Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reassessing Nehru: Free India From His Evil Legacy

Reassessing Nehru: Free India From His Evil Legacy by Sauvik Chakraverti

12 Jun 2003, 0001 hrs IST, Times of India

It is very easy to prove that the great Jawaharlal Nehru, our first prime minister, who founded a democratic dynasty that still lives on, was an evil man. My logic is based on the writings of Frederic Bastiat. 

Let us begin by looking at the difference between good and evil. Man is born into a difficult existence. To survive in this life he has to get a lot of things from the world around him: roti, kapda, makaan. There are but two ways of getting these (if we omit beggary): by working hard in the market economy, earning one’s honest living, and buying what one needs from the market. The second is by theft, by plunder, by stealing from others. The question Bastiat posed is: Which is good and which is evil? Which should we encourage and which should we seek to stifle? My reader will readily answer that the first is good, and people should be encouraged to work towards fulfilling their own needs; further, that the desire to live off others is evil and plunder should be stifled. 

In which case, let us now take a close look at the Nehruvian legacy: What did this socialist dynasty encourage? It will be instantaneously obvious to anyone who remembers those hard socialist times that this dynasty stifled enterprise and promoted plunder. Nehru put in place what Rajaji called the ‘licence-permit-quota raj’: he fettered enterprise in every possible way so babus could plunder entrepreneurs. He encouraged bright young people to join his public enterprises, which were funded by looting the taxpayer. His daughter even went on a nationalising spree, the effects of which are still with us. In her heydays, the only jobs available were under the state. Young people were not encouraged towards enterprise; they were encouraged to join the state and plunder the people. 

Gradually, as the socialist drama unfolded, it mingled with democracy to create a scenario of universal plunder. Every section of society, be it economic, social, religious or linguistic, was issued its own share of the spoils — something free or cheap at someone else’s cost. Or a job under a quota. Or some land plundered off someone else. Even the law was made to side with this plunder, and the property rights of the citizen were no longer guaranteed by the Constitution. What else is this but universal plunder? 

The history books tell us that Nehru fought for freedom. But are Indians free today? We are ranked 122 in the World Economic Freedom Index, 2002. We are still, after 10 years of this voodoo liberalisation, an economically repressed nation. Our natural ability to trade, to ‘truck, barter and exchange’ — a gift which every Indian child is blessed with in abundance — is still not allowed to flourish, and free trade is still a distant dream. Currency controls, trade res-trictions, high tariffs and continued licensing hinder our ability to generate wealth for ourselves. And they encourage a ‘rent-seeking society’ which the personnel of the state, under the Nehruvian system, have become. 

Indians are phenomenal traders: in London, the capital of a country once known as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, Indians own all the corner shops. There is an Asian pop band in England called Cornershop. One joke about Indians goes: Why can’t Indians play soccer? Because every time they get a corner, they put a shop on it! Legend has it that a Bania can buy from a Jew and sell to a Scot and still emerge with a profit! We are the world’s best traders, but we are not free to trade because of a worthless bunch of ‘industrialists’ whom Nehru encouraged to plunder their consumers. And so it was that great evils engulfed the land. 

To rid the country of these evils, there is no alternative but the formation of a liberal political party. Only liberalism can offer us an escape from this socialist plunder, now under a fascist dispensation. Only liberals believe in the free market — that all the people should be left free to earn wealth and the state should have a minimal role. Only governance under such principles can lead India back to her age-old prosperity. 

Getting there is impossible today because the Representation of Peoples Act proscribes the formation of parties that are not socialist. So the Shiv Sena is OK, but we liberals are not! Indians must realise that this democracy is not a true one if communists, socialists and Hindutva types are free to compete and liberals are not. And the Mumbai high court must immediately respond to a public interest litigation on this issue by the Indian Liberal Group which it has been sitting on for over five years: What are libe-rals expected to do if they cannot participate in elections? Take to armed insurrection? 

Having proved that this socialism is evil, and this democracy is false, let me conclude by informing my fellow citizens that it is far more important to have a free market than it is to have the vote. The market is where economic achievements are made. I cannot open a beer bar in my basement, but I can vote. What good is that vote to me? Tribals in central India can vote, but cannot sell their lovely drink, mahua. What good is democracy without the market? Democracy without free markets is meaningless. Illiberal democracy, we Indians must now realise, is a very bad system of government.

The country is in a horrible state. Corruption rules the roost everywhere. Every city is dying. Every town is decrepit. Evil ideologies hold sway. Will India’s liberals stand up and be counted?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do we need socialism?

Do we need socialism? By Sauvik Chakraverti

Socialism was inserted into the preamble of the Constitution in 1976. It infiltrated into the Representation of the People Act, by which all political parties are made to swear by socialism in order to be eligible to participate in the electoral fray. At stake is the idea of a truly liberal party based on individualism and private property -- the very antithesis of socialism. A liberal party opposed to socialism must be allowed to attract the mind of the smart Indian voter, writes Sauvik Chakraverti in the New Indian Express

A constantly moving target is difficult to shoot. But shoot it we must. I refer to the word ‘socialism’, which was inserted into the preamble of the Constitution; and the subsequent infiltration of this term into the Representation of the People Act, by which all political parties are made to swear by socialism in order to be eligible to participate in the electoral fray. At stake is the idea of a truly liberal party based on individualism and private property -- the very antithesis of socialism.


But what is socialism? Is it the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ that Nehru ascended? Is it the empire of PSUs that no party wants to privatise? Is it the contempt for private enterprise and private property? Apparently, it is none of these things anymore. The Supreme Court has found yet another definition of socialism — a definition that has serious implications for our future. If this new definition goes unchallenged, socialism will be perpetuated; simultaneously, liberalism will be barred.

On January 9, 2008, while dismissing a petition challenging the legislation that makes it mandatory for every ‘recognised’ political party to swear by socialism, the Chief Justice of K G Balakrishnan, asked counsel Fali S Nariman: “Why do you define socialism in the narrower sense as the Communists do? Why don’t you go by the broader definition… which mandates the state to ensure social welfare measures for all the citizens… as a facet of democracy?”

There is an ever-present danger with Supreme Court: that it will act in ways that preserve the government, of which they are a part. Indira Gandhi called her judges ‘a committed judiciary’, and it seems they are indeed still committed to her political ideals. An entirely new judicial definition of the dreaded word has been established: one that ‘mandates the state to ensure social welfare measures for all the citizens, as a facet of democracy.’ Justice Balakrishnan wants ‘welfare for all the citizens’ — but that must be over-enthusiasm for his cause. What he probably means is welfare for the really deserving poor.

Classical liberals of 18th and 19th century Europe and America would be horrified by the idea of a ‘welfare state as a facet of democracy.’ To them, the great idea wasLiberty for all — especially the poor. It was held that people are diversely gifted and only in a liberal, free market order could each find his ‘just deserts.’ And since that is a competitive struggle for all, along with Liberty came Self-Help. Samuel Smiles’ eponymous volume was a classic of its times, selling 20,000 copies in its first year alone. Self-Help was kept next to the Bible in every Victorian home, an aspect of Victorian morality all too easily forgotten today, thanks to welfare statism in the west, and its culture of dependency. (Incidentally, Liberty Institute has republished the book in India.)

Liberty and Self-Help were the two pillars of classical liberalism, especially among the poor. That is why the first ‘mass movement’ in British history was the one for free trade in the 1830s, led by Richard Cobden and his Manchester Free Trade League, in which the working classes eagerly participated. Socialism was not even on the horizon then.

The ‘welfare state’ is a product of the 20th century, that too, after the second World War. It has indeed become a ‘facet of democracy’ in several western nations, but not a good facet. The welfare state is the darling of ‘tax-borrow-print-and-spend politics’ that is funded by Keynesian fiat money, that sustains a vast ‘spending bureaucracy’ and subsidises an underclass that is increasingly work-resistant. Yet, even in these countries, there are parties and political leaders that oppose welfare statism — like the Tories did under Margaret Thatcher. In a truly liberal order, it is unthinkable that every party must swear by the welfare state. But the situation in India is far worse, and there are good reasons to believe that the Chief Justice’s conception of a good society, if ever allowed to come into fruition, will spell disaster for the nation and its people.

Writing in the 1950s, the great dissenting development economist, Peter, Lord Bauer, said that widespread beggary on the streets of India and Pakistan is not a sign of poverty; rather, it exists because the dominant communities in both these countries, Hindus and Muslims respectively, believe they earn spiritual merit when they offer alms to beggars. In the very same countries there are large communities like the Parsees, Sikhs and Jains who practice charity differently among themselves — and produce no beggars. A ‘welfare state’ of the kind contemplated by the learned CJI would cause beggary in India to multiply thousand-fold.

What is the best way to help the deserving poor? When I ask this question during seminars, I offer students three choices: First, take direct action and give alms to every beggar you come across. Second, pay taxes to the government and ask the government to help the poor. And third, donate to a good charity organisation like Mother Teresa’s and ask them to use that money to help the poor. Even kids of Class 5 decide that the third option is the only doable one. To liberals, charity must be private.

In India, what keeps people poor are stupid policies — and all these policies are the product of ‘socialism’, however defined. The new definition will lead to the perpetuation of our ‘spending bureaucracy’, without any benefit to the poor. For real progress, Indianeeds the classical emphasis on Liberty and Self-Help —and well-directed private charity.

If an example of an Asian country is required that prospered immediately upon embracing these principles, it is Japan after 1868: the Meiji era. Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help was translated into Japanese then, and widely read. It convinced the ordinary Jap that with Liberty all he needed to add was sincere, individual effort. And every Jap worked hard; their work-ethic is the stuff of legend. The populous little nation flourished and became an inspiration for all of Asia. The Japs have never embraced socialism. It is still Liberty and Self-Help in the Land of the Rising Sun.

If India is to regain her lost glory, socialism must be dumped and her people encouraged to help themselves. Indians are known to be hard working. The new definition of socialism offered by the CJI is patronising and impractical; and it will not lead to the ‘welfare’ of the poor. A liberal party opposed to socialism must be allowed to attract the mind of the smart Indian voter.

This article was published in the New Indian Express, on 16 February 2008. Please read the original article here.

Author : Mr Chakraverti is the author of Antidote and Antidote 2, and a columnist.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Holmes rolls in Goa

Holmes rolls in Goa by Sauvik Chakraverti

Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson holidayed in Goa recently, enjoying a few days of r&r. After a leisurely walk along Palolem beach, Holmes remarked: "Watson, it seems perfectly apparent to me that tonnes of ganja gets smoked in Goa every day. This calls for a deeper, private investigation" writes Sauvik Chakraverti in his Antidote column in The New Indian Express on Sundays.

Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson holidayed in Goa recently, enjoying a few days of r&r. After a leisurely walk along Palolem beach, Holmes remarked: “Watson, it seems perfectly apparent to me that tonnes of ganja gets smoked in Goa every day. This calls for a deeper, private investigation.” 

Dr Watson, as is his wont, was slow to get the point. “How can you arrive at such an outrageous conclusion after just one short walk, Holmes?” he demanded to know. “Why, you have not even unsheathed your famous magnifying glass!” 

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” said Holmes. “Perceive the loads of rolling papers that are sold in all the little shops here, in five kilo jars. You don’t need a magnifying glass to spot this singular, vital clue. So much paper means so many spliffs, which means so much ganja — simple arithmetic. Tell you what, Watson, let us score some ourselves and smoke it. You know, when in Rome etc. And anyway I haven’t brought my cocaine along, anticipating trouble with this foreign police.” 

Deprecating Holmes’ sense of adventure, Watson nevertheless agreed. The duo headed for the closest cigarette shop. Holmes bought a pack of king size Rizlas. The little shop had over 500 packs in stock. Holmes, in a conspiratorial tone, asked the shopkeeper where he could get some ‘stuff’ to smoke in his Rizlas. The shopkeeper pointed to a young Goan lad in a Bob Marley T-shirt, leaning casually against a coconut tree. Very soon the deal was done, and Holmes obtained a goodly quantity of fine ganja. The two hastened to smoke it. 

“Time me, Watson,” commanded Holmes as he began the tedious preparations that go into rolling a spliff: cleaning the grass of twigs and seeds, preparing a nice ‘mixture’, making a roach, and then finally doing the spliff. 

“Twelve minutes precisely, Holmes,” said Watson, as Holmes lit the spliff and inhaled deeply of the sweet smoke. “Let me now count how long it takes to smoke it.” This turned out to be three minutes. The duo, now suitably stoned, strolled into a beach shack and ordered some beer to tackle the inevitable ‘cottonmouth.’ The shack had some chairs on the sand facing the setting sun. The colours were breathtaking, the soft reggae music emanating from the shack was elevating, and the cold beer was heaven itself. Of course, Holmes’ mind was still ticking away on the ganja question. 

“Watson, the plight of ganja smokers distresses me. Twelve minutes to roll what takes three minutes to smoke. What a criminal waste of Time! All roll, roll, roll and no rock at all! We must therefore arrive at an assessment of not only the total sales of rolling papers and the total quantity of ganja smoked, but also the total amount of time spent hand-rolling. Let us down our beers and proceed to the first step: evaluating the only visible clue we have — rolling papers. How many packs of rolling papers are sold here every day? That is the question.” 

Very soon, the two were back in the shack, Watson bearing his notepad. More beers were ordered and Watson pulled out a calculator. The statistics on rolling began to roll. 

Twenty little shops selling 100 packs of rolling papers every day added up to 2000 packs sold per beach, per day. Assuming Goa has 20 beaches like Palolem, that means 40,000 packs of rolling papers sold every day in Goa. Now, a pack contains 50 leaves, which means 2 million spliffs are rolled in Goa every day. Hand-rolling them takes 24 million minutes or 4,00,000 man-hours. At two grams of ganja per spliff that adds up to four tonnes of the stuff consumed daily in Goa. Holmes and Watson were both flabbergasted at the implications of what their very ‘private investigation’ had uncovered. They paid for their beers and continued on their stroll. Holmes was lost in thought, almost oblivious of his enchanting surroundings. 

“Watson,” said Holmes, “let us visit the website of Rizla and try and find how many rolling papers they sell annually worldwide. This could give us an exact understanding of this ‘crime’ that the whole wide world revels in.”

The two trooped in to a cyber café on the beach, but the data could not be obtained. Rizla maintains all such information as trade secrets. But they did find a long history of the company, which has French origins but is now owned by Imperial Tobacco and headquartered in the UK. It must indeed be a very big business to attract Imperial Tobacco to it. And Rizla was just a market leader. As Holmes and Watson discovered, there were many other brands available, with keen competition between papers made of hemp and Rizla, whose papers are made of rice. However, they could not obtain any hard data on the international rolling paper industry. Disappointed, but not beaten, our heroes re-emerged on Palolem beach. 

The sun had set, the moon was out, and all the shacks had their pretty coloured lights on. They walked into one of them and ordered more beer. Holmes began to roll another spliff. The evening proceeded slowly, more beers were drunk, more spliffs were smoked, and a fine seafood dinner followed. Holmes then summed up his thoughts: 

"Watson, my good man, if Goa represents even 5 percent of the world market for rolling papers, this means 40 million spliffs are smoked worldwide every day. The total time spent hand-rolling them is 8 million man-hours – every day. Total ganja smoked worldwide every day is 80 tonnes. This is an astonishing discovery. If ganja was legal, big spliffs would be made by machines, as cigarettes are today, and 8 million man-hours of hard labour saved." 

"Why don't you write a column for The Times on this when you return to Baker Street, Holmes," suggested Watson kindly, knowing that his friend was exceptionally perturbed at his findings. "You would shake up the authorities." 

"I most certainly shall," Holmes replied, adding, "and could you please roll a joint for us now. I am too stoned to roll, but very keen on a last smoke." 

Watson did the needful, as a dutiful 'joint secretary' would. 

Holmes patiently waited the full 12 minutes; he then lit the joint, inhaled, exhaled, and raised the toast: "Here's to machine-made spliffs someday soon, so the whole world can chain smoke them." 

"Amen," said Dr. Watson.

This article was published in New Indian Express on 01 March 2008. Please read the original article here.

Author : Sauvik Chakraverti is a columnist, and is the author of Antidote

Road to the future

Road to the future by Sauvik Chakraverti

Street Smart by Gabriel Roth sets the tone for a learning experience on ‘the future of roads’ that can benefit many Indians dealing directly with this vitally important subject or indirectly interested in it, from infrastructure fund managers down to journalists covering roads - that roads can be private businesses. For one with a passion for roads, I can only assert that I have myself benefited greatly from a study of Gabriel Roth’s Street Smart. I am happy this will be reflected in my writings on roads for many years to come, writes Sauvik Chakraverti in the New Indian Express.

Book Review:

Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads 

By Gabriel Roth 
Transaction Publishers and 
The Independent Institute, (2007), US$30 

Gabriel Roth is a libertarian with a passion for roads, that is, roads as private businesses. His earlier book Roads in a Market Economy (1996) revealed that Western nations had deeply erred by making roads into government monopolies funded through taxation and provided by politicians. 

It offered capitalist nations the way out of this ‘Soviet-style roads system’. 

His new book is a collection of brilliant essays by a wide variety of specialists on various aspects of roads. Bruce Benson, for example, a formidable authority on Law and Economics, has contributed two fascinating essays: The first on ‘eminent domain’, its misuse, and why it is really not required for road-building; and the second on the history of the 'turnpike trusts' of 18th and 19th century England, which were private efforts at building, maintaining and tolling roads. Indeed, the history of private roads in both Englandand America are recounted in this book, and there are many lessons to learn. 

The essay on eminent domain is particularly instructive, since it dispels the false idea that roads cannot be built without invoking these authoritarian powers. This paves the way for a deeper understanding as to how businessmen can easily assemble the land required for such projects. The examples of the misuse of these powers in western countries tells us a great deal about the politics behind a similar misuse in India such as in Singur and Nandigram. 

There are 20 essays in all and they present a wide array of issues and perspectives. John Semmens talks of privatising vehicle, driver testing and licensing and it becomes clear why better safety standards will be promoted if insurance companies, with a direct financial interest in safety, took over this vital function from a corrupt and useless government bureau. 

Gopinath Menon, who teaches traffic management at Singapore’s technical university, has contributed an excellent piece on the city-state’s Automatic Road Pricing system and the history of its development. 

This history confirms the old adage that ‘Rome was not built in a day’ and that traffic and transportation was always an area of critical focus for their government, right from independence in 1965. It is also time for our government to give up the ‘looking after poor’ bullshit and deliver knowledge-based solutions to traffic congestion and mayhem in all our cities and towns. 

While each and every essay is noteworthy, those that deserve mention in this review are the two on city streets as ‘private sector public goods’ and the account of the Private Roads Associations of socialist Sweden, which provide and maintain a major share of that country’s rural roads. Rural roads are a critical area for India, as are city streets, and these essays are hugely illuminating. 

Another essay that is extremely relevant to the Indian situation is on ‘the role of the private sector in managing and maintaining roads’. It is seen that ‘performance-based contracts’ with private firms are the best and cheapest way to maintain roads. There is an interesting story of how a US town paid $120 per pothole repair by traditional manual methods. When the performance-based contract was executed, the contractor found it prudent to employ a pothole-repairing machine that could be driven over the pothole, and which conducted an immediate repair for just $22. There is a photo of this machine. It is also mentioned that not repairing highways in time escalates costs hundredfold. One of the contracts cited contains the clause that, over every 10 kilometre, not more than three potholes of 15mm diameter should be seen: and where seen, they should be repaired in 48 hours. These are ideas India needs. 

Gabriel Roth’s own essay, which opens the volume, ‘Why Involve the Private Sector in the Provision of Public Roads’ sets the tone for a learning experience on ‘the future of roads’ that can benefit many Indians dealing directly with this vitally important subject or indirectly interested in it, from infrastructure fund managers down to journalists covering roads. 

Engineers can also benefit, and there is an exposition of radio-enabled ‘open road tolling’, by which tolls can be electronically collected on all roads, without requiring vehicles to stop. 

As a libertarian myself, that too one with a passion for roads, I can only assert that I have myself benefited greatly from a study of Gabriel Roth’s Street Smart. I am happy this will be reflected in my writings on roads for many years to come.

This article was published in the New Indian Express, on 23 March 2008. Please read the original article here.

Author : Mr Chakraverti writes the Antidote column in the New Indian Express.

Liberalism versus the Rest

Liberalism versus the Rest by Sauvik Chakraverti

There is hope for liberalism as compared with all other political ideologies only because we do not require coercion for the fulfillment of our political ideals. Since all other political creeds require coercion, they are foredoomed to failure because there is an limit beyond which none will submit to authority. For this crucial reason, based on an appreciation of the limits to coercion as well as a principled understanding of the legitimate use of coercive powers, liberalism is destined to prevail over all competing political visions. It is only a matter of Time, writes Sauvik Chakraverti.


Surely the first question any aspiring 'representative of the people' must ask himself is: What is the role of the State in a free (or democratic) society? To Raj and the Thackeray parivar, to Narendra Modi and the sangh parivar, to Buddhadev Bhattacharya and the communist parivar, just as it always was for the Nehru parivar, it seems perfectly apparent to me that their idea of State is 'an institution that protects us from injustices, except those it commits itself' (Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddima, circa 1350).

The reason behind this eclipse of reason is not difficult to find. Coercion is their motto not because they are anti-democratic, but precisely because they are democratic. The process we call democracy in India is riddled with coercion. Anyone who runs a political party holds vast powers over all members; a political party is a power hierarchy based on 'hegemonic relationships'. (Business hierarchies are 'contractual'.) When politicians vote within democratic assemblies, each member must respect the orders of his 'party whip'. The very term reeks of coercion. Then there is the Party High Command (or Politburo). Theirs is the 'vote motive'. Or is it 'rent motive'? Compared to these motives, the 'profit motive' is innocent: shubh laabh.

Raj Thackeray is 'political' in the sense that he seeks to represent a majority. He is the leader of a 'recognized' political party and has powers over 'party cadres': they follow his orders. Now, this is true of all political parties. It is because of this very reason that Roberto Michels propounded his Iron Law of Oligarchy way back in 1915: "Hierarchical political parties can never yield a classless, socialist society," he wrote. "Where the instrument is hierarchical, how can classlessness result?"; adding, most accurately, "socialism will fail at the moment of its adherents' triumph."

The politics of Thackerayism, Moditva, Buddhadevism, Lalooism, and Nehruvianism are all 'legitimate': all these recognized, hierarchical political parties swear by 'socialism', as defined not only in the Constitution of India, but in their party constitutions as well. But the reality of hegemonic power relations within each party hierarchy should wake us up to the fact that the way we are headed is not the classlessness of socialism, but something diabolical. It is politics without principle, based on coercion. It is aimed at taking control of the dysfunctional State – which provides access to further coercion, through legislation, through taxation, and through manipulation of the police and the administration. Never will we attain the ideal of Socialist Equality if we continue with this socialist democracy. It will always be arbitrary coercion. Oligarchies will rule. Chaos will follow.

In vivid contrast, Liberalism begins not with coercion, but with voluntary co-operation in markets: the natural order of natural liberty. Voluntary exchanges in the market order must be free, we believe. We therefore oppose legislation on 'victimless crimes' like gambling, prostitution, and ganja peddling. To us, coercion is an actionable tort, and a very grave matter indeed. We dream of a coercion-free natural order. That is why our ideal State is but a provider of Justice, whose only role in a free society is to act against those who disrupt the market order with their unjust actions. Nothing else.

This is Liberty under Law. It yields Freedom and Property, not Equality. To liberals, socialist ideas of Equality are a dangerous deception. The highest political values of liberalism are Freedom and Justice. Yet, we are barred from political participation while Raj Thackeray is legit. "Fair is foul and foul is fair," as Macbeth's witch put it.

To grasp the enormous amount of coercion that Raj Thackeray has unleashed on a very poor minority, recall that at least 50,000 north Indians have fled the state of Maharashtrasince he began flexing his Maratha muscles. Why did so many run for their lives?

Unveiled threats are also coercive. Because these threats were not countered by immediate and stern State action, they were deemed imminent by all concerned, who fled. Specific provisions of the Indian Penal Code outlaw political hate speech of the kind Thackeray delivered; but then, the Indian police is itself rooted in arbitrary coercion, and is the very anti-thesis of the 'rule of law', thanks to 60 years of socialist misgovernment.

So, what would happen if liberals took over? Whom would we throw out? This is relevant given that all these politicians place before the voter their own idea of a 'class enemy'. To Raj Thackeray, north Indians are the enemy. To Modi, it is non-Hindoos. Who then are the enemies of Liberalism?

The enemies of liberalism are all those who coerce the rule-following citizenry. Today, apart from some recognized political parties, who must be defeated by State action, the biggest profiteers from arbitrary coercion are the police and the taxation bureaus. A liberal government's first task will be to bring these coercive bureaus to heel. The police must protect petty traders, not loot their surpluses. Taxation must be linked to services provided. Today, taxation is arbitrary and excessive – like those on civil aviation, which transfer business to the unsafe railways. Tolls on stretches of our 'notional highways' are double-taxation, as we already pay dedicated road taxes on automotive fuels. Since we pay the taxes, proper highways must be built as 'freeways'. Similarly, the excise department must be stripped of all licensing powers, so the business of alcohol retailing can be free. Further, the customs department must either be abolished (like octroi), or a small 'revenue tariff' should be levied on select, bulk imports. A minimalist State requiring minimal taxation: that is the liberal ideal.

Where masses are poor, taxation must be lighter still. If liberals come into positions of authority and responsibility, it is not the Muslim or the Bihari who should fear for his life – but the police, the excise, the customs, the income tax: these coercive bureaus will feel the heat. And that's a promise.

To conclude: There is hope for liberalism as compared with all other political ideologies only because we do not require coercion for the fulfillment of our political ideals. Since all other political creeds require coercion, they are foredoomed to failure because there is an limit beyond which none will submit to authority. For this crucial reason, based on an appreciation of the limits to coercion as well as a principled understanding of the legitimate use of coercive powers, liberalism is destined to prevail over all competing political visions. It is only a matter of Time.

A version of this article appeared in the New Indian Express, on 23 March 2008. Please read it here.

Author : Mr Chakraverti is the author of two volumes of Antidote (Macmillan Publishers)

The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Capitalism

The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Capitalism by Sauvik Chakraverti

The suffragettes fought for the vote and got it. Yet, despite years of voting, millions of women remain poor. The vote is obviously not enough. Women must therefore think hard as to where their true interests lie. Free trade, sound money, private property, liberty under law, production for exchange in urban markets and the consequent rapid urbanization of India – it is with these that all women can prosper. When they do so, men will gain too, because there is a law in Economics that says: When any good is sold it creates the demand for all non-competing goods and services, writes Sauvik Chakraverti in his blog, Antidote.

(With apologies to George Bernard Shaw, who was a Fabian socialist and wrote a very popular "Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism.)

Till fairly recently, both economic as well as political activity were the reserve of men. Thus, women had to depend on men for everything, and this led to subjugation.

Fortunately, better days are here. The suffragettes fought for the vote and got it. Yet, despite 60 years of voting, millions of women in India remain backward and poor. The vote is obviously not enough. Some, like the socialist economist Amartya Sen and his protégé Manmohan Singh, say they need “education” – from the government. But prosperity is delivered by markets, and the government of India is scarcely a lamp of learning. Women must therefore think hard as to where their true interests lie. Only then can they campaign for the right policies.

It is not true that women did not “produce” or that they were “ignorant” in the centuries gone by. All over the world, women cooked delicious food, kept homes clean, and managed household budgets. In India, women produced pickles, papad, chutneys, butter, ghee and so many other wonderful things. Tribal women still produce alcoholic drinks like mahua, handia and apong. But all this was for “self-consumption”. These were not produced for “exchange”. If all these are produced for exchange in the market economy, it would become evident that women indeed possess a great deal of useful “knowledge” – even without formal education. They are not ignorant.

Thus, the first step towards the liberation of all women lies not in the vote, nor in “education”; rather, it lies in the freedom for all women to participate in the exchange economy of the market with whatever knowledge they may possess or choose to acquire. Indeed, pickles, papads and chutneys are very big businesses today. Street food is another. Entertainment is a multibillion dollar industry now and traditionally women have always been proficient in music and dance. Rather than the vote, which is “political freedom”, or government education, which can seriously damage the mind, women today should strive for the Liberty to engage in economic activity, which is Economic Freedom. This is a term not found in the lexicon of the socialists.

At the outset, let it be clearly understood that Gandhi got it all wrong. His ideal of “village self-sufficiency” means economic suicide for both rural men and women; but more so for women, because if their men are poor, women are poorer still. Self-sufficiency is production for use; capitalism is production for exchange. If rural women produce surpluses for exchange, they will discover that the markets in which they can find sufficient customers are invariably located in cities and towns. Stuck in a sparsely-populated village, a woman might sell two jars of pickles. But if she took her output to a crowded city, she might sell a hundred kilos of the stuff. Thus, villages, self-sufficiency and “rural development” must be ditched in favour of urbanization: hundreds of free trading cities and thousands of such towns, instead of millions of self-sufficient village economies. Women must produce for exchange in urban market centres. This is my Lesson # 1.

On to Lesson # 2: As far as politics and government are concerned, what these must be able to provide women is Liberty Under Law. Nothing else – no “sops”, no “reservations”. There must not be any politically imposed restrictions placed upon women (or men) when they go to the urban markets. It is here that we find the critical problem that many, many women face in our cities: that the Law does not give them Liberty; rather, the Law is an instrument of coercion. This applies not only to women street vendors and petty traders, but also to women performing artistes, right through to women working in professions like tending bars and serving food and drink. Indeed, although we in India have a huge film industry, we do not possess a “nightlife” industry – where lakhs of women could find gainful employment. There isn’t a Moulin Rouge in any Indian city. Nor are there any casinos. Even bars are strictly licensed, and entertainers are discouraged by the “entertainment tax”. These are areas where women are usually employed en masse, at least in the western world. In our own land, the nautch-girl was a fixture of the Mughal court; she was there in every city; even the British were entertained by her; but our modern-day democracy has thrown her out – and this is repression via legislation. So my Lesson # 2 reads: Fight for Economic Freedom – the liberty to engage in consensual capitalistic exchanges that hurt neither buyer nor seller.

Now, the difference between primitive “production for self-consumption” and capitalistic “production for exchange” is that the latter requires Capital as “investment”. With capitalism, we have “roundabout methods of satisfying wants”. For example, till fairly recently, all yoghurt produced in India was in the home, consumed inside the home itself. Today, we have big companies producing yoghurt. Instead of a woman milking her cow and preparing the yoghurt – which is “direct satisfaction” – we now have the “roundabout” method of companies buying humungous amounts of milk from lakhs of cattle-owners, transporting them to distant factories in big trucks, making tonnes of yoghurt and packaging it, transporting these to shops, advertising these offerings, etc. This “roundabout” method is Capitalism – and this requires capital to invest. My third lesson is on how women can save the capital necessary to invest in capitalistic enterprise.

At the basic level, we save if we spend less than we earn – and this is something every intelligent woman understands full well. (Though Lord Keynes didn’t: but that’s another story.) But there are two factors that erode our savings: taxes and inflation. It is in the interest of all women to campaign for lower taxes (so oppose Manmohan Singh’s “education tax”) and for an inflation-free currency. Inflation is a hidden tax. As the value of the currency falls, so does the value of one’s savings. The gainer is the borrower who takes a loan today and pays back many years later when the money has lost much of its value. The government also gains. Thus, women should understand inflationism and oppose it: Low taxes, balanced government budgets, sound money – these are policies that will allow millions of women to save and invest, and engage in Capitalism. Whenever a finance minister announces a “budget deficit” or another populist giveaway, all Indian women should cry “Foul!” This is my Lesson # 3.

Fourth: Capitalism is based entirely on private property (socialism exalts “collective property” – like the steel plants Nehru built). The unwritten law of any market is that the goods arrayed before a vendor belong to the vendor. If we want some of them, we must strike a bargain and make the exchange, whereupon the ownership rights are reversed. Now, imagine what would happen in the market if the Law said that bread belonged to all, and all were free to consume it: communism. The result would be there would be no bread offered for sale in any market. There would be wheat, flour, chappatis – but no bread. The “natural law” of private property cannot be dispensed with without causing immense economic dislocation.

What properties do women need? Women are homemakers: they need homes. Homes are the most essential private properties. Since all cannot afford to buy them, they rent. But what happens if the Law says that the actual owner of the house cannot raise his rents to market levels and cannot evict tenants who refuse to pay what he demands? As in the case of “collective bread” above, the result would be that rental housing would not be offered on the market. Prospective tenants would not find rental housing. They would have to stay in slums. This is what is happening in every Indian city today. Yet, every bai in Mumbai would have decent rooms on rent if all legislation on “rent control” was repealed. Slums would disappear. I hope my readers will now instruct their bais to take to the streets in opposition to rent control. This is my Lesson # 4.

Finally, what good is the money earned if there is nothing much to buy with it? – as in our socialist heydays. Women are great shoppers. They love shopping. And they have the nose for the best deals. What good can these excellent noses do if foreign products are left out? Free trade is in the interest of all shoppers – so that they can purchase, with their hard-earned wealth, the best goods the world has to offer. So campaign for free trade as an essential component of Economic Freedom – the freedom to engage in consensual capitalistic exchanges with foreigners. This is my Lesson # 5.


Free trade, sound money, private property, liberty under law, production for exchange in urban markets and the consequent rapid urbanization of India – it is with these that all women can prosper. When they do so, men will gain too, because there is a law in Economics that says: When any good is sold it creates the demand for all non-competing goods and services. Thus, when a woman sells a tonne of papad, she will possess the means to buy a good car – manufactured by male engineers.

And even we men will prosper.

This article was published in the Antidote blog on Wednesday, June 18, 2008. Please read the original article here.

Author : Mr Chakraverti is an economist based in India. He writes on his blog

Four Wheels for All: The case for the rapid automobilisation of Indi

Four Wheels for All: The case for the rapid automobilisation of India by Sauvik Chakraverti

India has been gradually liberalising the automobile industry and opening it up to international competition. Today, the streets are awash with foreign brands, made in India. Yet, the launch of the Tata Nano has evoked horror from many environmentalists and town planners. They abhor the idea of universal car ownership inIndia.

In this important contribution to the debate, noted liberal scholar and author Sauvik Chakraverti challenges the readers to think of the wider impact of greater automobility, arguing for policies that will make cars affordable to all, lowering taxes and tariffs, including import of duty-free used cars.

Chakraverti looks at the issue from many angles. He places his reader between two options: as a successful individual owner of his own car, driving where he likes to go – which is self-directedness or autonomy – or being "moved in masses" at the whim of the "transport planner". And so it emerges that the car is part of the solution – the escape button every Indian needs. But the roads must be built on a war footing. And greater automobile ownership will create a political constituency in support of better roads. With greater connectivity, choices and markets will enlarge, the economy will get a boost, and freedom will reign.

This paper is firmly on the side of progress – enhanced personal mobility will greatly empower the aam admi, the euphemistic common man.

Shut down HRD ministry!

Shut down HRD ministry! By Sauvik Chakraverti

SAUVIK CHAKRAVERTI is an alumnus of the London School of Economics and former senior assistant editor of The Economic Times. Currently Chakraverti is the convenor of the Liberal Study Group, Mangalore.

Shut down the union hrd (human resource destruction) ministry. The ministry is manned by propagandists of a failed experiment in state socialism. It has ensured there are no genuine knowledge workers in the entire education system, except bureaucrats. Its supervision of schools, colleges and universities should be revoked.

Dismantle all licensing requirements for education institutions. The education sector urgently needs to be set free. This will facilitate entry of competing private firms offering short courses that equip young people for vocations or professions, be it plumbing or baking into the education sector. The three R’s can also be easily taught, especially using computers.

Free the student community. In schools, colleges, universities and B-schools across the country students receive state-sponsored ‘education’. Such education churns out limited types of economic actors: bureaucrats, managers, accountants, lawyers, doctors, engineers. In the emerging free market economy, young people will find profitable niches as DJs, VJs, even tattoo artists. The burden of formal education — especially state-sponsored education — is inimical to creativity and intellectual freedom. 

Revoke higher education subsidies. Higher education is a privilege, not a right. Those who actually produce knowledge should be free to work, teach and sustain their respective schools of thought. Every such school should sustain itself on its own resources as it would be fatal to academic freedom to expect or receive subsidies from the state.

Moreover some Indian edupreneurs are venturing overseas. The Manipal Education & Medical Group has promoted state-of-the-art medical schools in Nepal and Malaysia, and the S.P. Jain Institute, a campus in Dubai. And most spectacularly, India-born Sunny Varkey who runs a dozen secondary schools in Dubai and the UAE, has acquired 13 independent schools in Britain and could well be the world’s premier edupreneur.


This urgent flurry of activity within the hitherto somnolent education sector has ensured that the vital importance of qualitative education has permeated down to the lowest income groups across the subcontinent — a development accentuated by the promotion of the country’s 517 urban benchmarked Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya residential schools in rural India (see EW cover story August). Simultaneously it has focussed public attention upon hitherto arcane subjects such as syllabus design and curriculum development and shifted national attention from ritual to real education. Suddenly paper degrees and qualifications are not as important as professional and life skills which school leavers and college graduates must acquire within their institutions of learning.

Therefore the newly emergent consensus that reform of India’s Macaulayan system of education based on rote learning and memorisation rather than development of problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills requires urgent attention. And even as several specialist committees constituted by the Union ministry of human resource development are currently engaged in the process, the public interest demands a wider ambit for the national debate on syllabus and curriculum reform. To this end, to meaningfully celebrate the 5th anniversary of EducationWorld, we deemed it incumbent upon ourselves to ask several educationists and industry leaders with proven commitment to improving the education system to write prescriptions for a renaissance of Indian education.

Inevitably, prescriptions for the reform of India’s patently languishing, if not terminally ill education system by dedicated educationists in diverse professions and vocations differ widely. However on some points there is a broad consensus. The reforms implicitly or explicitly endorsed by all the seven eminent respondents are:

Liberalise and deregulate the education system to encourage promotion of new schools, colleges, vocational and other institutions of higher education.

To a greater or lesser degree all the respondents are in favour of addressing the supply side of education to eliminate capacity shortages which are the root cause of the overwhelming majority of the hundreds, if not thousands, of rackets which plague post-independence India’s education system. The learned justices of the Supreme Court agree. In its historic 2002 judgement in the TMA Pai Foundation Case (8 SCC 481), a full bench of the court expanded the right of minorities to "establish and administer educational institutions of their choice" as mandated by Article 30 of the Constitution of India, to all citizens.

This development prescription is strongly endorsed by liberal economist and writer Sauvik Chakraverti. "The education sector urgently needs to be set free. This will facilitate entry of private firms offering short courses that equip young people for vocations and professions — be it plumbing, or baking — into the education sector. The three R’s can also be easily taught by them using computers," says Chakraverti (see box p.39).

Need to de-school society

Need to de-school society by Sauvik Chakraverti

Dr. Parth Shah, president of the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society in his entertaining critique of Amartya Sen’s stand on government and State as educator of the masses, wrote that a government which cannot be trusted to produce food (by cultivating fields) surely can’t be trusted to produce education, which entails cultivation of minds. That’s why nobody is willing to pay bribes for admission into government schools. Some private schools extract donations and bribes because the licence-permit raj has blocked supply. Unshackle the enterprise of educationists, and there will be enough private education for all.

Socialists like Sen, who plead for a major role for the State or government in education, do so on two grounds: equity and standards. Both pleas are based on false premises. A state that spends hugely on higher education, leaving little for primary schooling, cannot be said to be serving equity. As predicted by public choice theory (which is still not taught at the ‘elite’ Delhi School of Economics), the education budget is hogged by the middle class and the rich, who consume higher education. The poor, whose children need just a little primary education to get going, get naught. So, the equity argument isn’t valid in the current Indian context.

Next we need to address the standardisation argument. Can you imagine anything worse for the minds of children than bureaucrats approving conditions for the promotion of schools and colleges and even univer-sities, mandating courses and syllabuses, listing ‘approved’ textbooks, fixing tuition fees and doing all the other things standardisers advocate? Will this not lead to the politicisation of knowledge? Will we not create an Orwellian ministry of truth? Like ISO certification, the private sector is quite capable of setting standards, as the privately promoted computer education firm NIIT has proved. But NIIT is still not ‘recognised’ by the Central or state governments.

Contrary to official dogma, education is one area in which there should be experimentation. Young people learn music, sports, dance, art, cooking, driving and computers (outside school) from private entrepreneurs. Thus, there is widespread variety and choice and acceptable standards over which both students and parents have control. Therefore there is negligible teacher absenteeism in such courses.

This is the pointer to the future. If, as Rabindranath Tagore had dreamed, India becomes a country "where knowledge is free", education would be a competitive enterprise over whose products consumers would exercise complete sovereignty. If poor parents want their children to learn English, as in fact most do, competitive entrepreneurs would sell them short courses, as many are already doing. If they seek other kinds of knowledge, the market economy will step in to provide it, either by studentship or apprenticeships. In such a market economy, a child from a poor family can choose a ‘calling’ and obtain knowledge relevant to that vocation. Specialised in this manner — as a beautician or tattoo artist, electrician, mason, plumber, motor mechanic, receptionist, chef or cartoonist — all poor children can seek honest survival in the urban market economy. They can be ‘rationally ignorant’ about everything else.

To understand ‘rational ignorance’, take for example, a musician. If he is adept at playing his chosen musical instrument, he has no need to learn anything else. If he wants a car, engineers build it for him, a chauffeur drives him around, and mechanics keep it in good repair. If he wants a grand house, architects design it for him, masons build it, and interior designers furnish it aesthetically. If he wants gourmet food, he hires a chef. And so on. As far as the musician is concerned, all he knows is how to play one musical instrument well. About everything else, he is rationally ignorant.

The notion of ‘rational ignorance’, which is the key to understanding how free markets use specialised knowledge, implies that children don’t need to spend long and boring years in school that mete out generalised knowledge. Armed with a pocket calculator and only two R’s, children from every household can begin to chase big dreams. We need to de-school society if we truly have the interests of poor children at heart. Instead, we have submitted, without even a murmur of protest, to the education cess: the state as the ‘cultivator of minds’.

A noted philosopher once remarked: "Whoever is the master of education is the master of mankind." Our socialist state wants to be the master of education as a means to a much more sinister end — control of our minds.

The situation is critical. It demands that parents wake up to their own responsibilities. A video recording of Pink Floyd’s The Wall about how education is ‘thought control’, should be compulsory viewing. As for compulsory reading, I strongly recommend Prof. James Tooley’s The Enterprise of Education, a 38-page booklet from Liberty Institute, New Delhi, which analyses the Indian experience of state controlled education.

(Sauvik Chakraverti is a journalist and author of Antidote: Essays Against the Socialist Indian State, and its sequel, Antidote 2: For Liberal Governance, both published by Macmillan)

Education provision by a failed State

Education provision by a failed State by Sauvik Chakraverti

Every activist in indian education suffers from a ‘delusion of knowledge’ — the notion that the socialist State, i.e. government, is in possession of knowledge that the poor need to succeed in life.

In reality, the State is itself based on failed knowledge. Economic liberalisation was resorted to in 1991 after half a century of socialism, precisely because of knowledge failure. And it is only because of ‘liberty’ that Indian society can now access various fragments of knowledge that were previously unavailable. Now we have modern automobiles, mobile phones, plasma TVs and the like because we allowed knowledge developed abroad to flow into the country. The State-promoted IITs have been operational since the early 1960s but this knowledge wasn’t available in India. The State-owned IIMs are of similar vintage — but there were hardly any business enterprises to manage then.

On the other hand, the poor have traditionally been in possession of various fragments of knowledge — but are denied entry into markets by repressive legislation. Poor girls can sing and dance, but the socialist State has outlawed nightlife. Tribals in the jungles of central India distill stimulating mahua liquor from an eponymous flower, but they cannot sell it. Tapping toddy and fermenting it is specialised knowledge. Last year Karna-taka reported a bumper toddy season — but nowhere on Bangalore’s swanky Brigade Road will you get a glass of toddy. The north-east is poor and underdeveloped; but boast great music bands there. But these bands cannot perform in heartland states because of State-imposed restrictions.

These are all examples of real, hard knowledge going waste. And ironically the State, which is responsible for this waste, wants to teach. If establishment educationists shout in concert, an education tax is immediately imposed. But the ‘planned’ flow of knowledge from State to the poor never happens, and it never will. The minister in charge of education is a Nehru family “loyalist”. As such he will teach Nehruvian socialist propaganda. And his loyal educrats will dictate what private institutes will teach and meddle with what they want to teach.

Thus, for the immediate benefit of the poor, and for the immediate spread of real knowledge, liberty is essential. Just as the public has benefited from foreign car companies entering India, so we will benefit from foreign universities setting up shop here. And just as the poor benefit from freedom, so will the national knowledge pool if anyone with a fragment of knowledge can set up shop and teach to whoever is willing to pay for it. The problem which requires resolution is that of transmission of knowledge from one who has it to another individual who wants to acquire it. The market alone can solve this problem. The State has no ‘collective pool of knowledge’. Indeed, the socialist Indian State is a naked propagandist, and all its attempts to secure ‘uniform standards’ in education have only resulted in the uniform teaching of untruths.

Therefore, the Union ministry of human resource development — actually ministry of human resource destruction — should be shut down. Every educrat should be fired, and all schools and colleges freed from government control and supervision over curriculum as well as certification. Private edupreneurs can then compete for testing scholastic competence and issuing certification — as with SAT, IB or the ISC.
What about poor kids in such a scenario? If they learn how to use a calculator, to read, write and speak English, to type on a keyboard and use a computer, to operate a mobile phone and send SMS, and how to drive a car, they will have all the basic knowledge required for success in the contemporary world. I am positive that private for-profit as well as non-profit efforts can easily transmit these fragments of knowledge to them in a manner that is efficient in terms of money as well as time.

Poor kids need to enter the workforce early. for them, 12 years of school is a massive waste of time. The basic knowledge they need, as outlined above, can be transmitted to them by private edupreneurs, cheap and quick. Thus, there is no role for the State in education either for the rich or the poor, in primary, secondary or higher education.

I conclude with what the great French economist Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) who was also in active politics, wrote in his election manifesto over 150 years ago: “Education is also bound up with the same fundamental question that precedes all others in politics: Is it part of the State’s duties? Or does it belong to the sphere of private activity? I believe that government is not set up in order to bring our minds into subjection, or to absorb the rights of the family... If you want to have theories, systems, methods, principles, textbooks and teachers forced on you by the government, that is up to you; but do not expect me to sign, in your name, such a shameful abdication of your rights.”
Indeed, as Bastiat stressed academic monopoly of the State can only work if the State is infallible. In a nation of widespread State failure, the very idea of government infallibility lies in tatters. 

(Sauvik Chakraverti is an author and journalist, closely involved with India’s liberal movement)

Heavy burden of government schooling

Heavy burden of government schooling by Sauvik Chakraverti

The children of rich people don’t need government education. The role of government in education is advocated by champions of the poor. “Educate poor children,” they tell the government.

But what do poor parents want their children to learn? Today, the overwhelming response is English. Poor parents have witnessed that good command of the English language enables success. They themselves were denied English learning by chauvinistic politicians who promoted Hindi and other regional languages for 60 years. They don’t want the same fate to befall their children. This demand of poor parents has been translated into political action in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. However, there have been problems in providing English language — particularly English medium education — and there are important lessons to learn from this experience.

In both West Bengal as well as Maharashtra, the major problem confronting state governments is a grave shortage of teachers. There are precious few who know English well enough to teach — and such people shun government employment. How then can this popular demand be met? One answer has emerged from India’s most populous Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, currently ruled by woman Dalit chief minister Mayawati.

Shortly after she assumed office in May 2007, Mayawati made the grand announce-ment that English would be introduced in all government primary schools from class I; that too, from July 1. But almost as soon as the chief minister had passed this order, her educrats ran into the problem of an acute shortage of trained and competent English teachers. They apprised the chief minister of this problem — and a new solution has emerged.

From August 1, thousands of primary and middle schools across Uttar Pradesh will tune into regular radio lessons in English. Teachers as well as students are expected to use this opportunity to the fullest. The English lessons scheduled to be broadcast statewide, have been produced by specialised English language teaching institutes. With the reach of radio, only one fully qualified teacher can teach English to an entire populace. In such a scenario why do we need government primary schools at all? Can’t an � la carte educational menu be placed before all poor parents and poor children by edupreneurs and educharities? Private initiatives will deliver far better services than government educrats who lack knowledge as well as incentive, and whose only role so far has been in maintaining licence-permit raj in the education sector. And apart from that, educrats have been administering a miserable government educational ‘system’ — actually a vast propaganda machine dispensing suspect socialist economics and knowledge.

Since we are talking specifically about the educational needs of poor children, we must note at the outset, that poor children need to enter the workforce fast. As economist Sudha Shenoy once famously said, “When life ends early, it must begin early.” The children of the poor have lower life expectancy than the rest of the population. Therefore for them, 12 years of school is a waste of time and effort. They need to learn basic skills, including language skills (like English). They don’t need ‘higher education’ of the type high schools are mandated to deliver.

If English can be taught through radio broadcasts, much can also be taught through television and the internet. Music, dance, cookery, and much else can be taught — and learned — through these media. If some poor household cannot afford the televisions and computers required, educharities could step in, and also monitor the quantum and quality of education actually transmitted. If we proceed along these lines, there is abundant hope that very soon the government school system will be closed down. And after their closure, there would be hope of useful knowledge actually reaching children of the poor. They could learn how to operate a calculator (instead of learning math); how to use a mobile phone and send and receive SMS; how to work a computer and send and receive e-mail; the rules of traffic safety and other things that all need to know.

A market economy is based on the social contract of ‘fragmentation of knowledge’. The taxi driver, the receptionist, the bhelpuri wallah, gardener, cook — all operate with distinct fragments of knowledge. Children of the poor, once they have acquired the basic skills outlined above quickly, can then choose what particular fragment of knowledge they wish to learn. They can learn from apprenticeship in for-profit training schools or through educharities. If we examine issues from this perspective, we see that there is no ‘knowledge problem’ as everyone doesn’t need to know everything. The ‘general education’ of the government schools system is irrelevant and counter-productive. It is also pertinent to note that government is not in possession of ‘knowledge’ that poor people need.

The government school system is a burden. It is a colossal waste of time, money and effort and weighs heavily on the shoulders of poor children. They need a short cut to the market, not the long road to a high school diploma.

(Sauvik Chakraverti is a writer involved with India’s liberal movement.