August 30, 2014
I’ve finished reading most of V.Kumaraswamy’s brand new book, Making Growth Happen in India: A Road Map for Policy Success [I bought the book from Flipkart]. The Kindle version should be out in a few weeks.
Overall, I’d rate the book as among the better books on Indian public policy that I've read. I'd give it 6 out of 10 (in comparison, Gurcharan Das’s books might rate around 8 out of 10, Nandan Nilakni's around 8.5 out of 10).
I have struggled to determine Kumaraswamy's worldview (i.e. his theory of the state or of the individual). He does not examine why we have a government in the first place. There is not one word I could find regarding individual freedom nor any discussion on basic governance reforms. He seems to prefer operating as a technician, not as an architect.
This mode of operation can lead to fundamental contradictions. In some places Kumaraswamy comes out strongly against subsidies for the rich; in other places he seems to support them. In places he seems to follow Keynes (multipliers, see p.148), while elsewhere he believes markets work best. In some places he supports alternative technology (p.151: while forgetting that if jobs are to be an objective of building infrastructure, we should build roads with spoons). Although Kumaraswamy talks a lot about the need for price discovery, he seems comfortable with the continuation of many administered prices (there is no serious questioning of MSP for agricultural produce or the PDS system from first principles).
This absence of a coherent worldview flows through into the weak sequencing of topics. This is also perhaps because Kumaraswamy has strung together a number of themes from articles he published over 15 years in Business Line and Business Standard.
Despite these limitations, this book should form part of the toolkit or library of every Indian interested in public policy. It is bubbling with ideas (ranging from the bizzare to the really good). It adds value to policy debates in India.
Illustrative good bits and not-so-good bits, listed below:
1. Suggestions regarding cost recovery (p.105 onwards, 113, 115). These are part of standard good governance toolkit across most of the developed world, but in India the rich are HEAVILY subsidised. That needs to go.
2. The need for proper analysis of infrastructure projects (p.200).
3. Some good ideas re: employment (e.g. forestry p.155, landscaping p.181)
4. Parking requirements in urban areas (p.158)
5. Good commentary re: incentives of the government as a regulator (p.180) [despite that he promotes continuous involvement of the government in a vast set of areas where it can perform better as a regulator than doer].
6. Hypocrisy of socialists (p.105)
7. Build private cities (p.104)
8. Free up interest rates and credit (p.84). On this he positively shines. Brilliant.
1. Discussion re: incentives (p.207, etc.)
2. Position re: urbanisation – both good and poor.
3. Land acquisition (p.6)
1. Opposes state funding of elections without understanding alternative models (p.15, 123).
2. Suggestion to increase the bureaucracy (p. 159)
3. Thinks of the government as an entrepreneur (p.188).
4. Misplaced objection to gold (p.190-91).
5. Confusion re: the role of real estate (p.194-96)
6. Some ideas on employment are bizzare (p.146)
7. Solution re: PDS (p.179)
8. Recommendations against agricultural productivity (p.56)
9. Grossly underestimates returns to education (p.60)
10. Likes to use the stick against citizens (p.63) and brings a “planning” mindset to many discussions.
11. Poor analysis of corruption (p.12).
Overall, I plan to re-read some of the sections while I'm revising the SKC agenda. The book was money (and time) well spent.