*India Grows at Night: A Liberal Case for a Strong State*

by on November 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm in Books, Current Affairs, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new book by the excellent Gurcharan Das and it makes an excellent case for the relevance of a classical liberal approach to the problems of India.  Note the subtitle!  You can buy the book here.

1 Hal I November 15, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Totally unrelated, but something that I figure Tyler and Alex would like to know about/did know about but haven’t posted on/did post on but I missed it.


Duke, Northwestern, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Emory, Wash U. and others to offer online courses collaboratively for credit. Seems like a big move for online education. Thought I’d leave it here.

2 Duke of Qin November 15, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I’ve come to realize that the gross majority of Indian “intellectuals” are dangerously in love with the sound of their own voice and are incapable of recognizing the difference between intent and action. That is to say the act of saying or writing something becomes conflated with the act itself. Leading to self congratulatory behavior despite nothing having been accomplished.

Indias problems are legion and the proposals to fix them even more so but rarely have I seen immediate actionable advice. Take for example the water issue. I was advised even against using tap water to brush my teeth. It would be a simple matter to set aside a little land, some pumps, headworks equipment, aeration tanks, etc and build yourself a wastewater treatment plant. A 10 mgd facility wouldn’t take more than a few acres but could provide a hundred thousand with clean water. It wouldn’t be that expensive to buildt or operate but it would prevent so many children from pointlessly shiting themselves to death. Increase productivity by reducing the disease burden. Lower malnutrition rates and health care costs, etc.

It is a simple and actionable plan yet I have never heard a single Indian advocating it.

3 whatsthat November 15, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Advocate it to the Indians then.

Then maybe your comment may sound a little less self congratulatory.

4 derek November 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Indians seem to be doing their own advocating but finding the best place to do it is elsewhere. There are thriving communities of immigrants from that part of the world in my country. I suspect that the barriers to a proposal such as this are bureaucratic corruption.

5 jorod November 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm

U.S. is becoming India….

6 shrikanthk November 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Why do “intellectuals” the world over love the word “liberal” and so squeamish about the word “conservative”.
I think America is the only country that uses the words “conservative” and “liberal” appropriately.

When someone calls for free markets, limited government involvement in economy, strong defence and a strict enforcement of rule of law and adherence to constitution, then he should be called a “conservative”. There is no better word. The usage of the word “liberal” for such stances is misleading.

7 prakash November 15, 2012 at 10:04 pm

Gurcharan das is using the old definition of liberal, the classic variety. A conservative in an indian context would be a casteist monarchist.

8 Ranjit Suresh November 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Anyone who looks around at a hospital in a democracy like America and notices who works in the janitorial staff and cafeteria, in the billing department, as x-ray technologists, RN’s, cardiologists, and surgical oncologists can see that liberalism inevitably reproduces a caste system. Of course, we’re supposed to pretend all these demographics are equal in some intangible, unidentifiable way.

9 Cliff November 15, 2012 at 11:39 pm

I don’t understand. In India, the castes are all the same genetic population, right?

10 bunker brown November 16, 2012 at 3:35 am

The ‘lower’ classes are more ‘negroid’, more ‘black’, while the ‘upper’ classes are more ‘Aryan’, more ‘white’.

11 Corporate Serf November 16, 2012 at 10:14 am

You should take a look at the old “Gene Expression” blog. Google it, the old blog is probably dead but you will find links to the newer blog.

Anyway, the short answer is “it depends on the definition of same”. The genetic variation in the subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, perhaps even Burma/Myanmar) is much larger than in Europe or America, but probably way smaller than in Africa. It also depends on what you are measuring, which chromosome/ mitochondrial dna, SNPs, or particular proteins. I don’t follow this topic for some years now, but occasionally read, and the last I know (probably some years old) there was some dependence on geography, and there was definitely some difference between the general castes and the “tribal populations”, but I don’t recall the difference between castes, whether “upper” or “lower”. I suspect the sample size needs would be large.

12 Rahul November 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

If they were indeed the same genotype, how does one explain the grossly different phenotypes?

13 So Much For Subtlety November 16, 2012 at 4:02 am

The First Lady, for better or worse, is the daughter of a hospital janitor. The President is the son of an immigrant.

I think Americans have some reason to assume they don’t have a caste system. But perhaps you can tell me when the last President or Prime Minister of India had a wife who was the daughter of a sweeper.

14 shrikanthk November 16, 2012 at 6:54 am

In India the differences across castes are far more enormous that what you get to see between races in US (even historically).
So if you don’t find daughters/sons of sweepers doing too well, it ain’t necessarily because of conscious discrimination today.
As Sowell often says “people have histories” and several millenia of intellectual/physical underdevelopment can’t be rectified in a span of a generation or two.

15 Sam November 16, 2012 at 3:09 am

I think you are confused by the contemporary American usage of those words. If you feel the need to ask why all the men except Daddy are marching out of step, maybe you should stop and think for a moment.

16 Brian Donohue November 16, 2012 at 8:52 am


17 Nathan W November 17, 2012 at 8:56 am

Because liberals wanted to liberalize markets (open them up). Because liberals wanted to be free, they wanted less role for government and church in the state.

Conservatives wanted to conserve things, keep them the same, follow tradition.

Somehow Conservatives ended up taking up the right for trade, etc., but they still seem to cling on to old traditions of wanting to throw in jail or go to war with anyone who thinks differently from them.

Look to French, liberte, which means freedom, to understand that the very roots of liberalism and liberals are founded in the desire to have greater freedom from an intrusive state. It was only the realization that poverty and social inequality means that not all people can exercise their freedoms, at which point in time liberals and socialists become confounded. And where you get terms like a “liberal socialist democracy” where people want freedom (liberal), and want the government to help its citizens have the capacity to achieve their potential (socialist) … in this sense, conservatives would prefer to conserve the status quo where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, unless they climb out of the gutter, which statistically speaking is both very difficult and relatively rare.

And just to mess with notions of the spectrum, don’t forget that anarchists (extreme left, if you will) and libertarians (extreme right, if you will) want exactly the same thing: the end of government. Looking at the facts, conservatives typically want more and more government, primarily to fight wars against countries they don’t like and to track down and incarcerate people who do stuff they don’t like: some freedom lovers on the US right eh?

18 GiT November 15, 2012 at 10:36 pm

“When someone calls for free markets, limited government involvement in economy, strong defence and a strict enforcement of rule of law and adherence to constitution”

That’s liberalism. You know, the political movement that grew out of an emerging bourgeois/merchant/business class, against the entrenched power of kings and nobles.

19 shrikanthk November 15, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Well, I am not defining “conservative” as a “defender of status-quo”. It’s difficult to define what is a “conservative” stance using that definition because status-quo keeps changing. That’s why I think the 19th century definitions haven’t aged well and specific to that era.

To me, “Conservatism” implies a world view that shuns grandiose visions and limits concentration of power and supports the traditional function of govt – which is to protect people and enforce contracts.

“Liberalism” implies a world view that embraces grandiose visions and supports a non-traditional conception of govt where its role as an “economic stabilizer” is overplayed and the traditional role of being a “protector of people” is underplayed.

20 Cliff November 15, 2012 at 11:41 pm

Liberalism means letting people do as they wish.

21 GiT November 16, 2012 at 1:12 am

But conservatism keeps changing, depending on what innovations others are currently advocating. That makes “defenders of the status quo” a rather apt definition.

“The” traditional function of government is definitely not to protect people and enforce contracts. The traditional function of government for a long time was to aggrandize the land-holdings of men with weapons and castles. And to defend Christendom. Legal and police functions were there, but not exactly central. Defense and the enforcement of contracts is the traditional function of liberal government.

“Liberalism” was a grandiose vision supporting a non-traditional conception of government. (Rule by Parliament? And the House of Commons specifically? Ridiculous.)

22 shrikanthk November 16, 2012 at 3:31 am

“Defenders of the status-quo” definition would mean that the Communists were the conservatives in 80s Soviet Union. Or the Castro regime is the conservative establishment in Cuba today. That would make it a pointless term without a consistent meaning around the world.

That’s why the American use of the terms makes more sense. It corresponds nicely with what Thomas Sowell calls the “conflict of visions” – the constrained vision associated with the conservatives and the unconstrained vision of the liberals/radicals.

23 GiT November 16, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Old guard communists weren’t conservative relative to those advocating glasnost, perestroika, and the end of Communism and its replacement with a market system, through a radical program of “shock therapy”? Those were the “conservatives?

The American use of the term makes more sense for some Americans. It does not make more sense for anyone else.

24 Miley Cyrax November 15, 2012 at 11:47 pm

Duh guys, liberal means liberal, except when it means conservative.

The words “liberal” and “conservative” often obfuscate more than they elucidate, and often encourage unnecessary tribalism and Seinfeldian rooting for laundry.

25 Nathan W November 17, 2012 at 8:58 am

Too true. They serve many useful functions, but it seems that you’re all too often correct. Conservatives will say “liberal” as though the reader should understand it is an insult, and liberals do the same.

26 Sanjeev Sabhlok November 15, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Tyler, Thanks for posting about Gurcharan’s book. I was fortunate to see an early draft and provide comment.

As part of the action plan to bring liberty and good governance in India, we’ve launched a policy competition yesterday with about $10K in prize money. Gurcharan has contributed Rs.25,000 to this as well.

Would you like to read about this (particularly the policy template) and comment? I believe this might well be a world-first.


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