Wednesday 10 May 2023

Pranab Bardhan & the buddhijivi's collective action problem

A collective action problem, or social dilemma, is a situation in which all individuals would be better off cooperating but fail to do so because of conflicting interests between individuals that discourage joint action.

In the real world, it is likely that polities which can't survive existential threats for structural reasons probably get weeded out before anybody thinks of them as polities. Equally, 'existential threats' can quickly collapse on their own because of- you guessed it- collective action problems. What prevails are evolutionarily robust, Price equation based, units though no doubt there is an 'extended phenotype' or symbiotic aspect to this. 

Why are some polities successful in solving such problems- with the result that they become richer and more secure- while others seem incapable of rising to the challenge?

One answer is that a polity which can cobble together a coalition which is successful in war- because it is willing and able to provide the uttermost faith in the good fight- which translates into financial credit or 'infinite money' which Cicero described as 'the sinews of war'- has, so to speak, a template from which it can solve more and more collective action problems.

One reason this is so is because such a polity has a criteria by which to break 'concurrency deadlock' or the 'agenda control' problem which arises in 'multi-dimensional' policy spaces. This criteria has to do with defense and the economic competitiveness which provides the 'sinews of war'. No doubt, a polity may become complacent and drift away from from observance of this criteria. But, sooner or later, it must either respect it or turn to shit. 

It must be said, a polity can be secure and some of its members can grow rich if it is part of an Empire or else is a Protectorate of a Great Power. However, it may not be able to solve 'collective action problems' in a sustainable and sensible manner because there is no 'esprit de corps' of a martial type. People who can't get together to defend themselves are unlikely to be able to get together to implement any plan which requires present sacrifice. There are free-rider and hold-out and concurrency problems in plenty. Democracy may appear vibrant but the Polity is sick. Rents may be being appropriated in the name of all sorts of high minded shite, but they aint being ploughed back in.

Pranab Bardhan, who grew up in straitened circumstances because his father was obliged to provide food and shelter to relatives who had been chased away from East Pakistan, writes of his interest in 'collective action problems'. He still has not understood that Bengal sank because it wouldn't or couldn't defend itself. East Pakistan turned into Bangladesh because its people were prepared to fight. Later, they were also prepared to do minimally sensible stuff. What is certain is that Bangladesh has overtaken West Bengal in economic terms. Perhaps this shows the superiority of the Bengali Muslim with respect to the 'argumentative' Bengali Hindu. It is likely that the percentage of the Bengali population which is Muslim will continue to rise. Hindus may once again have to flee from districts which become Muslim majority. Why bother to solve any 'collective action problem'? What matters is being able to run away more quickly than those most like you. Let the devil take the hindmost.

Bardhan writes-
One macro political issue that interested me right from the beginning of my research career is the inability of a heterogeneous and unequal society

this is a description of every society under the Sun 

like India

a country so shitty a handful of foreigners from a distant island ruled over it for almost two centuries. India made a substantial contribution to the prosperity and (during two World Wars) the security of the British isles. How come they could solve Indian society's 'collective action problem' but Nehru (whose education and training was perfectly British) - who had to beg foreigners to help feed an defend India- could not do so?  

The answer is obvious. Indians like Bardhan think that humanism is good but patriotism is bad. This was cool so long as 'Pax Britannica' was a gift of the Royal Navy. But, there aint no such thing as a free lunch. India would have to either defend itself or surrender more and more territory. 

to easily resolve collective action problems.

To be fair, people who are too stupid or lazy to solve their own problems are also unlikely to solve collective problems.  

The invitation to give a set of endowed memorial lectures at All Souls College, Oxford gave me the opportunity to speculate on India’s long‐standing economic problem of public under‐investment in long‐term projects of building physical infrastructure, explaining it in terms of a collective action problem, and also to speculate, even more wildly, that the same social heterogeneity which may be behind India’s investment problem is also what made democracy survive in India, against considerable odds, as a device for transactional negotiations among disparate non‐trusting groups.

I suppose the good folk at All Souls College had ancestors who had made plenty of money in the East Indies. They knew very well that there is no point doing infrastructure investment if your people won't fight an invader. Also, all politics will only be a cowardly type of looting. Democracy merely means everybody shafting everybody else without any blood being spilt while the looting is done under color of law and bureaucratic procedure. 

Social heterogeniety militates for Partition, not democracy. Bardhan should know this very well. However a bunch of cowardly curs may still want to loot each other, which is why they may all pin their hopes on gaining wealth by wooing ballots not withstanding bullets. 

These lectures came out in a short book titled The Political Economy of Development in India (1984), which attracted some attention from political scientists, but very little among my economist colleagues.

Who would have preferred to read a primer on Academic politics in Development Econ Departments. 

I then applied the same idea of difficulty of collective action flowing from social heterogeneity to the sphere of community management of local environmental resources (like forests, fisheries, irrigation water) on which the livelihoods of rural people crucially depend.

Unless they are good at knifing other rural people, in which case more orient horizons unfold before them. 

Bardhan doesn't get that Development happens when people run away from rural shitholes. 

I worked on theoretical implications of economic inequality on collective action and empirically tested hypotheses on the impact of inequality in land distribution on farmers’ cooperation on matters like water allocation.

That inequality has to increase otherwise there won't be any fucking water to allocate. There is no steady-state equilibrium solution here. All we can hope is that there is marginal cost pricing of the underlying resource. 

Over the years as I became more convinced of the ‘failures’ of the centralized state,

Centralizing virtue signaling bombast is all very well. But if the State has little money and power, nothing very substantial is being centralized or decentralized. 

I also explored the factors that contribute to governance failures at the local level,

they are the same things which contribute to locals being stupid and leading shitty lives. Governance is a service. Poor peeps are going to get shitty governance though, no doubt, there might be a 'Rolls Royce' Administration presided over by Oxbridge Mandarins. 

whether in community management of the local commons

which could scarcely be less shitty than the best individual management of the best individual property.  

or in the delivery of social services by locally elected governments.

If the ruling party's goons takes a break from beating them 

In collaboration with Dilip Mookherjee, I carried out several theoretical exercises on the advantages and disadvantages of decentralization,

Decentralization occurs when locals can beat the shit out of ruling party goons- not otherwise. 

along with repeated field surveys in West Bengal villages on the impact of elected village councils on land reforms and anti‐poverty programmes.

It turned out that beating and killing Left Front goons- which is what Mamta has been doing for the last dozen years- is popular with everybody. Fuck 'land reform'. Killing gangsters- be they politically affiliated or not- is what helps the poor. 

Every Indian knew that Governance was supplied for reasons which had nothing to do with 'collective action problems'- which traditionally had mechanisms distant, or kept secret, from agents of the government- i.e. the stationary bandit. Though money might not be squeezable from rural Indians, votes still matter more particularly if they are mobilizable on the basis of caste or creed. 

This raises the question, why was Bardhan doing a stupid and pointless type of research? He supplies the answer. He was paid to do this type of donkey work. 

These projects were part of a research network of international scholars around the theme of inequality, funded for over a decade by the MacArthur Foundation

set up by a rich guy who didn't like paying taxes 

and co‐directed by myself.

a guy from a poor country who didn't want to live there but didn't mind getting paid to visit occasionally and pretend he cared much more about the poor than those of his peers who had remained behind to actually provide governance or run businesses and thus pay taxes.

My abiding interest in the complexities of political economy has kept me skeptical of easy ideological solutions

as opposed to arcane bullshit 

and yet appreciative of the constant human striving for social‐institutional improvement.

This is done by actually living in the society you are trying to improve.  

As Antonio Gramsci said, the challenge for us is not to have illusions, and yet not to be disillusioned.

Gramsci was in Mussolini's  jail. Bardhan is on an Ivy League Campus. The former had illusions re. the feasibility of 'worker control' of factories. It was important he not get too disillusioned because he'd have fucking topped himself Bardhan may have the illusion that he is a fucking Mother Theresa of Political Economy. But nothing very bad would happen to him if he became disillusioned in this respect. The real 'collective action problem' for the class of buddhijivis, is how to stop taking up careers based entirely on their own shittiness and the manner in which this has fucked up Bengal. 

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