Thoughts on economics and liberty

Chanakya would have been shocked at the quality of populist leaders democracy throws up

Chanakya was a firm believer in merit. His writings are designed to impart political and economic education for those who rule India. He is comprehensive and detailed, the Shakespeare of political and economic philosophy: a genius in whose work we find new meaning each time we read it (I must admit I was sceptical about his work, but on reviewing it I'm finding it more and more useful).

One thing seems to me to be clear, though: that he would have been shocked at the idea of democracy the way it is currently practiced in India.

In chapter 1.15.61 of Arthashastra he says: "one should not listen to the advice given by those ignorant of the science [of economics and politics]" (Rangarajan, p.169).

Nehru listened to those ENTIRELY ignorant of economics and politics (e.g. Mahalanobis), or to those like Laski who "taught" politics but came to it from a statist/socialist perspective.

Anna Hazare spouts ideas today that have no grounding in the science of economics and politics. So does Baba Ramdev. So does Arvind Kejriwal. And many, many others.

These "good" people are SURE to take India to disaster.

A nation is NOT built on good intentions. It is built on the knowledge, wisdom and expertise of its leaders.

It takes a HUGE amount of time for an ordinary mortal to understand the sciences of economics and politics. This is not something intuitive! Most of it is counter-intuitive. Neither Nehru, nor Anna Hazare, nor Arvind Kejriwal invested time and energy to learn these sciences. Yet they are the kind of people thrown up by democracy.

It is self-evident that it is POPULISM that matters in democracy, not merit (and proportional representation – which gives populism even greater weight, creates an even greater disconnect between governance and merit). Chanakya would have been shocked to see the lack of policy expertise among people who lead India.

Such people would be less of an issue if the "king" could appoint expert counsellors, but that is not possible under the Westminster cabinet system of government, where elected representatives directly become Ministers. The presidential form would perhaps be better in that sense. I'm still willing to support the Westminster system, though, IF the following is in place:

The solution is to develop political parties that rigorously vet the quality of their candidates before offering them to the people. By getting meritorious people elected, we can meet the demands of "representation" even as we manage to get leaders who understand the sciences of economics and politics.

Westminster can work, but ONLY if political parties become guarantors of quality.

It was in this light that I proposed FTI, which is essentially a process of vetting candidates. FTI will offer candidates (when we find them!) who have highly developed intuitions in economics and politics.

As the number of good (and in my view "good" goes well beyond moral integrity) people willing to lead India increases, FTI will be able to establish more stringent quality control. Ideally I'd like each FTI member to pass an oral exam of at least three hours on fundamental policy issues (the examination board would comprise carefully selected policy experts). But that's a plan for the distant future.

In my view, each of India's representatives should be at least as brilliant as Chanakya. That should be FTI's goal.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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