means not-friend. So, Vishv- amitra would mean 'enemy of Vishv'. However 'Vishv' does not mean World. That is Vishva. What does Vishv mean? Nothing. Well, I suppose, you could have a cod etymology in which it is the root of 'Vishva', which has the acceptation, more especially for Advaita, of  the gross, as opposed to subtle, aspect of perceptual reality. However, since this gross aspect is sublated by subtle 'taijasya' type soteriological knowledge, it forms no part of Vishva once the latter is properly perceived as 'prajnya' (blissful, all pervasive and unsublatable). To say Vishvamitra is the 'Friend of the World' means the same thing as saying he is the 'Enemy of a gross perception of the World as material, temporal and self-contradictory'.
(This is to simplify things a little. There are paramparas, lineages, where Vishva is used for Vishv- e.g. in this passage (from Wikipedia)
(The significance of the word, Vishva, in Hindu philosophy, is revealed in the Upanishads. In the Āgama Prakarana of his Karika on the Mandukya Upanishad Gaudapada explains that in the three states of consciousness, the one and the same object of experience and the experiencer appears in three-fold forms (त्रिधा भोगं) as – विश्व (Vishva) ('gross'), तैजस (Taijasa) ('subtle') and प्राज्ञ (Prajna) ('the blissful').)

Why does Debroy say Vishvamitra means the 'enemy of the World' when all Hindus know the opposite is the case? The answer is that he wants to prove that the name actually means 'Special lover of dogs'- Vi-shva (dog)-mitra. The problem here is that according to Debroy's eccentric sandhi, the meaning would actually be 'special enemy of dogs'.

Judge for yourself-

 Debroy is too shy to tell us that Sunahshepha means 'dog's penis'.
This is illuminating for adepts, because the subtext to the whole episode of Vishvamitra and the Chandala is a comparison of the Asvamedha ritual (in which a dog is sacrificed for a specific reason) which Visvamitra alone among the Vedic Rishis had completed, and its esoteric counterpart in Upanishadic praxis.
Debroy, of course, being an Economist, is deaf to any such 'dhvani'.
He thinks that the Mahabharata was a text lying around in philology phase space which suffered random interpolations. No redaction of the Mahabharata is internally consistent. It's a book with no organizing principle. Even when it uses a name whose meaning is immediately understood by all knowers of Sanskrit and most Hindus- e.g. Vishvamitra- the 'usual fashion' of interpreting it- at least if the writer is an Economist- turns out to be the opposite of what is universally known and acknowledged. But the fun doesn't stop there. Not only do words mean the opposite of what they were intended to mean and are accepted to mean, they don't mean that either but something else entirely, logic be damned, grammar be damned, because, hey!, hermeneutics is an 'anything goes' General Equilibrium.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Ucalegon & Deliberative Democracy.

Ucalegon, proverbially, is a neighbor whose house is on fire. His uncouth cries may well disrupt the august proceedings of Deliberative Democracy. Thus, by the McKelvey-Schofield chaos theorem, there is likely to be an overlapping consensus among all 'agenda control' seeking agents such that procedural rules are adopted to stop up our ears to Ucalegon's piteous entreaties.

One easy way to exclude Ucalegon's cry is to eagerly demonstrate impotence- i.e. divorce Deliberative Democracy from any Executive function or Judicial competency.  Indeed, to escape McKelvey's result re. agenda control, deliberation must restrict itself to a dimension orthogonal to policy space. However, rational agents- as opposed to antagonomic blathershites- no longer have an interest in participating in such deliberation.

As for the rest of us- poscit aquam, iam frivola transfert ucalegon- we might cry out for the fire brigade's salvific jets of water, but are better employed carrying our trashy little possessions away to some unpeopled Cumae & its Oracle of indifference.