Thoughts on economics and liberty

People are the same everywhere. India’s system has made Indians corrupt

The other day I was reading this report, "According to Pratyush Sinha, who stepped down as India's Central Vigilance Commissioner on Monday, only 20 per cent of the country's people are steadfastly honest, while he describes the remaining 50 per cent – more than half a billion people – as "borderline"."

The reality, as I've explained at great length in BFN, is that our governance system has made them corrupt. People everywhere are the same.

To transform India's system totally all we need is 1500 serious leaders committed to freedom and good governance. That is a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of India's population. Even if Pratyush Sinha's figures are right (which I don't think they are), FTI should not have a problem finding good people.

The problem is not the shortage of good people but that deep inside their hearts Indians have given up on India. Indians just don't believe in themselves. They either want shortcuts which can never work, or they refuse to believe that things can change for the better: they refuse to apply their mind. They refuse to explore the alternatives on offer.

FTI offers an easy and simple way for good people, committed to freedom, to start a chain reaction to reform India.

I GUARANTEE that good policy will convert India into the world's most honest society. Piyush Sinha has NO IDEA OF HOW TO CHANGE THINGS. Don't listen to him! 

It needs deep understanding of governance principles to change things. That type of thinking is completely absent in the midst of the shallow thinking that is used to govern India.

Let's change that. Let's think clearly.

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13 thoughts on “People are the same everywhere. India’s system has made Indians corrupt
  1. Veer

    “The Hindu” has published about 400 pages of source documents obtained under RTI related to the self-declared assets of the Ministers of the Union Cabinet.


    I hope citizen journalists can now go through this and dig out any assets that were not declared or under-declared.

    Thanks to RTI Activist Subhash Chandra Agrawal, the CIC, and Hindu for empowering the citizens.

    No thanks to PMO for trying their best to block this disclosure.

  2. Veer

    In my view, the essential diagnostics as emerging from Sabhlok’s observations are that:

    “… Indians have given up on India”
    “…want shortcuts which can never work…” and
    “.. refuse to apply their mind”.

    In essence, this is the negative jugaad mentality, and our defeatism.

    An unflattering look in the mirror for all of us. But some of us will fight on.

    In this diagnostic there is a lot of hope.

  3. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Veer
    Thanks for the link to the assets declaration. The problem though, as I clearly show in BFN, is that fighting all the fires in the world won’t put out the blaze that has been lit by Nehruvian socialism.
    I won’t repeat everything I’ve said (in the course of a few hundred pages!) but essentially, unless you work systematically to douse the cause of the problem you will never succeed. That systematic process is occurring through FTI. All other efforts will douse one fire, only to be faced with 100 more!

  4. Armchair Guy

    You say, "Piyush Sinha has NO IDEA OF HOW TO CHANGE THINGS. Don't listen to him!".  But Sinha didn't say anything about how to change things.  In fact, he is giving more specific analyses than the blanket "Nehruvian socialism is the cause of all problems" argument, which I think is broadly true but not very useful on the ground.

    For example, Sinha said (acc. to the article) "India's slow courts, lengthy appeals process and liberal bail policies meant that only 4 per cent of those convicted for corruption served a jail sentence".  This is only vaguely related to Nehruvian socialism, in that you could argue that better, more corporate-type principles applied to the judiciary could improve things.  But that's risky and needs to be handled with care.
    Do you explain how to fix the judiciary in BFN, discussing the issues that could arise with implementing so-called libertarian principles there?  If so, could you point to the appropriate pages?  Thanks.

  5. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Thanks, Armchair Guy (I do think you ought to take on a more active title)

    In BFN I outline in chapter 6 how modern governments work (or should work). The principle is very simple: accountability. No one should be able to escape the direct link between tasks allotted and KPIs to ensure accountability. That requires a total shift in the tenure systems we have. ALL senior levels of government (and indeed judiciary) would need to be on contractual appointment with the direct link, thus:

    – Citizen as principal
    – MPs/MLAs as agents
    – All others as sub-agents, fully accountable for tasks delegated by agents.

    Since the WHOLE administrative system has to be changed, looking at any portion in isolation is useless. Hence I say that I have come across NO ONE in India who has even remotely conceptualised the HUGE changes India needs in its governance systems. Chapters 4-6 of BFN show how a good goverance system can work. Judiciary is the MOST important function after defence and police, and while shortage of space hasn’t given me time to elaborate on it, the same principles apply.

    I propose to write a detailed article in FF in May 2010 (see forthcoming list) outlining specific judicial reforms.


  6. Armchair Guy

    Thanks.  I'll look at those chapters.  The problem in reforming the judiciary, as I see it, is that justice is inherently subjective.  Laws cannot be defined finely enough that they always apply.  So a judgment call always has to be made.  With a minister you can have a few objective measures: are the trains running on time?  Is the deficit reduced?  Is the literacy rate improved?  But with law it seems much harder to even define a measure of the judge's success that could be assessed easily enough to ensure accountability.  We could have other judges do this, but even then there's much less objectivity. 
    Other coutries try to solve this using juries but when we start with the levels of inequality that we have in India, that doesn't seem possible in a 10 or 15 year timeframe.  Even the educated don't learn any of the basics of law.  (I think basic concepts of law should be taught in every high school as part of the Civics subject.)
    As for my name– it refers to the nature of the philosophy that I keep spouting, not my physical condition!  Until I go out and implement my ideas or do research on them, I am an armchair thinker.

  7. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Armchair Guy

    Please realise that incentives work. Even with judges. Even with subjectivity. I have no doubt that VERY SIGNIFICANT improvements in the justice system in India can be delivered as part of the transformational governance system I’m talking about.

    If you need to consider true judicial reform ideas, read the law and economics literature. A good example of innovative thinking in this area (a bit too radical and something for the future) is found in Steven Landsburg’s second book, “More Sex is Safer Sex”, in Part II: How to Fix the Justice System.


  8. Armchair Guy


    You say: "Please realise that incentives work. Even with judges. Even with subjectivity."
    Of course that's true.  It's almost tautological, since an incentive is designed to change a certain behaviour.  The point I'm trying to make is, to design good incentives you need a way to measure success.  What would that measure be for the judiciary?
    I'll try to get hold of the Landsburg book.

  9. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear AG

    Judicial tasks can be broken up into various components and each measured to the extent possible. Many tasks can be delegated and automated. I believe the use of IT in courts in the West has now reached significant levels of sophistication which means that routine tasks are automatically completed, or systematically tracked, allowing for much faster disposal of cases. Quantity of judgements can be one criterion, suitably defined: this will mean judges keep working on such IT related improvements.

    But the key is to ensure a high quality of judgement. Judges tend to be too conservative and over-book people, because one might escape. That is where Landsburg steps in with some truly radical ideas, like fining the judges for getting decisions wrong and rewarding them (monetarily) for getting decisions right. How this can be done is a matter of system design, considering the risks of Type 1 and Type 2 errors, and balancing out the incentive so that the judges put only that much effort as is necessary to form a high quality judgement. Therefore judges would be remunerated on the basis of base pay + performance pay using multiple criteria, including quantity and quality. We’ll also need to agree to a suitable level of risk, such as to what level we are willing to let one innocent person be convicted and jailed (1 out of 100, 1 out of 1000?), for the system will NEVER be perfect, but based on our risk tolerance as a society we’ll be able to set the costs of justice as low or as high as we want.

    I haven’t thought through this but I have no doubt that the literature of economics and law must be replete with questions of this type. This is basic thinking. The question would be to study all incentive structures across the world already in place, and improve them.

    If you do some research in this area please let me know.


  10. Vijay Mohan

    Dear Sanjeev,
    Whenever I watch some discussion on Corruption with so called "Buddhi Jeevi " on any of the channel , The result always is .. First one needs to check himself before blaming others ..
    It means everyone in India is Corrupt , In None of the discussion so far ..the points related to Socialism are raised .. Is it that no one knows the solution or that Media wants to hide it Or Govt control over media will not allow that….
    Now a slight change is observed with Ramdev in Debates .. Atleast he is able to convince that System needs to be changed .. But he himself does not talk about (Socialism and Capitalism or Freedom  ) May be he understands that but cant say it publicly … 
    Capitalism is really unpopular .. even I had some insecurities about that Before actually understanding it with BFN… even you have mentioned your initial concerns about Capitalism in your book .
    Do we have some one in Media so that we can arrange a debate on some popular channel and provide a message to the public.

  11. Sanjeev Sabhlok

    Dear Vijay

    Thanks for your thoughts. You are right. We need good communicators who can respectfully discuss and debate with those who may have reservations about freedom.

    You should get in touch with the Delhi FTI team – I'll send this msg to the team just to let them know. They have some outstanding speakers and reasonable media contacts (not too much). They could pursue this idea further. 

    In the end the responsibility boils down to each of us. So there is no better substitute for this than you becoming clear about issues yourself and then explain to the media or others. India needs thousands of high quality leaders. We are a democracy and we must focus on generating leaders.



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