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Monday, September 22, 2003

Update: Brad has a nice response to the following post here.

I did not want to start out here with something not nice . But here it is.

Daniel Davies had an interesting and provocative post about Cancun in Crooked Timber. Dr. Brad De long responded to it in his weblog. He ended by saying:

But given the magnitude of the potential for government failure we have just witnessed in action, one has to have second thoughts about Davies's position as well. He phrases it as the noble and high-minded "ability of democratically elected governments to set the terms on which the ownership of the means of production is decided." But, in India at least, aren't we really talking about the ability of a Muslim-hating National Hinduist Party government to use its power over the economy to reward its friends, punish its enemies, and enrich its servants? You can be for the Singapore investment agenda. You can be against the Singapore investment agenda. But you are not allowed to be against it on the grounds that it is blocking the realization of a free society of associated producers.

I have a problem with this statement at various levels. Let me preface my comment by saying that I have a huge amount of respect for Brad's intellect. He obviously knows a lot more economics than I would ever learn in a lifetime and he obviously reads a lot more in a week than many would in a year. Having said that, let also say that I feel that his statement is sloppily argued and even more sloppily presented.

Firstly, I am assuming that by National Hinduist Party, Brad means the BJP. The central government in India is not a BJP government. BJP happens to be the majority partner in a coalition government of over 30 partners in which their ability to maneuver at will is constrained in various significant and insignificant ways by its coalition partners. BJP however happens to be the dominant party. But if I am not mistaken, they contribute less than half of the coalition total strength in the parliament. They had not so far been able to keep one of their central electoral promises, building that temple in Ayodhya, largely due to the intransigence of their partners. But for what it is worth, The Economist too presents the Indian government as the Hindu nationalist government, which is pretty much the bible for Western thinkers.

I also do not understand who precisely are the servants. I suspect that it is simply hyperbole. But since I do not know, I would let that pass.

Let us instead talk about a country which has a well documented record of uprooting democratically elected governments all the way from Iran to Chile, which has embraced repressive, dictatorial governments, which even recently seems to have used arguments offered by faked documentation (among other things) to get into a war where many people are dying every day, where there still are huge injustices some of which gets discovered and are corrected, while some others are relegated undiscovered to the dustbin of history.

Injustice is not exactly an Indian monopoly. By applying the same logic we can argue that trade really puts money into the hands of a country which is generally against democracy, which supports governments only when it suits them and tries to subvert governments when it does not. Should we now say that this is a democracy hating, lieing government that rewards its allies, punishes its opponents and blah blah blah?

But I will not. I will not because I have taken the trouble to learn something about this country and know its people. My understanding of USA is now a lot more nuanced for me to take such simplistic pot shots.

But for the sake of arguments, let us work on the basis of the statement that Brad made. Obviously, there is the specter of governmental corruption in India. But the industry in India (barring some prominent exceptions) is largely independent of serious political affiliation. Except for bribes that would directly benefit the ministers and/or their sidekicks, economic liberalization does not benefit BJP in a bigger way than it does other entities. In fact, BJPs political backbone is the small traders. They are the people who are getting hart the most by the increasing international trade. The geography that has benefited the most from the trade is the region over which BJP does not have any direct sway i.e. Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Obviously, trade touched everyone and the satellite townships like Gurgaon, Noida and Faridabad surrounding Delhi has benefited much. But in general, Northern India, which is the heart of BJP support base has not benefited anywhere near as much as the Southern states where BJP does not have any muscle.

I also do not see how Brad's logic extrapolates to the overall tenor of the argument that he was responding to. It does not seem to address that at all. And why single out India? Honestly, that puzzles me. Has he spoken out against trade with China because of Tienanmen Square/ Tibetans/ human rights/ because of the general status of Muslims in Sinkiang? Why are we suddenly suffering from such bouts of purity with respect to India?

There is so much that is logically, structurally wrong with that sentence as an answer to the original argument that I dont know where to start. I wrote this long rant largely because it touched me in the raw. I guess it touched me in the raw because the BJP is indeed a nasty piece of work. Its leadership is full of terrible, Neanderthal men whom the Vajpayees think that they are exploiting to stay in power. And India will pay a price one day. It would have taken generations to have really gotten over partition. And now we have Godha.

But unfortunately that had nothing to do with what Daniel Davies was saying. Brad used a loaded statement to make a flippant response. Unfortunately, he has a wide readership including me that takes what he says seriously. If it were the National Review, I would not have bothered.

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