Sunday, 21 August 2011

Anna Hazare's availability cascade

At one time, the only way to cure syphilis was to infect the patient with malaria. Elevated body temperature, during malarial fever, killed off the more dangerous pathogen.
Mass politics, in India, has always been about the many-headed rabble clamoring to be infected with syphilis so as to cure an endemic malaria. The result is that public life remain an open sewer swarming with mosquitoes, through which the heedless throng headlong wade to embrace the most loathsome of political prostitutes who, by reason of their witless senility, general insalubrurity  and shrilly sententious absence of charm, can plausibly claim to be the providential virgins whose deflowering, folk wisdom has it, might cure the Public's Venereal disease.

The rationale of Hazare's antics is as follows- Elections cost money to win. So elected politicians have to be corrupt while in office so as to have enough money to get re-elected. BUT  an all-powerful  Lok Pal will throw  corrupt politicians in jail. Hence only non-corrupt politicians, not spending money to win will be elected. Parliament will then have no incentive to keep laws and institutions which give rise to corruption. Everything in the garden will be lovely.

Why won't this work? The laws and institutions which give rise to corruption ARE NOT the product of the thirst for bribes but, instead, arise from 'availability cascades'- stupid ideas which give rise to defective 'mechanism design'.
So long as you have bad mechanism design, corruption will exist. True, if you shoot people for being corrupt then that same underlying drive will change its color- it will become an insurgency. They will shoot you before you shoot them.
When the Govt says you can't do something you really want or need to, it doesn't mean you stop doing it. Either you pay a bribe to do it legally or you do it through a criminal network. If the Govt. tries to destroy the criminal network, you will get a cross-over into insurgency. Sooner or later, some accommodation will have to be made. Why? Because the Govt. needs to raise revenue to pay soldiers to shoot people. Where will that money come from? If the Govt. is telling people they can't do something which earns them money then they may do it anyway and use part of the extra money they get to shoot the soldiers the Govt. sends.
Violence is fungible. Bad fiscal policies breed violence. That violence gets masked as corruption- what Dadhabhai Naorojee called 'shakkar ki churi' - the knife of sugar- everything is sweet but it is the knife all the same' . India has bad, stupid, fiscal policies. That's why it's fucked. Just substitute Govt. funding for political parties for the current regime and Anna Hazare's logic falls to pieces. Corruption will still exist even with clean politicians- suppose Kaushik Biswas a successor for Manmohan, for example- because of its 'transformation potential'.

Why? The people are stupid. They believe stupid things. They have created a system that perpetuates poverty. Corruption and Emigration are the only two reliable routes of escape. Another exists. It is based on  honesty and intelligence. It is based on admitting that Indian mass politics is a story of stupidity, arrogance and fraud on a colossal  scale.
A people foolish enough to believe that Mahatma Gandhi got rid of the British or that (till recently) India, with its present constitution, will ever rival China- deserve nothing but Anna Hazare's availability cascade.

In Economics, an availability cascade is a specious, but simple to understand, solution to a real problem which everybody buys into by reason of its ubiquity and low cognitive cost of acquisition.

Examples are
1) the drain theory. India is actually very rich. But the British broke into the houses of the people at night, when they were fast asleep, and robbed them of their wealth. Get rid of the British, or the Banias or the Bazaar or the Bourgeoisie or Big Business' Managing Agencies etc, etc and suddenly India will become very rich. Baba Ramdev's version of anti-corruption is- 'Get back the Black Money from Switzerland and buy everybody an Air Conditioner'.
2) redistribution cures poverty- India is poor because of low productivity. Everybody knows how to boost productivity. Just imitate high productivity countries. Oh? Capital is too costly? Urm... but India's big. It has lots of coal and iron. There are economies of scale in capital goods production. Of course, if in your redistributive zeal, you featherbed workers in the capital goods sector then per-unit-labor costs don't fall- instead you just get crap capital goods with negative value added. The Indian labor aristocracy had abysmal absenteeism. They were reverse Stakhanovites.
What about the peasants? There were islands of rising productivity and integrated Agri-business in British India . There were plenty of sociologists- Ambedkar for example- who understood what needed to be done or at least the proper direction in which to proceed. But, an availability cascade- the dogma that land redistribution boosts productivity- had superior appeal especially if it involved cutting off the heads of landlords (Naxalbari) even if, generally, they weren't actually landlords but kulaks or, well truth be told, not kulaks at all but some random guy who  looks kinda Trotskyite... Even more stupid was the Vinobha Bhave &  J.P. Narayan's 'bhoodhan' which was about changing the hearts of the landlords- except, generally, they weren't actually land-lords with clear title. What was the upshot? The one thing the British had invested in- viz. establishing title and rules for transfer of realty- evaporated. The more contestable title became, the greater the anarchy a Province was plunged into- Bihar was so thoroughly fucked over by Bhave- the entire State was 'Bihardaan' gifted away- that the fuckwit could finally go back to home patting himself on the back for a job well done.
The availability cascade that land reform boosts productivity just wouldn't die. This was accomplished with a little Statistical sleight of hand which Econometricians well knew to be false but, for fear of the CPM's intellectual goons in Bengal, still thought it politic to peddle.
3) Impossibility of Agency Capture- though India's history has been nothing else since it acquired the name India.
4) No heteromorphism of preferences- okay, this is a bit technical but essentially Indian democracy & claim to territorial integrity as an optimal currency area depend on this. The reason Govt. fucks up Life chances is so as to enforce preference homomorphism.  Kurukshetra was about kin selective moral heteromorphism as constitutive of a Universal, metic friendly, Ethos founded upon a once and for all Blood Sacrifice. Without it there was no Bharata.  Since our India is founded upon blowing Sepoys out of canons- nothing Moran kin selective here!- India is a heteronomous Bharata for denying the efficacy of its own foundational Kurukshetra.

But, enough in this splenetic vein. There is already a big literature in Econ, including proven templates, re. Corruption and Development for the road forward to be clear and consensus based. But, Anna Hazare and his shrill bunch of losers ignore all that simply because this represents their last chance to gain a public status equal to that which their over-weening ego prescribes for themselves..
They are determined to gain personal glory by taking the tried and tested Gandhian road of being as stupid as humanly possible.


  1. Please for Christ sake help this poor boy from Haiti

  2. @ Majid Ali- poor boys from Haiti have Francophone Catholic names, not Muslim ones.

  3. lolwut?
    Who's the poor boy here, who apparently has a working internet connection?