India, and American-style conservatism

Recently there was a Doper from India who insisted that governments should not collect (as much) money in taxes, because A) Governments are corrupt; and B) They don’t do a good job of spending it. Yesterday I was listening to NPR, and they had a story about an Indian cricketer. Only about one-tenth of the tickets for his final match were available to the hoi polloi; the rest being reserved for corporations, governments, and People With Connections. They mentioned India’s meritocracy. Meritocracy is the philosophy that individuals gain power through their own efforts. If you work hard enough, you reap the rewards. If you don’t, then you get what you ‘deserve’.

It seems, from this Doper’s posts, that many people in India feel that individual success is more important than the greater good, and that it is given that governments are corrupt. I disagree, of course; but I wonder: How widespread is this belief in the meritocracy in India?

Hello. I popped across this while looking for recent threads on India, and since I’m probably the doper you refer to, allow me to set a couple of things straight. First of all, you sorely mischaracterise my position. I have taken no stand on how much or little money government should collect in taxes. I have merely said that government should only spend it on providing(or reducing)items that are public goods i.e goods and services such that that nobody can reasonably be excluded from their effect, and that using some of the goods/services does not reduce the quantity available to be used for others. The easiest goods and services that can be thus classified are things like pollution, law and order, national defence, vaccination, sanitation. Others for which a good case can be made out include infrastructure, primary education and primary healthcare.

My contention was that using tax collection to provide private goods not only makes it unlikely that these goods will be provided effectively, but it also reduces the focus on provision of public goods, which ought to be government’s primary focus because the market cannot do a good job of providing public goods, while it does an excellent job of providing private goods. This experience has been replicated time and again in every single country that has dabbled at any length with socialism. Provision of both public and private goods suffers and the system causes deep and widespread suffering even while it purports to help people. China and India are both excellent examples because switching away from socialism to more market based economies has (in the space of 20 or so years - almost immediately, as these things go) helped HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people rise out of poverty. 600 million in China, more than 200 million in India. Please pause and reflect on those numbers. They are so large that it is easy to not be able to appreciate them.

The other thing that dabbling in socialism does is it makes it easier for crony capitalism of the sort that you and I both likely detest to take root. The example that you get from your news story is a perfect example of this, and that’s the other thing that I want to set straight. The mention of meritocracy is entirely laughable. The situation in India was such that government controlled everything. After the liberalisation, it got marginally better, but it still controls too much. The upshot is that pretty much only political connections could have gotten you into that stadium. And of course money does buy political connections, except that the money then goes into political pockets, not the tax kitty. And that’s a travesty. I do favour a market based solution to this. The tickets should have been auctioned off, and the money used to improve public goods. Think of it as a voluntary tax, and those who most wanted to see the match and were best able to pay for it would have gotten to attend, everyone else would have gotten to benefit from improved public goods.

Instead, with politicians so heavily involved with sports administration because the role of government used to be everything, we had the sorry state that we had.

As for how widespread my views are - I can’t say. Plenty of the middle class dislikes the government intensely, and recognises that its massive involvement in the economy has only hurt the people. Politicians of course, are similar to those everywhere. They have no principles, and for a few votes will adopt populist positions that go against the lessons that our post independence missteps and the resulting 5 decades spent by over half a billion people in wrenching poverty should have burnt into our collective souls.

Finally let me say that you’re also wrong in that I value individual success as being above the greater good. As is hopefully clear from my post, I view individual success as being the best means to achieve the greater good. Individual actions need to be regulated when they impact public goods(per definition above) and government is extremely important for this. But I’m more distrustful of government than I am of individuals. I find that the with a too strong government, those individuals who would otherwise have cheated/tricked you, will just become part of the government and force you instead. And it will be worse because you will have no recourse