Politics / 21.11.2018

By Anjum Altaf Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics) has a lovely book called Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) in which he distinguishes between the two modes of thought. Fast thinking is instinctive and emotional and subject to many cognitive biases; slow thinking is deliberative and logical and much to be recommended when stakes are high and situations are unfamiliar. In Pakistan, we have succumbed over time to fast thinking and the graver the situation the more instinctive and emotional the thought process tends to become. It’s time to take a deep breath. Look at the current situation which offers a surreal scenario of a major country reduced to a farcical contest between Ali Baba and his forty thieves on one side and Robin Hood and his merry men on the other. Ali Baba’s gang purportedly looted the people and got phenomenally rich under the protection...

Development / 26.08.2011

By Anjum Altaf Is there an alternative to taking sides on the Anna Hazare controversy? Could one step back and gainfully employ an historical and institutional perspective to understand it better? Would it help to argue that the mismatch in speeds at which economic and political institutions have rooted themselves in Indian society is contributing to a disorienting disconnect between modern ends and pre-modern means? The supply and demand of goods and services is mediated through the economic market and Indians have been dragged into it whether they liked it or not; they had no choice. The theory of perfect and imperfect economic markets is well known. In brief, markets can exhibit friction, they can fail, and they can exclude large segments of the population without effective demand. In all such cases, the state has to step in thereby creating the interface between economics and politics.
Development / 06.08.2011

By Dipankar Gupta If bribe giving is legalized will that ground the bribe taker for good? This suggestion was made recently by Kaushik Basu, the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisor. Sadly, such low cost, budget one-liners invariably fail to fly. Eager to clean up the corporate sector, Narayana Murthy, of Infosys, initially endorsed this suggestion, but later found faults with it. The bribe giver could rat on the bribe taker, but it would not be worth the halo. Word would go around and that person would be singled out forever in the real world of give and take. Under current conditions, but for a handful of companies in IT, telecom and financial services, it is hard for business to play clean and be above board.
Analysis / 17.04.2011

By Anjum Altaf We have the opportunity to improve our understanding of corruption, democracy and the relationship between them by examining critically the views of Professor Neera Chandhoke outlined recently in connection with the Anna Hazare campaign. In The Seeds of Authoritarianism, Chandhoke articulates two fundamental positions. First, the establishment of a Jan Lokpal is not democratic and carries within it the seeds of authoritarianism. Although Singapore has controlled corruption, it is not a preferred model because it ‘does not respect the two prime fundamentals of democracy as India does: popular sovereignty and the equal moral status of citizens.’ Therefore, corruption in India needs to be addressed within the procedures and norms mandated in the Constitution. Second, Anna Hazare’s political beliefs are questionable because he has expressed a low opinion of the voter by saying that some sell their votes; contempt for the voter defies the ‘very rationale...

Development / 24.12.2008

We never get away from blaming corruption for everything that is wrong in South Asia. Corruption is our biggest problem, it is repeated, and until we can deal with it we will be unable to develop. No one is a fan of corruption but where is the evidence for such a strong assertion? In two posts (here and here), we have argued for a nuanced perspective. In this post, we put forward some counterintuitive conclusions. The trigger for the post is the recent high profile incidents of political and financial corruption in the United States. In the state of Illinois, where the previous governor is already in prison, the incumbent is charged with trying to auction off political office in what is being termed as a standard practice – ‘pay for play’. And the financial corruption on Wall Street to the tune of $50 billion is said...

Development / 23.09.2008

A college student has asked us if corruption is good or bad. The proposition he has been asked to consider is the following: Corruption greases the wheels of development; it benefits the rich and poor alike. This proposition is very easy to disprove by thinking of concrete examples where corruption does not benefit the rich and poor alike. Let us take examples from the recent earthquakes in Kashmir and China. Many school buildings collapsed killing thousands of children. The Chinese government has admitted there was corruption in the construction of the buildings. Second-rate material was used but approved by supervisors in exchange for bribes. In this case rich contractors and bureaucrats benefited but poor public school students and their parents paid the ultimate  price. This example shows that whenever corruption creates hazardous conditions, it does not benefit rich and poor alike. The sale of contaminated infant milk in China...

Education, Religion / 22.08.2008

Unacceptable levels of poverty continue to prevail in South Asia. In order to understand the nature of this poverty we have to first challenge the popularly held beliefs about its causes. Just as there are people who believe that illiteracy or overpopulation are the major causes of poverty, there are others who attribute it to corruption and argue that nothing can be done till corruption is eliminated. There is no doubt that corruption is a pervasive and aggravating phenomenon but even a cursory look at hard data and a comparative analysis should make one skeptical of the assertion that it is a major cause of underdevelopment in South Asia. China provides one contrary example. The issue of corruption is very high on the political agenda of the Chinese government and people holding very high offices have been executed for related crimes. But despite the corruption the economy has...