Maximum Government, Minimum Governance?

by on April 14, 2017 at 12:23 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Travel | Permalink

In 2014, Narenda Modi campaigned on the slogan “maximum governance, minimum government”. It was a brilliant slogan that neatly captured India’s dichotomous problem, too much government and not enough capacity to actually govern. Since then, however, Modi’s government has not done much to fulfill its promise. The latest absurdity is a plan to govern the size of meal portions that restaurants may serve–apparently an attempt to fulfill Modi’s musings on the subject as if they were commands from the Maharaja. Add to this the absurd paid leave maternity bill–something akin to having the US government mandate seatbelts on flying cars, not exactly wrong but not exactly dealing with a problem relevant to most people either. Top off with the Supreme Court’s ban on any liquor sales within 500 meters of a highway (Mumbai, by the way, will follow Rajasthan in recategorizing highways within the city as roads to get around the ban). Put it all together and it looks like we are back to the old India model of maximum government, minimum governance.

In an excellent piece, Rupa Subramanya asks exactly the right question:

…how exactly is intervening in food portion sizes, a matter which in any sensible country would be left to the market system to decide, an example of good governance?

As a first principle of good governance, the government must recognize the limitations of state capacity and prioritize in areas in which it wishes to intervene in the market economy, based on a cost benefit analysis and grounded in a market failure it’s trying to correct.

…Modi campaigned on good governance. It’s time for him to start delivering on that promise.

1 Ramu April 14, 2017 at 1:09 am

Absolutely right. Modi Govt and the honorable judges of our supreme court have gone bonkers!!

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2 GoneWithTheWind April 14, 2017 at 10:40 am

The real purpose of government, from the viewpoint of politicians, is to acquire more power and money, to appease special interest groups and to do those things which make you electable Mandating smaller portion size for meals makes the poor think you love them and it makes them feel good that you are slapping down everyone who is not poor. It’s almost as good as giving away free stuff to get votes.

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3 Saint-Frusquin April 14, 2017 at 1:23 am

France also regulates food portions size, for kids & adults, in various ways.

So-called liberal countries even invented a false science named nutritionism to help regulate with dogmatic arguments food portions sizes & composition. And some of these countries even don’t have a public health service to speak of, and no apparent interest in doing so except sadism

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4 Axa April 14, 2017 at 1:36 am

Then, what is the important thing to do first?

This rant is similar to a Marxist one where everything is secondary to an abstract obscure ideal. The important goal is never well defined, it changes according to the dictator’s will.

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5 Alex Tabarrok April 14, 2017 at 2:26 am

Hundreds of millions of Indians don’t have access to a toilet, running water or electricity. I think any of these is a higher priority than food portions.

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6 blah April 14, 2017 at 4:20 am

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma

(which is not to say that stating an intention to implement an existing regulation that the portion sizes be listed – vastly different from restricting the portion sizes as the blog implies – is a great idea).

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7 shrikanthk April 14, 2017 at 7:19 am

Modi did launch the “Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan” specifically addressing the things you mention. Several hundred thousand toilets have been built in the past 3 years across the country.

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8 Axa April 14, 2017 at 9:46 am

Indeed, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is described as Modi’s flagship program by the media. Can a culture be changed in a few years? Will the program be effective? We’ll see. However, it’s a stretch to say the PM’s team is ignoring the sanitation issue. Sanitation is one of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, if I remember well India is rated as one of those countries that “improves”.

Now, an attempt at humor…………..perhaps, I’ve been brainwashed by big government. I’m happy drinking beer and wine from glasses with a volume mark on them. I’ve become a serf :/

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9 Asher April 14, 2017 at 3:25 am

Modi’s government is the Maharaja. It is the supreme ruler of India. So if the meal portion law passes it will in fact be a command from the Maharaja.

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10 Sanjay April 14, 2017 at 7:47 am

I find Professor Tabarrok awfully insightful but this is another one of those posts on governance by the BJP that makes me feel like everyone’s taking crazy pills. Or at least that he is.

One keeps reading this stuff about Modi’s promises and faileures on liberalizing India’s business climate and it’s nuts. Modi is a genocidaire. His government has actively promoted a chauvinistc and destructive view of Indian society that will erode it and leave it unstable and vulnerable while disenfranchising many and encouraging wackadoo history and science in service of the bigotry and violence that Modi has been crreful to promote in order to keep his grip on power.

In the face of this we keep reading Western journalists bemoaning Modi’s failure to liberalize. Professor Tabarrok, that’s nuts. If Modi had followed through on regulations and economics while keeping the social and cultural message he’s ridden to the Prime Ministership, surtely you’d agree that it’s still a grotesquely worse government than “the old India model.” I am perplexed by the desie of external commenters to ignore the huge issue for the small one.

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11 polyglot April 14, 2017 at 11:13 am

Modi stopped ethnic cleansing in Gujarat. This is not to say that ethnic cleansing won’t happen. It will when incentives are right. People who want ethnic cleansing nevertheless fail to implement ethnic cleansing when it is incentive incompatible for them to do so. This is because ethnic cleansing- though great fun- involves transfer of resources. The guys doing the killing and raping get miffed when they see other guys garner all the profits. Shurawardy, who started the ethnic cleansing associated with Partition, realised too late that he had lost Calcutta because Hindu mobs were bigger than Muslim mobs. So he sat with Gandhi till the rioters realised that they ought to have getting paid for killing people. They spontaneously turned to the two London returned barristers, Gandhi and Shurawardy, because it is the natural instinct of the criminal class to turn to upper class barristers for sympathy. Very piteously they vowed to lay down their daggers and stop killing innocent people till they were properly remunerated to do so. Mahatma Gandhi naturally took this as proof that sleeping naked with his niece had endowed him with ‘soul force’. If a guy stops killing because he feels he ought to get paid for killing, this is proof that the ‘old India model’, which consisted of talking hypocritical shite, actually works.

To be clear, there never was any ‘old India model’ which prevented ethnic cleansing. On the contrary, India has always had robust state mechanisms to accommodate ethnic cleansing or other coercive means to limit the freedoms of minorities or weaker sections of society. Take what was happening in Bihar in 1917. Your ‘old India model’ says what happened then was Gandhi fighting the indigo planters in Champaran. The truth is that was a sideshow. What really happened was the Shahabad anti-cow slaughter riots which spread across the State- including Champaran. The Brits did send out soldiers but the mobs melted away and regrouped till the Brits ran out of steam. The Muslims- who were better educated and had farsighted leaders- essentially conceded the point and moved on in a patriotic spirit. Many Muslim politicians were very able and also hugely popular- like Prof Abdul Bari who is still a legend on the Left. But these guys got assassinated or pushed out. It is a joke to say that the Maharashtrian RSS had anything to teach Bihari Hindus about how to establish hegemony. The difference is that criminal alliances in Bihar are caste based and follow traditional patterns whereas those in Maharashtra are more market driven.
U.P Muslims suffered more under Mrs Gandhi in the early eighties than they ever have in Gujarat or Maharashtra. That’s why they switched to the Samajwadi parties and their position did improve. The truth is when Muslims do well, the Economy does well because Muslims are predominantly in the private sector and Muslim officials tend to be more cultured and rational than deeply stupid Hindus like myself. Still, the old India model was also the old Pakistan model. Jinnah didn’t want ethnic cleansing- his wife was Parsi and daughter married a Christian. Liaquat didn’t want ethnic cleansing- his wife was originally Christian. Both lost a lot of property. Still, ethnic cleansing happened and, later on, Ahmadiyas were targeted and then even Shias started to feel the heat. My point is that the ‘old India model’ wasn’t Secular any more than the British Raj wasn’t racist.

Why pretend otherwise?

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12 shrikanthk April 14, 2017 at 11:36 am

You cannot be serious!

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13 polyglot April 14, 2017 at 11:47 am

Sir, plainly you are Manuvadi and look down on acharabrasht ‘untouchables’ like me. Why you say I can’t be Sirius? Must I then be Lassie- the other big dog star?
There is a proper logical method (pramana) to be used in such matters which I have illustrated above. Sastra’s enjoin use of only such means in debate. Mind it kindly.

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14 shrikanthk April 14, 2017 at 12:14 pm

You have not adhered to any principle of Nyaya or Tarka Sastra in your argument.

“The truth is when Muslims do well, the Economy does well because Muslims are predominantly in the private sector and Muslim officials tend to be more cultured and rational than deeply stupid Hindus like myself”

This is no argument. These are ad-hominem musings.

15 polyglot April 14, 2017 at 4:13 pm

The following statement is trivially true- ‘You have not adhered to any principle of Nyaya or Tarka Sastra in your argument.’
However, the implication is false because Sanatan Dharma never admitted Navya Nyaya’s concept of ‘ownership’- including in the context of this blog, doxastic self-ownership- considering it to be a mere ‘samskar’ and infinitely defeasible for that reason.

I used a nonsensical type of argument based on slesha or punning because, from the p.o.v of Hinduism, that is all that doxastic arguments based on ‘self ownership’ or ‘the bourgeois strategy’ in Evolutionary Game Theory amount to. As Lord Krishna shows, Samkhya is compatible with Sanatan Dharma. Umasvati and Nagarjuna proved the same result for Jainism and Buddhism. No doubt, we can still slag each other off because I am Smartha and you are some different type of, no doubt more morally worthy, Smartha but we know this issue has been resolved already by our respective Acharyas.
I could not have used an ad hominem argument because I wasn’t in fact attacking any body else’s. I simply say, as one South Indian to another, in Bihar, our ability to get along with Muslims- the fact they trust us- is why we make good IAS officers or whatever. The local Hindus sometimes express surprise that us darkies (I’m very dark, you may not be) know Sanskrit. But they adjust quickly. They don’t need us to teach them their own Religion! They do need us to make sure the local Muslims feel we have a meritocratic system and so give their best in whatever scheme is being mooted. My dark skin and the fact that I went to the LSE also wins over the Dalits. My point is, every community has a few people of great talent. I lack talent but as big fat ‘Madrasi’ with a funny Hindi accent, small town Bihar was able to use me to build bridges and establish a ‘coalition of the able’. That is the beauty of Hinduism and the reason my people would go for higher education to the ‘cow belt’. For me, it is not a pejorative term. Why? I have met the people in the villages. There is a reason Bihar is Holy Land of 3 Religions. Sikhs and Muslims also have reason to revere this extraordinary place.
I am not joking when I say Bihari Muslims were and are to be cherished. Of course, their throats could have been cut long ago. Those ‘Pandys’ are very good at martial arts. Slow to anger but not inferior to any.
Let us be honest with each other. Suppose you have a crore to spend on a Development project. Who would you trust for a mission critical contract? Mr. Aslam who has experience and comes from a good family and village, or Mr. Shukla whose own mother, after you sit with her in the puja-room, tells you not to trust him but please help him overcome lure of intoxication?

Look, I’m not trying to pick a fight with you or ‘virtue signalling’. I know very well what has happened to good families in that Province. In fact, I went to see a real gangster who was ruling the roost till recently. He did not behave well, but I pretended to be or am even more vulgar because I iz blek. The man saw reason.

The same thing happens in Hindu communities. People being persecuted by gangsters go to the Muslim officer. It’s as though we are more shameless in oppressing our own but get some minimal sense of shame when there is some ‘black Madrasi’ or ‘infidel’ politely intervening.
Kipling said ‘they little know England who only England know’. That is quite stupid. However when it comes to India or Hinduism or Islam or anything which is essentially ‘larger than the World’- this stricture holds.
I apologise if I have offended you- I probably have, I’m stupid that way!- but let me say people like you tend to treat people of other creeds or regions MORE not less fairly. That is why India coheres. We love diversity because the injustices we suffer arise from the ‘kleshas’ of our own near and dear. Law itself is a ‘samskar’ but it is defeasible such that these ‘kleshas’ are purged.
There is such a thing as an indigenous ‘Sanathan’ Jurisprudence superior to Ciceronian ‘Natural Law’. Ignorant people- even ‘educated into ignorance’ people like me- feel it in our bones when we go to a Teetha- which, of course, is nothing but the ‘Sangam’- or confluence of the Divine with the Utilitarian- of the people who live there. There is a novel, ‘Samlee’s Daughter’ which deals with this theme.

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16 Sanjay April 14, 2017 at 12:02 pm

I grant, and it’s not really arguable, that governments in India (and for that matter in the US) have always had a certain ingrained ethnic discrimination. But that’s not comparable to what this government is embracing.

Moreover, “Modi stopped ethnic cleansing in Gujarat” is flat-out loopy. I remember the “equal and opposite reaction” crap. Nobody in that crowd had any delusions whatsoever as to what Modi meant. And again, Professor Tabarrok (and others) are plain nuts to skip past the genocidal intent and discuss the frickin’ _economic policy_. It has a “other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” craziness.

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17 polyglot April 14, 2017 at 4:51 pm

I respect your values. However, as an economist, I have to say that Modi really did change things in Gujarat.
Let me explain why I believe this is the case. Firstly, I’ve always been close to Gujerati communities in London where got my first degree and have worked and taught and consulted and so forth for many years.
I know it was very difficult to refinance for non-Bohra Muslims in Gujerat in the first few years of Modi. That’s why I thought he was, if not a bad guy himself, then part of something bad. But, from about 2006 things changed. I expected a reversal after the Mumbai terror attack but no. Sociological polarisation has gone hand in hand with a reduction in risk premium. There are other markers. Sunni Muslims have greatly improved Educationally. It was the economically rising Ghanchi (same caste as Modi) Muslim in Godhra who signalled their ‘Ashraf’- i.e. Dominance/ Leadership status- with a very regrettable and heinous riot. But, what is important is they have done better and better and gone from just driving trucks to becoming sophisticated players like the Patels whom I know very well.
The horizon has changed. Muslims now tend to have better education and servicing their business-growing needs affords employment to older ‘mercantile caste’ people of whatever Religion.
The Brits may have thought that once India became independent, the ‘natives’ would repudiate all contracts and rape or enslave any Whites they could lay their hands on. Lord Wavell- a brave soldier- wanted to evacuate Whites from Hindu majority provinces towards what is now Pakistan with its Muslim majority. Wavell was being silly.
Economics is Economics. People behave rationally. For three decades anglophone Indians have been saying that the BJP is a Fascist party- once in power they will enact Kristallnacht after Kristallnacht- and, finally, in 2002, we thought we had the smoking gun.
Dear Sanjay, this is cognitive dissonance, nothing more. We all make mistakes. As American or British or Swedish citizens, we are no longer part of the Indian polity. The fact that we may identify in a hyphenated manner does not require us to tell stupid lies. Virtue signalling can proceed along more rational and alethic lines.
I suggest- though, full disclosure, I am not in fact a certified therapist in this regard- you redirect your undoubted literary talents to the cultivation of that now extensive type of fan-fiction which features Akhilesh and Rahul fighting the good fight for Secular Values in a manner which explores eco-feminist issues regarding deep anal penetration.

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18 shrikanthk April 14, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Someone once asked me to understand the liberal perspective that vilifies Modi. The reasons for this vilification are deep rooted. It is partly because Mr Modi represents a departure from what we have come to expect from our leaders.

He is loud. He is vulgar. He is direct. He is low brow. But yes, he is also smart. And very effective at most things that he does. For much of the elite establishment this is an odd assortment of qualities/traits. How can a guy as brash and gross as him enjoy as much success? How can this guy occupy the same office that was once graced by distinguished gentlemen like Mr Nehru – the man who wrote “Discovery of India” or his daughter – the woman with that graceful manner and charm, or Mr Vajpayee – that moderate “Hindu” leader who was also such a gracefully discreet alcoholic and womanizer, in addition to being a poet of refinement.

Mr Modi lacks the grace and pretence of these distinguished predecessors of his. He is a puritan from the hinterland – a man who represents India, warts and all. A man who embodies both Indian virtues as well as Indian shortcomings and Indian prejudices. A man who reflects us. And this is a change that is too hard to digest for many people – on both the Left as well as the Right (as indicated by the distaste shown by refined “right wingers” like Mr Advani and Shourie for this man).

19 Peldrigal April 20, 2017 at 8:38 am

So in your book advocating for ethnic cleansing, intimidating ethnic minorities until they lose their business, and taking their places in that, is good and praiseworthy policy?
I have bad news for you…

20 gbz April 14, 2017 at 8:30 am

Prof.Tabarrok, for the sake of objectivity and credibility, pls check the details. There is no law to this effect and the discussion is around requiring restaurants to ‘specify’ the size of portions. There is no plan to determine what the amount should be. This essentially not very different from food labeling in the US. You make what you want but lay out clearly what it contains. That is all it is.

Regarding supreme court order, yes, that is only latest case of the highest court playing benign dictator. One, the supreme court has nothing to do with modi. Two, its history of ridiculous decision making has been growing long every day for a very long time. From mandating national anthems at movies to banning diesel vehicles overnight, the supreme court has effectively become the biggest wild card in indian policy making.

@sanjay: you need to check the dictionary for genocide. fulminating against straw men is mostly comical, check your prescriptions.

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21 Edgar April 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Fake news promulgated by a Commonwealth of Virginia apparatchik. Foreign interference in Indian elections. I demand an investigation.

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23 TallDave April 17, 2017 at 12:49 am

The more you watch Indian politics the harder it is to believe democracy has ever worked anywhere.

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