Last night, I managed to read through the transcript of the conversation between Dr. Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Advisor, Government of India and Prof. Karthik Muralidharan of UC San Diego. It was published on August 5, 2015. It was time well spent. There are many take-aways including the names of young researchers like Siddharth Geroge (Ph. D student and about to become a faculty member at Michigan State University), Prabhat Barnwal, Santosh Matthew (IAS Officer), etc.
To me, there were simple take-aways:
(Dr. AS): that there is a lot of value in just presenting simple facts clearly. I certainly think that we underestimate how little the facts are understood, and there is a lot of scope for presenting these through simple analyses; you don’t have to do complicated randomised controlled trials.
(Prof. KM): Let me make a plug for one more approach, which is better data.
(Prof. KM): One of the most interesting insights from our AP smartcards work came …….. from being embedded in the government and observing the process play out.
Observation, data, simple analysis and presentation – these things matter and matter far more than we think. We need to try these first before we go for ‘smart’ solutions. All sincere and competent people are trying to come up with smart solutions to scale the political economy barrier for bringing about desired and desirable social and economic change.
For example, there was quite a bit of discussion on the political economy of change and reforms. While all smart solutions have to be tried – choosing winnable battles, picking areas for reforms where rents are collected by the Opposition, reforms by stealth including privatisation by stealth, acting where there is least resistance and sharing the gains of reforms – one issue that did not get discussed is the requirement of a basic level of trust, integrity and identification with common cause and the importance of leadership that articulates effectively the public cause.
Incentives for undertaking reforms at the systemic level are not enough. Individual incentives are needed. How to offer that to Ministers, bureaucrats and others involved in the process of change? Some form of the Singapore model of formulation of objectives, evaluation and incentives for over-achievement might be needed to incentivise personal ownership of the process of change.