Aug 22, 2011

Why Inefficiency Is Better ?

Seventy Eight years ago, two nations (lets say A & B) were distressed with inflation , corruption & unemployment. A person in country A ( a hero, already by then by his clean background ), blessed with extra-ordinary oratory & crowd pulling skills  , proposed an 'Enabling Act' .  It was supposed to be the 'Law to remedy the distress of people', which gave him sweeping powers..  He didn't have the necessary majority to pass the bill in parliament. By a carefully crafted campaign of mass public hysteria, he appeared to have the backing of masses,especially middle class. Parliament was burned on one day. Shortly after that, the Enabling Act came into place. The immediate economic impact was enormous. The corruption level was minimized, economy was galvanized, the nation dramatically pulled itself out of the great depression .. and much more...Masses hailed him as the hero who replaced a non-functioning system (Parliament) and brought efficiency in all spheres..  But the price this particular nation had to pay for this 'Enabling Act' was big..   This particular 'Enabling Act' became the basis of the greatest tragedy that was to fall on human race in the last century..

The president of nation B implemented a set of policies advocated by eminent advisors. The resistance to these policies / laws was large. People in country B initially loathed the president. It took a very long time for the country to get prosperous. But finally it emerged as the economic superpower of world

- The Nation A was Germany . Nation B was USA . President of nation B was Franklin D Roosevelt.
They key difference between Germany & USA was that USA respected systems which put checks and balances in place by accepting inefficiencies

You cannot draw parallels everywhere. But the above story illustrates why we should always prefer systems with inefficiencies over draconian power systems. Because the functioning of an authority vested with unbridled power is solely dependent on who is at the head.

The story also illustrates on why majority opinion / referendums should not be the basis for law formulation. Democracy is not entire-population-based decision making. It is about electing representatives who would form laws in the best interest of society. For if, majority based views were always reflected in laws, we would have crazy laws everywhere. To put it simple, the 'will' of people cannot always be enforced as a law.

The success of nation depends on the institutional strengths , checks & balances & the culture. It is a delicate balance. Nobody, even those of highest moral eminence should be allowed to subvert that. Agitations & lawmaking should be directed towards strengthening the institutional balance, rather than making them all-powerful

Aug 3, 2011

The Legitimacy of Referendums

One of the most mis-informed notions about democracy is the term 'participatory' . Much of the literature that you would see on politics / democratic society uses this term to say that citizens / electorate should have a say in every decision that Government takes. And, to this basis, many Governments / media / someone else often calls for referendums to decide on a crucial decision.

The Lokpal referendums happening in India is a classic example..The main problem with this referendum process is that often, the electorate is mis-informed / does not think about the real implications while exercising their votes. For eg:, If you do a referendum in India on whether income tax should be abolished or not, you are quite likely to get a 95% + vote on the affirmative side..
Similarly, if someone floats a referendum on whether India should attack Pakistan, the answer is likely to be on the affirmative side more often... But the point is that, such decisions have quite a lot of other implications.

The idea that collective wisdom of a large crowd is superior  , is in-fact preposterous to a parliamentary democracy.. A certain manifestation of the wish of people has resulted in the elected Government. But extending this logic of collective thinking beyond a certain manageable & legitimate group has far reaching consequences & in-fact detrimental to the smooth functioning of Government.

As fundamentally I'm opposed to Lokpal, I havn't really read through the latest versions really well. Regardless of the merits / demerits of the version that Government has proposed, its totally illogical & incorrect to do referendums in the process of formulation of laws. If that was the principle, India being a federal system would have had laws supporting honor killings , child marriages & many other ridiculous stuff in different parts of the country

The law formulation is best left to the law makers even if they do it inefficiently. Because, the institutional decay of democracy that will come into place through referendums is much more harmful.
Fundamentally, not all decisions of a democratic government can be taken in a participatory manner.. And anyone who has been in a representative position for a decent amount of time would vouch for that.

PS:- For people who would like to read further on these,  is a good book