Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: Chanakya

Qualities of a king (elected representative), according to Chanakya

I'm extracting key qualities of a king below, from Chanakya's Arthashastra. These are qualities we'd like to see in our elected representatives.

[An ideal king is one who has the highest qualities of leadership, intellect, energy and personal attributes.]

The qualities of leadership (which attract followers) are: birth in a noble family, good fortune, intellect and prowess, association with elders, being righteous, truthful, resolute, enthusiastic and disciplined, not breaking his promises, showing gratitude [to those who help him], having lofty aims, not being dilatory, being stronger than neighbouring kings and having ministers of high quality.

The qualities of intellect are: desire to learn, listening [to others], grasping, retaining, understanding thoroughly and reflecting on knowledge, rejecting false views and adhering to the true ones.

An energetic king is one who is valorous, determined, quick and dexterous.

As regards personal attributes, an ideal king should be eloquent, bold and endowed with a sharp intellect, a strong memory and a keen mind. He should be amenable to guidance.

He should be well trained in all the arts and be able to lead the army.

He should be just in rewarding and punishing. He should have the foresight to avail himself of the opportunities (by choosing) the right time, place and type of action.

He should know how to govern in normal times and in times of crisis. He should know when to fight and when to make peace, when to lie in wait, when to observe treaties and when to strike at an enemy’s weakness. He should preserve his dignity at all times and not laugh in an undignified manner. He should be sweet in speech, look straight at people and avoid frowning. He should eschew passion, anger, greed, obstinacy, fickleness and backbiting. He should conduct himself in accordance with the advice of elders. {6.1.2-6}


A councillor or minister of the highest rank should be a native of the state, born in a high family and controllable [by the king]. He should have been trained in all the arts and have logical ability to foresee things. He should be intelligent, persevering, dexterous, eloquent, energetic, bold, brave, able to endure adversities and firm in loyalty. He should neither be haughty nor fickle. He should be amicable and not excite hatred or enmity in others. 3 {1.9.1}

[The king should appoint advisers in different grades of the hierarchy, depending on how many of the qualities described above they possess].
Those who have all the qualities are to be appointed to the highest grade (as Councillors), those who lack a quarter to the middle grades and those who lack a half to the lowest grades. {1.9.2}Also:



Since the king is synonymous with the Kautilyan state, we first note the kind of attitude and behaviour that Kautilya recommends for him. The verse used as the epigraph to this book, ‘In the happiness of his subjects lies his own happiness…’ summarizes it. A king should be well trained (III.i) and practise self-control (III.ii). An ideal king is one who has the highest qualities of leadership, intellect, energy and personal attributes {6.1.2-6} and behaves like a sage monarch, a rajarishi.

Among other things, a rajarishi is one ‘who is ever active in promoting the yogakshema of the people and who endears himself to his people by enriching them and doing good to them’ {1.7.1}. The word, yogakshema, is a compound made up of yoga, the successful accomplishment of an objective and kshema, its peaceful enjoyment. Thus, peaceful enjoyment of prosperity, i.e. the welfare of the people, is given as much importance as knowledge, self-control and observance of dharma.

A king should not only obey his own rajadharma but also ensure that his subjects obeyed their respective dharma. For, ‘when adharma overwhelms dharma, the king himself will be destroyed’ {3.16.42}. Hence, a wicked prince, who hates dharma and is full of evil, should not be installed on the throne, even if he is an only son {1.17.51}. In fact, Kautilya prefers an ignorant king who had not been taught dharma to a wicked king who, in spite of his learning, deviates from it {8.2.12}.

The king’s own dharma is to be just, impartial and lenient in protecting his people {8.2.12; 3.10.46; 1.19.33,34; 3.1.41; 3.20.24}. The king’s attitude to his people should be like that of a father towards his children, particularly when any danger threatened the population {4.3.43}.

He should treat leniently, like a father, those in new settlements whose tax exemptions had ceased to be effective {2.1.18}. Discontented and impoverished people might be provoked to revolt; they may then kill their king or go over to the enemy {7.5.27; 1.19.28}.

The king should not tax the people unjustly because ‘that will make the people angry and spoil the very sources of revenue’ {5.2.70}.

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Both Chanakya and Jim Collins identified the SAME qualities in leaders

Those aware of BFN know that I recommend Jim Collins's leadership theory. An article shows that there is 100 per cent agreement between Chanakya and Jim Collins. In a sense, therefore this is the "kunji" of leadership. But, of course, Chanakya said MUCH more. I will distill his views separately, since I believe Chanakya's wisdom must form the basis of any leadership development program for India.


Modern-day management begins with a leadership team committed to the organization’s core values, purpose, mission, and vision. The same was true 2,400 years ago when Chanakya proceeded to help build an empire. He put vision, mission, and motivation ahead of everything else.

He then identified the need to focus on leadership requirements, organizational strategies, and human dimensions.


According to Chanakya, the essence of leadership lies in justice and ethics. According to Collins, it lies in Level 5 leadership where leaders channel their energies away from their own egos and focus on the good of their organizations. Both exhort leaders to concern themselves less with power, rewards, and recognition and more on serving the needs of the people they lead.

Qualities of character and temperament

Chanakya placed great emphasis on human resource development. He identified the basic non-technical qualities required for every effective executive: character, ability to concentrate, ability to think, ability to communicate, and ability to observe. He insisted that the king surround himself with people who possess these skills. Similarly, Collins emphasizes having the “right people on the bus” as the top priority for any executive. He summarizes the non-technical qualities required for leadership as attitude, knowledge, and skill.

The similarities between Chanakya and Collins continue in four key areas:

Chanakya saw self-discipline, integrity, courage, decisiveness, sensitivity towards others, humility, and selflessness in great leaders. He said that great leaders are sensitive to the needs, feelings, and motivation of the people they lead. Today, we call this servant leadership. “Intense will and humility are the most  important characteristics of leaders in the 21st century,” writes Collins; “[Level 5 leaders] strive to “build enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” He says that until today’s leaders make the transition to develop intense will and humility, their ethic deficiencies will negatively affect the performance and sustainability of their organizations.

Chanakya stressed the need for planning, saying that a failure to plan is a plan to fail. He also said that people should be firm about the goal but flexible with the process of achieving it. Likewise, Collins claims organizations are in desperate need of greater discipline: disciplined planning, disciplined people, disciplined governance, and disciplined allocation of resources. “Preserve the core, but stimulate progress,” he writes.

Chanakya taught that knowledge is important and cumulative, and that small differences in ability can lead to enormous differences in results. Therefore, he encouraged people to focus on acquiring knowledge in their pursuit of superior results. Similarly, Collins claims the barrier to growth is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge. Level 5 leaders have the humility to admit what they don’t know, and they do something about it. Recognizing the need for and diligently pursuing knowledge is supreme.

Results & Success
Chanakya says that success is no accident; it results from well thought actions aligned with focused vision. To sustain success, he says, organizations must implement a reliable system to collect real feedback and put corrective actions into place. Likewise, Collins writes that success comes through focus on the “Hedgehog Concept”, the intersection of each organization’s unique passion, best-in-the-world ability, and economic engine. Organizations that know their Hedgehog and operate within it are far more successful than those that don’t.

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Blog readers in Delhi: Please mark this lecture on Chanakya in your diaries

Balbir Sihag is visiting Delhi next month and will speak at the India International Centre at 5 pm on 15 November 2012 on Chanakya's work.

There is perhaps no greater expert on Chanakya's economic ideas than Balbir Sihag.

Prof. Sihag is happy to have young people attend the lecture. He believes that the older generation should pass on dharmic values and not ill-gotten wealth to the young."

I'm not sure if Arthashastra is understood even by Hindu leaders like Baba Ramdev. If they had understood Arthashastra, they would have promoted good policies for India, not mindless Jan Lokpal or other punitive solutions.

Anyway, please do attend this lecture if you can.

It would be good if you can send me an email confirming your participation so I can inform the organisers. There might not be enough places, so the sooner you let me know the better.

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Balbir Sihag on Chanakya (Kautilya) #4

Extract from Balbir S. Sihag's essay, Kautilya on Moral and Material Incentives, and Effort. I've reshuffled many paras/ sentences, apart from condensing them, in the interest of brevity and clarity.
The words incentives and economics have become almost synonymous. Kautilya recognized the principal-agent problem and suggested various mechanisms to induce agents to supply optimum effort. He implic­itly proposed a conceptual framework that was comprehensive and con­sisted of three components.
The first component called for matching the incentive to the agent. According to Kautilya’s conceptual framework, material incentives were intended to strengthen the practice of ethics and not to undermine it.
The second component involved matching the material incentive to a worker’s needs and position. He attempted to find the right mix of job security, efficiency wages, and sanctions (i.e., disincentives, such as investigations or audits, fines, and dismissal) to address the problem of moral hazard and promote economic efficiency. He realized a blend of moral and material incentives was not likely to work and needed to be combined with audits or supervision. His other incentive programs [were] bonuses to reward better quality and extra output, promotions, and job tenure for honesty.
Bureaucracy, and tendency towards corruption
According to Kautilya, the king could not run the country alone and there­fore needed to establish a bureaucracy to assist him.  “A king can reign only with the help of others; one wheel alone does not move (a chariot). Therefore, a king should appoint advisers (as councillors and ministers) and listen to their advice.”
Kautilya believed that “the intrinsically pure man is rare.” According to him, some bureaucrats might become corrupt and lazy: “Just as it is impossible to know when a fish moving in water is drinking it, so it is impossible to find out when government servants in charge of undertakings misappropriate money”. He added, “It is possible to know even the path of birds flying in the sky but not the ways of government servants who hide their [dishonest] income”.
Quality of selection, and reward
Kautilya presented not only a complete salary structure according to qual­ifications but also developed comprehensive procedures to verify the cre­dentials of potential candidates. “A councillor or minister of the highest rank should be a native of the state, born in a high family and controllable [by the king]. He should have been trained in all the arts and have logi­cal ability to foresee things. He should be intelligent, persevering, dexter­ous, eloquent, energetic, bold, brave, able to endure adversities and firm in loyalty. He should neither be haughty nor fickle. He should be amicable and not excite hatred or enmity in others”.
Kautilya stated, “Those who have all the qualities are to be appointed to the highest grade (as Councillors), those who lack a quarter to the middle grades and those who lack a half to the lowest grades”. He speci­fied the salaries of the highest grade between 4,000 and 48,000 panas, of the middle grade between 250 and 3,000 panas, and of the lowest grade between 60 and 120 panas. Interestingly, a salary of 48,000 panas for the chief of defense equaled the combined salaries of all other senior management officials (the four chief commanders [8,000 panas each] and four divisional commanders [4,000 panas each]).
Kautilya recommended a complete verification and evaluation of an appli­cant’s abilities and capabilities:
“Of these qualities, nationality, family background and amenability to discipline shall be verified from reliable people [who know the candi­date well]. The candidate’s knowledge of the various arts shall be tested by experts in their respective fields. Intelligence, perseverance and dex­terity shall be evaluated by examining his past performance while elo­quence, boldness and presence of mind shall be ascertained by inter­viewing him personally. Watching how he deals with others will show his energy, endurance, ability to suffer adversities, integrity, loyalty and friendliness. From his intimate friends, the King shall find out about his strength, health, and character (whether lazy or energetic, fickle or steady). The candidate’s amiability and love of mankind [absence of a tendency to hate] shall be ascertained by personal observation.”
According to Kautilya, a person should be appointed as a judge only if he had unbending moral values (the dharma test), and a person should be appointed as a treasurer or chancellor only if he was incorruptible (the artha test).
A perfect description of corrupt Congress and BJP
He described coercive practices as follows: “A decadent king . . . oppresses the people by demanding gifts, seizing what he wants and grabbing for himself and his favourites the produce of the country” [Sanjeev: This is what Nehru and his dynasty have done; and BJP]. He continued that such a king “fails to give what ought to be given and exacts what he cannot rightly take”; “indulges in wasteful expenditure and destroys profitable under­takings”; “fails to protect the people from thieves and robs them himself”; “does not recompense service done to him”; “does not carry out his part of what had been agreed upon”; and “by his indolence and negligence destroys the welfare of his people”.
Moreover, he believed in the rule of law and the protection of private property, which were considered essential for providing security and incentives to save and invest, and which also implied the exclusion of coercion as an instrument for accomplishing eco­nomic ends.
He was concerned about the prevalence of shirking and cor­ruption despite heavy emphasis on moral education. He realized that moral persuasion or reasoning alone was insufficient for making people behave honestly if they were lazy or opportunistic.
He introduced the concept of material incentives to complement the moral incentives. Both efficiency wages and supervision are required.

Chanakya's solution to corruption in a nutshell
Kautilya knew that incentives were a blunt instrument unless tailored to each person individually, that is, a matching of incentive-type to agent-type was critical for their effectiveness.

The king must lead by example

An employer’s ethical behavior had a positive effect on a worker’s effort. “A rajarishi is one who . . . has self-control, having conquered the [temptations] of the senses,” “cultivates the intellect by association with elders,” “is ever active in promoting the security and welfare of the peo­ple,” “endears himself to his people by enriching them and doing good to them,” and “avoid[s] daydreaming, capriciousness, falsehood and extrava­gance”. He continued, “A rajarishi shall always respect those coun­cillors and purohitas [the royal chaplain] who warn him of the dangers of transgressing the limits of good conduct, reminding him sharply (as with a goad) of the times prescribed for various duties and caution him even when he errs in private.” “If the king is energetic, his subjects will be equally energetic. If he is slack the subjects of the courtier, ignoring or not returning his greeting, neither giving a seat nor looking at him”.

According to Kautilya, a king should be impartial, benevolent, farsighted, disciplined, and ener­getic and set an example for his employees and subjects. The king “should look into the affairs with those who are present. With those who are not present he should hold consultations by sending out letters.”

Different solution for different people

He identified three types of agents: upright (moral), opportunistic (amoral), and wicked (immoral). 
A moral agent needs only persuasion to motivate him. A moral agent always worked hard whether material incentives were provided to him or not. An offer only of material incentives without any persuasion to a moral person might infuriate him. Material incen­tives alone without any regard to moral motivation might do more harm than good. His ideas may be expressed algebraically as follows. However, almost all contemporary economists practice value-neutral economics, that is, they ignore moral incentives. Economics is much more than material­ism.
All three instruments were needed to move an amoral agent from a low level of effort to the optimum level of effort. With that in view, he introduced material incentives to complement moral incentives and persuasion. It is not claimed by Kautilya that economic incentives transform a person from amoral to moral. Kautilya believed that “it is difficult to change intrin­sic nature.” Rather, the claim is a very modest one: that carefully designed incentives are likely to make an amoral agent behave like a moral one. [But] Kautilya believed that any unfair material incentive might do more harm than good. If the agent considers the package to be fair, and the prin­cipal to be ethical, he works harder. 
Kautilya considered many kinds of material incentives, such as efficiency wages, promotion, and job tenure, and the degree to which they matched the specific needs and position of an individual employee. He was perhaps the first economist who suggested the payment of efficiency wages. According to the theory of efficiency wages, the employer pays a wage that is higher than the market wage, so that the worker is not tempted to shirk and thereby lose his job.
Kautilya suggested matching material incentives to the specific rank of the employee. He suggested that the king should rely more on the payment of efficiency wages to upper-grade employees, such as the chief of the forces, councilors, the chancel­lor, the treasurer, the auditor, and ministers. On the other hand, the king should rely more on granting promotion and job tenure to the middle-and lower-grade employees, awarding prizes to soldiers, and giving gifts to piece-rate workers.

Kautilya advised the king to treat the councilors and ministers (about eighteen officials) with respect and dignity and compensate them hand­somely, since their wisdom and intelligence were the most important resource for the survival and economic growth of the country. He stated, "Some teachers hold might to be more important than the power of good counsel and judgment. [They argue:] however good a king’s anal­ysis and judgment, he thinks but empty thoughts if he has no power. Just as a drought dries out the planted seeds, good judgment without power produces no fruit.  Kautilya disagrees. The power of good counsel, [good analysis and good judgment] is superior [to sheer military strength]. Intelligence and [knowledge of] the science of politics are the two eyes [of a king]. Using these, a king can, with a little effort, arrive at the best judgment on the means, [the four methods of conciliation, sowing dissension etc.] as well as the various tricks, stratagems, clandestine practices and occult means [described in this treatise] to overwhelm even kings who are mighty and energetic.

Particularly the councilors were the most prized employees, and every effort was made—including the payment of a salary of 48,000 panas (a silver coin used as money)—to retain them.


Only the wicked one, who did not care for persuasion, might respond to incentives and supervision. Kautilya believed that “the evil one harms, even if treated well. Between a serpent and an evil man, the serpent is preferable. The serpent bites occa­sionally, but the evil man at every step.”

According to Kautilya, a decline in moral motivation would require payment of higher wages and also incurring an extra expenditure on monitoring to achieve the same level of output.

[Re: Motivation] Kautilya explained, the king should say to his troops, “I am as much a servant [of the State] as you are; we shall share the wealth of this state.” Kautilya continued, “Bards and praise-singers shall describe the heaven that awaits the brave and the hell that shall be the lot of cowards. They shall extol the clan, group, family, deeds and conduct of the warriors.” Kautilya emphasized three things: a common objective (service to the state), an eco­nomic incentive (“share the wealth”), and a moral incentive (“the heaven that awaits”). [Sanjeev: This is a very crucial point. When everyone sees an honest king/ruler, they redouble their efforts.]


Kautilya considered both the direct inspection of the work of the officials and an indirect one through consumers’ complaints. As he suggested, “The king shall have the work of Heads of Departments inspected daily, for men are, by nature, fickle and, like horses, change after being put to work. He believed that employees, if not inspected, might shirk.

Kautilya realized that it was physically not possible to supervise the chancellor and recommended efficiency wages and auditing to reduce cheating. He suggested that the chancellor and the treasurer be paid 24,000 panas annually, “enough to make them efficient in their work”. [But] Kautilya [added], “High officials shall . . . render accounts in full for their respective activities, without contradicting themselves”.

Tenure (and reward) for lower employees
Middle- and lower-grade employees, who might be highly risk-averse, would appreciate job tenure. Kautilya recommended that this group of employees, who were honest, efficient, and loyal, be pro­moted to permanent positions. But he also advised inspection so that these employees did not slack after getting tenure. Usually, economists put too much empha­sis on variability in an employee’s pay, but according to Kautilya, a safe working environment was equally important.
Kautilya recommended extra payments as an incentive to these workers so that they made products of better quality and also worked on holidays. As Kautilya suggested, "For better work [or greater productivity] women who spin shall be given oil and myrobalan cakes as a special favour."
Kautilya on Punishments

Kautilya was against the indiscriminate use of coercion. He was aware of the unethical use of power and he wanted to accomplish with incen­tives what was accomplished earlier by coercion. For example, Kautilya observed that “some teachers say: ‘Those who seek to maintain order shall always hold ready the threat of punishment. For, there is no better instrument of control than coercion.’ Kautilya disagrees”.  [Sanjeev: This is the great problem with the Jan Lokpal Bill and the mindless socialism preached by Arvind Kejriwal. It simply can't work.]

Kautilya recommended severe and certain statutory punishments (nor­mally monetary) for mismanagement and corruption. According to him, the magnitude of punishment should vary with the nature and severity of the mismanagement, whether it was due to ignorance, laziness, timidity, corruption, a short temper, arrogance, or greed on the part of the offi cial. Kautilya observed, “Those officials who have amassed money [wrong­fully] shall be made to pay it back; they shall [then] be transferred to other jobs where they will not be tempted to misappropriate and be made to dis­gorge again what they had eaten”. He continued: “An officer negli­gent or remiss in his work shall be fined double his wages and the expenses incurred”.

5. Conclusions

Kautilya was aware of the principal-agent problem, which arises whenever institutional structures are created. He explored many types of incentives to mitigate the harmful effects of the agency problem. He recommended moral motivation along with a judicious mix of efficiency wages and investigation to elicit optimum effort, honesty, and loyalty. Kautilya’s analysis provides several valuable insights. One is that, if pos­sible, an attempt should be made to match the incentive to the agent. Kautilya demonstrated that material incentives should be designed in such a way that they are perceived as fair so that moral motivation is not under­mined.
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