13th April 2017
#2 discussion with Jayant Bhandari regarding the underlying causes of India’s misery
Please first read this blog post before reading this. I’ve decided that for ease of reading, it is better to post my comments on a separate blog post than as comments on the previous one.
Jayant responded here to the previous discussion. I’ve taken his comment and interwoven my further thoughts in blue here. I hope we will have a coming closer to one or the other position at the end of this discussion.
===MY RESPONSE IN BLUE===
Yes, it is indeed true that I see absolutely no hope for India unless Indians change culturally. India is a society where honesty and integrity has virtually no value.
[Sanjeev: Jayant, I’m not sure whether any of your family members who still remain in India are fundamentally and culturally corrupt. As far as my own family is concerned (and I include my father’s side and mother’s side relatives – well into my cousins) the levels of personal integrity are overwhelmingly high. The first time our family came across anyone in the vicinity of our family being corrupt was when one of my uncles married a doctor in the late 1970s. That doctor’s brother openly said how he had bribed inspectors to set up his shop in Delhi. But that doctor’s brother was a young man who, I suspect, had already got badly influenced by the socialist incentives of India.
But as far as the rest of the family is concerned, I’ve yet (even today) to come across any case in which our family members have have lacked integrity in their actions. To the contrary, the levels of integrity in our family – including on my wife’s side and my sister-in-law’s side – have been so high that the one lesson I have learnt from my interactions with them is that India’s society has the perhaps highest levels of integrity in the world (or rather, had, till Nehru started ripping India’s moral fabric apart with his socialist system.
I was reading a very detailed history of India sometime ago – can’t readily recall where – in which the British who came in the 1600s were astonished at the extraordinarily high levels of integrity and trustworthiness in the Indians. Indeed, without that they could not have managed to run a country of 300 million with a mere 300,000 of them. A good example of this was the ICS – members of which had the highest possible reputation for integrity. Even today, people hire personal servants in the assurance that the vast majority of them are ultra-honest.]
Indians have to find anchor of reason and morality before there is any hope.
[Sanjeev: I trust you are aware that ancient Indians founded virtually all schools of rationality – around 2500 years ago. Things like atheism which came to the West only in 1800 or so, have been a part and parcel of India’s eclectic thought since at least 2500 years. In DOF (download here) I have discussed this at length, in around 10 pages with extensive referencing.
Buddhism and Jainism are atheistic religions. Buddha’s sermon to the people of Kalama is a masterpiece of reason, 2500 years ago!
Yes, there is one crucial thing in which the West made a breakthough before India did – and that is in the discovery of the scientific method by Francis Bacon. But India has adopted to science like a duck takes to water. I agree it is odd to see Indian scientists who believe in weird religious symbols and idols, but as far as the actual science is concerned, they’re pretty close to being the best in the world – among those who have migrated to the USA, where such science is taught.
So, there is a very strong anchor of reason as well, in India. Indeed, it is found in me, as I speak. I come from that same culture which you find doesn’t support reason. My parents and wife are believers in mythologies, but are not at all fussed that I am not Hindu.]
Without Indians becoming rational, India will stay a tribal and superstitious society. It will fail to generate inner capabilities to differentiate between right and wrong, and will stay adrift by the forces of expediency.
In an irrational society even if you install a perfect institutional structure, it will get eaten away and destroyed from within exactly the way termites destroy a physical structure. As it stands today, Indian institutions that the British left now stand almost completely destroyed and eaten away by Indian culture. Only the facade is left.
[Sanjeev: Actually, it was not Indian culture that destroyed the seriously outdated institutions that the British left behind. Indeed, it was that culture that supported them – even today there are hundreds of thousands of ultra-honest people left inside the Indian bureaucracy despite all predictions from economics that would point to their becoming corrupt. Instead, it was Nehru’s socialist system that totally distorted incentives and destroyed the system from within. Do read BFN, particularly chapters 4 and 5. There are also extensive Online Notes which had to excise from the book since the publisher wanted me to cut down one third of the volume of the book.]
In an immoral society it is impossible to get a good person elected as a leader. An immoral society would not only fail to appreciate a leader it will also actively destroy good people.
[Sanjeev: Since we differ in our premises, we necessarily differ in our conclusions. I have explained in BFN that under today’s socialist system it is next to impossible for an honest person to get elected. Despite that there have been many cases of vast numbers of honest people getting elected. The students of Assam who formed the Asom Gana Parishad were one such group. I saw first hand at close quarters. They came come in impeccably honest. But I also saw them being eviscerated by the socialist incentives that are part of India’s governance system. Another example – AAP managed to get a lot of good people into government recently. But, of course, all of them will not only fail since they are socialists, but they will also get mired in corruption – soon enough.
A good example of the extraordinarily high levels of integrity can be seen in the initial leaders of India (Congress). My own uncle (from my wife’s side) from Assam was MP for many terms from the 50s to the 70s and chaired many PSUs. He lived next door to us in Guwahati. He lived and died in extraordinary penury – a humble Gandhian. The Chief Minister of Assam, Sarat Chandra Singh in the last 1970s, till Hiteswar the crook came in, was another such example.
Indian governments started very honest after independence but by the late 70s they were seeing the inevitable impact of Nehru’s socialist impositions. Incentives were getting extremely skewed; opportunities for corruption were increasing exponentially. What we see today – an immoral government system – is not due to India’s culture, but because the socialist model only allows the scum to exist. No wonder I left the system after 12 years – plus six years abroad; a total of 18 years.]
Do the above mean that I hold your political party in contempt? Not at all. I appreciate and hugely respect what you are doing. It is a courageous endeavour. Enlightening a society or people is the highest endeavour.
It is often difficult to differentiate between a social organization and a political organization. What is important to remember is that politics (which is about forcing top-down an institutional structure on a society) is by definition a violent, statist, and collectivist approach. From where India stands today—an extremely backward, poor and intellectually wretched place—I am not against trying all possible approaches to make Indians see reason and understand the concept of liberty.
We all use different tools and methods. Even rough tools might work right now.
Our institutions are indeed capable of improving. I did not say that they cannot be improved. But they can in my view only be improved from bottom-up.
Top-down “improvements” do not work. They are certainly no sustainable.
[Sanjeev: Top-down matters a lot. Top-down destructions by Nehru are the sole cause of India’s current state of affairs. These can only be undone by top-down reform that radically undoes the damage caused by Nehru and his godchildren.]
If India by some magic got a great Prime Minister tomorrow, Indians will revolt. No one will listen. In India, I cannot get five subordinates to do what I want them to do. How can you ever hope of changing 1.35 billion from top-down?
Indians need to start thinking. Critical thinking is conspicuous by its absence in India. To start off, the so-called educated Middle Class should become rational.
I am not disputing that you cannot plant reason in the society through what you might call a political party. But the concept of reason must be implanted somehow in India before there is any hope. That will be the re-start of cultural renaissance that was nipped in the bud with the passing away of Tagore.
Sanjeev… You and I no longer live in the mainstream society. We have got distanced from their psyche. I like to get my hands dirty once in a while and I keep reaching the same conclusion: that Indians fail to comprehend the concept of freedom and actively fight against it.
[Sanjeev: Yes, it is true that Indians fail to comprehend the concept of freedom. I wrote about this point in my recent TOI article. But they are in exactly the same position in this regard – having been in a feudal system for thousands of year – that the British were in around 1500 or 1600. The British, too, at that time did not comprehend freedom. That changed – not by magic change to "culture” – but because of the hard work of people like John Milton, John Lilburne and John Locke – and through the influence of the scientific work of Bacon and Newton. We have no escape from educating the society. But note that all three examples I gave – all the Johns – were political. That is because liberty is political. They politically fought for it. No amount of think tanks can make the slightest dent. Liberty – from the government – has to be fought on the streets.]
Because they lack reason they consistently fail to understand that freedom leads to a better and peaceful life. A respondent above says it perfectly, “Sanjeev has spent most of his time out of India now, and he mostly interacts with the best of Indians when he does, so I understand he does not get it how stupid and just plain arrogant Indians can be.” [T[Typos corrected]p>
Look at what is happening in UP. Couples are being brought out of their homes and taken to the police station by a goon-group called Yuv Vahini. This is repulsive behaviour. But ask the guy on the streets and he gives his approval. He needs to change his mind. He needs to understand that if he wants India to be a free society, he has to stop imposing his ways of life on other people. Now, the Indian constitution does not allow for any of this to happen but these things happen for institutions don’t matter, culture does.
As time has passed, I have increasingly become cynical about the possibility of the concept of reason taking hold in India.
[<[Sanjeev: I think reason is not so much the issue as freedom. Economic self-interest is driven by reason, and everything – including the behaviour of farmers who litter the streets of India with their barren cows – is 100 per cent predictable through the standard analysis of economics, which uses reason as its benchmark. The problem is that Indians just don’t know better – no one has ever told them. SBP’s message has also not yet reached more than a few hundred people.
Here’s an interesting point regarding reason. Consider your own comment re: UK: "At the death of Princess Diana, whom I had always considered rather stupid, hundreds of thousands of people in England, a relatively sophisticated society, went into hysteria. These were exactly the same people who until a day before had lived for the next issue of the tabloids so they could practice voyeurism on the intimate details of Diana’s life".
We economists don’t really care whether people worship Diana or Kali. There is always an element of unreason even in the most free societies. That’s never of significant concern.
But note that the despite this mass hysteria, the UK remains largely free – due to the political battles waged for 300 years by its innumerable fighters for liberty. India has its own forms of unreason but the main issue is that no one has taught Indians freedom. Instead we went straight from feudalism into socialism, courtesy Nehru. He used political levers to impose socialism on us. We have to use political levers to fight for liberty.]p>
That does not mean that I will ever stop trying to make a difference. It merely means that I am no longer anxious when Indians keep doing more of exactly that has made India one of poorest and most wretched places in the world.
Let me address some of your specific points now:
a) East Germany was under the control of USSR. So, even with all its goodness it had not escape. [Sanjeev: Jayant, do you realise that in saying so, you’ve merely transferred the issue to Russia! Are you saying that Russians are culturally evil? The fact is that Russia never saw any fighters for political liberty in its entire history. It remains a feudal society that’s was once captured by the communists and now by oligarchs. So the issue is lack of the ideology of liberty, not that Russians are somehow "immoral”.]p>b) North Korea again is caught up between two forces: China and the USA. Despite a population no more than that of Delhi, North Korea is still a formidable force. They have technology that major countries do not have. Linked here are my expanded views on the subject.
c) Singapore: Virtually all the top positions in Singapore are populated by westerners. Singapore has consistently struggled with trying to develop creativity in its society. They have so far had little success.
All the above three societies have deep rooted cultural element of group discipline. Group discipline can take the society either way. They can work towards progress or destroy themselves. [Sanjeev: China presumably had the same "group culture” under Mao? So what has changed? Only ideology – since 1979. So even if they did not get personal freedoms in 1979, they got relatively more economic freedom. Result was that the same people with the same culture are now 5-7 times richer in merely 35 years.
Singapore is even more stark. Its ideology changed in the 1960s – it is now the richest nation on earth and is projected to become nearly double the per capita of any other nation in the next 30 years.
I think culture is a very weak explanatory variable. It is very easily trumped – in every case – by ideology.]Now, India has zero group discipline—discipline does not exist in India culture, the reason why India is always a chaos.
[Sanjeev: On the other hand, India has more group discipline than most countries. Have you ever been to school in India (I have), and also seen how students behave in the West (I have)? India is actually a hierarchical and extraordinarily disciplined society. Yes Indians often behave badly in queues, but with demonetisation and international travel, they’ve probably now learnt even to stand in queues.]s culture pre-empts Indians from forming organizations. Indians fail to follow instructions.
[Sanjeev: It is true that many Indians fail to follow instructions, but that is not because they lack discipline but because they just don’t understand the instructions. Most have not been trained. But when you do train them properly, they become a formidable force.
The level of discipline in the Indian army and in the way India conducts its elections is legendary. I can attest to that. Message for the rest of the world: Don’t ever mess with the Indian army! And no other country can organise such mass-scale elections as Indians can. In the remotest parts of India.
In any event, you’ve now shifted the goalpost to defending "group culture”! We started with "immoral” society, went into an "irrational” society. Let’s not create a new hypothesis now.]dia is a chaos, which means that it has no direction or capability to become either North Korea or East Germany—but this is for wrong reasons.
India had a hope of becoming Singapore or HK, but for that they should have begged the British to stay on, or bring a lot of Europeans to indirectly run the society as Singapore has done.
Also, you can suppress a society with a good culture (and there are some great things about Korean, Singaporean and German cultures), but you have no dough to play with in the bad culture of India. The concept of reason is simply absent.
d) About Indians who emigrated: These were the entrepreneurial ones. These were the smart ones. About 30 million Indians are believed to be living outside India. This is equivalent to 0.025% of Indian population. This is statistically insignificant to form any opinion from. (Note, however, that Indians outside India predominantly vote for the left, something I explored in details in the linked article. Once their vote starts having an influence, the society they emigrated to would rapidly start to mirror India). [Sanjeev: I think when you are talking about millions of people, you can clearly start seeing patterns. And yes, there is unambiguous evidence – from the millions of Indians who have migrated (not all of them entrepreneurial or professionals – many were coerced to migrate to Africa and Fiji and they are the richest in their nations, as well) – that there is nothing in Indian culture which is inconsistent with Western values. Instead, many Muslims face a stiff challenge in adjusting to the West – not Indians. And yes, most Indians in the USA are leftists – but that’s because they are a product of Nehru’s indoctrination, No one has ever taught them liberty.]when capitalism policies are adopted, India sees hugely increased benefits.
[Sanjeev: thanks – you at least agree to my main point. Thanks. Let’s just agree on this.]ans then rapidly fritter them away. Today, all over the country, parents are asking the government to get involved and interfere in running private schools. They cannot understand that if they really want the government to run schools they should send their kids to government schools. So we do improve institutions and then we regress all the way back.
[Sanjeev: I’d cite James Tooley who has researched the situation extensively on the ground. Around 40 per cent of the poorest parents are sending their children to low cost for-profit private English medium schools across India. It is only the socialist-trained upper middle class who demand more government intervention.]n fact, with what is happening in India currently—Cow-vigilantes and anti-Romeo squads—India might be taking two steps backward for everyone it took forward in the past.
[Sanjeev: Yes, I agree that political Hindutva is trying to take India to a new medieval age (the original medieval age in India was not this bad). The solution? A political fight for liberty. That fight is unavoidable if India has to succeed. Liberty never came in a platter.]ional changes are not sustainable unless Indians understand the concept to reason, and hence fundamentally change their culture.
Without the concept of reason, you cannot accumulate intellectual or financial capital.
I see no hope that Indians will vote for a classical liberal party. My guess is that you cannot even find a handful of good people to run for office. But that is no reason to feel bad. You add supreme value to the society by talking with them about liberty and reason. You add huge value by promoting the idea of liberalism, rationality and liberty.
Jayant, can I request you to suspend your belief in immutable culture and support the political fight for liberty in India?
No one has EVER fought for liberty in India politically.
Let’s do that and see whose hypothesis is right.
If after 20 more years of active fighting for liberty you find that nothing is changing, you will be proven right.