Econ Mom on Myopic Politicians

Finally, the monsoon session of the Parliament wound up. I am disgusted. And that does not even begin to express what I’m feeling.

When the monsoon session of the Parliament was announced, it was largely expected that the Direct Tax Code and the GST Bill would be tabled. There would be discussion on the land acquisition issue and the Parliament would mandate the way in which land could or could not be acquired/ transferred/ used for industrial projects and projects of social significance.

Instead, what we’ve seen is one of the most disgusting shows of immaturity. Waving placards, slogan shouting, throwing paper in the air.

“It’s so not done!” I exclaimed furiously to Hubby in the morning whilst reading the newspaper. “I am not even very upset about their distasteful behaviour. What I am really upset about is that there is no plan for the future. Not only have they lost an excellent opportunity to get the bills going, they are also creating some crazy cost of Rs.6 crore per day by stalling the Parliament. When the NDA was in power, they did not hesitate to block bills. And now the UPA is dishing out the same treatment. How can we go ahead when Parliamentarians behave like this? Don’t they understand the issues? What is their problem?”

After fretting and fuming to the only audience I had (a reluctant Hubby), I did the only sensible thing I could. I calmed down. And went to work, thereby making sure I act in the most unparliamentary fashion possible and make my positive contribution to the GDP. After having made sure that GDP from the training vertical was alive and kicking (though many a times my students make me feel that I am actually creating a great disservice to them), it was time to visit my ophthalmologist in the evening.

I was experiencing a strain on my eyes and was sure that my eyesight had worsened in the past month. Lil One had skipped along just for the fun of it. When I told the doctor about the issue, she exclaimed “Oh, but that’s unusual. At your age, your vision should not worsen.” I told her emphatically I was having trouble seeing objects in the distance and reading billboards.

“Are you having trouble reading fine print?”

“Well, no. I am really able to read books well. And I am reading them by the dozen. No strain.”

“That’s really strange. At your age, you are supposed to have a problem reading fine print.”

Well, I thought irritably, this is really too much. How can she tell me what I’m supposed to be suffering from? She put some drops into my eyes to dilate the pupils and I sat there helpless, with stingy eyes, feeling resentful about Doc and Lil One, who were having a blast gossiping about me.

Lil One, who prides himself on his scientific knowledge, was in top form, seeing that I was not really in a position to retort. “She always has the wrong kind of issues,” he told my ophthalmologist rather authoritatively. “It is really too much. Myopic at 40!”

How interesting! I thought from behind stinging eyes. It’s myopia! Had you been an economist, Lil One, you’d have met someone who is myopic at 68. Independent, but myopic. Powerful, but myopic. Even worse, policy maker, and myopic. Can see close quarters. Only wants to see close quarters. From one election to another. Near-sighted. Government of India.

Political parties are genetically prone to myopia and also have a life-style that promotes it. Their basic objective function is to be voted back to power and hence their decisions pertaining to economic reforms are essentially about getting political mileage rather than about giving long-run reforms continuity to the country. They do not mind inflation, if it brings in the growth that supports their election prospects. They do not mind skewed growth patterns, so long as the sectors which would support them monetarily benefit from the skew. They essentially think short term and live for 5 years in the fear of not living post-5 years. Not exactly a life style that promotes far-sightedness. Since the Government is essentially run be a political party with a short term political goal, the Government of India as a policy making agency necessarily suffers from myopia issues.

How can then the voting bank expect a more responsible, far-sighted economic response from a political party that is essentially near-sighted? Or is this asking for the impossible?

I can think of two correction mechanisms which could work towards reducing the myopia. One would be the presence of more educated and forward-looking people within parties, who could have a vision about the future, at least at a personal level. And we have seen increasingly that Finance Ministers from across different parties have actually carried out some reforms agenda proposed or started by the earlier FMs. A case in point is that of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, that was started by the Vajpayee Government but really received huge outlays under the Common Minimum Program of the UPA I. Another case that we are looking at right now is the GST reform, the movement towards which really started under UPAII, though finishing touches to the Bill have been given to it by the NDA with gusto. How ironical that UPA itself is blocking the passage of the Bill, because it makes political sense to block its own economic idea.

The second corrective lens that can help matters along is pressure from external agencies. Increasingly, economic reforms proposed by successive Governments have been under the scanner from external ratings agencies such as Moody’s or Fitch. In fact, globalization itself acts as an external checkpoint on political parties in power. In India, more and more value of the Sensex is coming in from FIIs; this essentially implies that any negative remarks by rating agencies causes knee-jerk reactions in markets and sentiments, weakening public sentiment towards efficacy of the Government. Governments have learnt to take cognizance of the fact and this has promoted more forced fiscal prudence, even if the genetic myopia persists at the core.

Lil One’s voice jerked me out of my economic reverie. “Did you know that myopia is one of the disorders that cannot be cured naturally, mom? That means, once you are near-sighted, you will be near-sighed forever. Poor you!”

Poor us, I thought. We are going to need corrective mechanisms forever.

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3 thoughts on “Econ Mom on Myopic Politicians

  1. Hello Mam, I think it’s not only the politicians who are myopic. Just for a fact, what % of Indians know that the GST bill was started in UPA II. People and at the same time the media is responsible and myopic too thereby causing a chain of myop [ism].
    This can be treated while regulating the agenda of every party before election begins, such issues should not be considered an alliance responsibility rather issues of national importance. But this is how this democracy works.

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  2. Another vivid descriptions of how the political imbalance and unwillingness is not letting India move at the pace which it should. The aspect of your every write up that surprises me, mam, is how easily you scale up and down while conjuring those words. Is it mere talent or you developed it over years ?

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  3. One has to have a very deep insight and out of the box thinking to contradict with the essence of the blog/article, still a facet that can be added to it is, NITI Ayog. The opening of NITI ayog and promotion of Cooperative Federalism by our PM is one of the decisions which gives us the hope that politicians will stop being myopic, probably in the long run.

    This brings a question in mind that is NITI ayog, actually helping to curb the myopia in GOI or even if it is a step towards the same? I think it does by following a bottom up approach right from the core is one way to deal with the problem. On the other hand, the major flaws in NITI ayog, keeps me skeptical, that being Planning commission stopped even before NITI Ayog proved its metal and second no clarity on how funds will be allocated by the center to the states?

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