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
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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