Ideas and execution

I had subscribed to ‘Daily Reckoning’ – a newsletter I used to read in the early part of the last decade. Now, I have resubscribed. There was an interesting sentence describing Ms. Janet Yellen, current Chairperson of the American Federal Reserve Board:

To become a major establishment economist, Janet Yellen had to think that well-meaning, well-educated officials could improve the performance of a market system. … She could be a monetarist…or a Keynesian. Different strains of thought were acceptable. But she had to be some type of activist. She had to be a True Believer in the power of intervention.

Perhaps, all of us – intellectuals – believe that we mean well, we think well and therefore, we do good. But, in recent times, I have heard two of my good friends – one an economist and the other a civil servant – extolling execution more than ideas. The civil servant wrote that he had a (bad) habit of admiring good execution more than smart ideas.

The economist-friend wrote that from his experience working in a private sector bank in India, he could tell that the most successful projects were not the ones that looked great on the drawing board but were the ones that were superbly executed, despite looking not-so-great on the drawing board.

That brings me to an article I wrote for Pragati in June and published recently. I wrote that, under PM Modi, India needed Modinomics and not Reaganomics. India’s PM Modi is known for execution and effective administration and not for his intellectual ideas. I do not think that is a lacuna or a problem or weakness. Perhaps, that is a strength.

In fact, the day-long conference that I attended on August 2 in Bangalore hosted by the Takshashila Institution and the Hudson Institute (disclosure: I am a co-founder of the Takshashila Institution) led me to conclude that India ran the risk of debating ideas endlessly. The country is big, complex and has too many layers of differentiation making it difficult to apply uniform, template solutions across States, towns, villages and communities. So, one can endlessly debate about exceptions, unique circumstances, issues, problems and challenges. The key is to to get on with it, to try and experiment and even run multiple experiments. I say more on this in a forthcoming piece for Pragati.

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