Ideas Of India is Shruti Rajagopalan’s new podcast about India. This is going to be an excellent podcast, well worth subscribing to. Shruti’s first guest is Ajay Shah discussing his book with Vijay Kelkar, In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy. As you may recall, I called In Service, the new Arthashastra, the book every policy maker and future policy maker should be given while being told, “before you do anything, read this!”
Here’s one bit from Ajay in the podcast:
[S]tate capacity is very hard to change. It evolved very slowly, but it is something you learn. There’s a learning by doing for a republic to learn to achieve state capacity. So we would tell a more constructive story of saying,” Pick a few battles, do a few things, learn how to do them well.” Then maybe in the future you might like to creep out, while understanding that these are 20-year, 40-year, 80-year, hundred-year journeys. Don’t think that these things can be solved in two years.
…There’s a quote in the book from Kaushik Basu where he said that we have libertarianism of necessity, and we have libertarianism of choice. In India, we have to do libertarianism of necessity because we every day confront the malfunctioning state institutions. We’ve always got to think, can this work? Would it go wrong? We’re surrounded by unchecked coercive power in the hands of very frail state institutions, and that creates limits on state capacity. So I think that’s the way our lived experience in India has brought us.
Exactly right and very consistent with the argument that Rajagopalan and I make in Premature Imitation and India’s Flailing State:
In the alternative view put forward here…presumptive laissez-faire is the optimal form of government for states with limited capacity and also the optimal learning environment for states to grow capacity.