Liberal Democracy-Ecological Conciousness -Ecocentricism

Examine the notion that liberal democracy curtails emergence of ecological consciousness in the society. How can ecocentric critical mass evolve out of these limitations?

Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism.

The word to be further detailed and cloosely looked at in that definition  is classical liberalism.

Classical liberalism is a political ideology and a branch of liberalism which advocates civil liberties and political freedom with representative democracy under the rule of law and emphasizes economic freedom

A very individual centric approach of the liberalism when tries to impose on the democracy , trying to still hold on to the democratic principles it becomes quite a confused concoction. “Economic freedom”  aspect of classical liberalism, especially is the one that on the face is in compliance with democracy, but definitely is that one which will infringe upon the “economic rights” that democracy as a form of governance  bestows upon its people.

In my opinion the “classical liberalism” and “democracy” have their own bits of contradictions. If these ideologies are put together to form liberal democracy. The liberal aspects of classical liberalism – especially the individualistic aspects mask the community/ commons aspects of democracy. And therefore the liberal democracy is loaded with individualism as a way of existence. In this paradigm of thinking a human being becomes centre to his own ways of thinking and living. Its a paradigm of exclusion , where one wants to be “different”/”special” and differentiated from the other. This mode of operation pushed for a a self centered mode of existence.

Ecological consciousness to come from the inside requires a very evolved and sensitive selves to see the other lives equal to that of our own human life. Or it comes from a very logical and rational understanding that our lives depend on whole lot of things that stem from the earth, air and water and all these elements themselves too. This makes sense even in the individualist paradigm. But the individualist paradigm has a limited understanding of what is best for individuals. That is, the consumeristic attitude propelled under this ideology has only allowed a very limited expression of individualism. A complete expression of individualism in the most evolved form will be in line with the approach an ecologically conscious person would approach the ecology. The understanding of the ecological dependency of the human race is still as the complex mesh of dependency and causation is still beyond our understanding. So the logical mind of the people who believe only in human wellbeing is difficult to be convinced.

At some level if the sense of mortality, fragility of our lives  prevails on individuals along with a sense of  the scale of existence we exist becomes clear to us, there is possibility that we live more gently. Our interactions with our fellow humans and the environments we live in will become gentle. At some level in today’s time when we people  ( especially the urbanites) seem to hardly have any connection with the land, water, air that breaths life into us. And we think its our jobs, the money we earn and the gadgets we carry is our world. We seem to forget the fragility of life due to the improved quality of life that we urbanites) enjoy.

The question of how can ecocenticism evolve in this context? Can it be systemic or should it be from the people? It is very difficult to get something changed t systemic level given the mammoth size of systems. Whereas at individual level the number of units (people) that require change is millions and billions. But what is possible by individuals who are interested in ecocentric perspective?  If anything is possible it is only at the level of effecting other individuals. There needs be effort people to understand and empathize with humanity and the world. There needs be a sense of home when it comes to this planet. And this when achieved there will be no need to tell anyone about not destroying the planet. SO the ecocentricism requires an inner awakening of the human population. Reestablishment of the connect to mother earth.

So in short it needs to be a grassroots movement to achieve this ecocentricism. About the context of liberal democracy, it will play out well if the people who are part of it are sensitive and conscious of their responsibilities they owe to this planet.

Advertisements

Kaveri dispute- Karnataka and Tamilnadu – Part 2

I had a late evening bus on 24th night from Bangalore ( Karnataka) to go to Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu). In the last minute the bus got cancelled as the buses with Karnataka Registration were not being allowed in Tamil Nadu. This was as a consequence of Karnataka declining to share the water until 28th of this month post the Supreme Court verdict.

I had taken this new masters course in public policy partly to zoom out of my present frame of reference which is established from my work at grassroots. The other reason was to work in areas of environemnt other than water. Since the Kaveri issue has resurfaced this year, it looks like water is become a centre to many crisis of our times. Some researchers and activist have been talking about the dooms day being just around the corner. Especially verdicts on water being the centre of future wars. Scholars like Peter Gleick, Asit Biswas and other have been writing extensively about crisi and how to go about it. I thought we would pick what these people say and work it out somehow.

I somehow always felt this will not be the case. We will some how figure it out, get our act as a species. No! This Kaveri/ Cauvery water issue is only making all these doomd day verdicts come true.

I was sitting one day thinking how do we go about these issues of crisis of water. I felt its quite complex the whole issue of water. Its so entertwined with every aspect of life and activities we humans conduct. To be honset we have done enough to understand the root  causes of the crisis – the loop holes in the way we address drinking waer security, the change in croping patterns and crops in the command area of Cauvery river and other water uses. In short it is flawed decissions on water usage and mismanagement of resource and also mismanagement  within institutions using the water for different purposes. There have been solutions studied and proposed to address all these matters both technicaly, and institutionally. The paradigm of integrated water resource management gives a framework to work on all issues simultaneously.

But still, Why are these solutions not picked up? Where is the inertia, what is the threat in changing to newer paradigm of operation? It feels like its in our minds. The inertia is in our heads. I wonder, how do we go beyond the finger pointing excercise and think for our own selves and look for a solution which  will make sense to ourselves in the long run too?

The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis

A proposition that seems to come to me again and again is that of “propaganda” as the mode of operation. Why dont we use skills of the O&Ms and Lowe Lintas kind of agenceis to work on the heads of the population to address issues of this kind? Why do we engage them to change mindset of people only to make “fairness” a fad thing or to sell chocolates? I am tempted to drop this documentary that I have been studying for the last few weeks to push the idea of propaganda. It speaks a lot on what can be done to manipulate the “crowds”. Why not use the same for a meaninful purpose. If not done responsibly this can spin out in a wrong direction and out of control. But for now this is all is coming to me as a solution again and again.

 

 

The complex terrain: environment vs development

The trimester is coming to its end and a lot of writing, submissions are happening. Sleepless nights and ill health always seem to go hand in hand for me in these times.

challakere-grassland

Challakere Grassland, Chitradurga, Karnataka, India

As a part of a project, I am exploring environmental degradation and how it’s connected to poverty both as causation and also as an effect. While trying to understand this loopy relationship, on a friend’s suggestion, I looked at the Amrit Mahal Kaval of Chellakere ( 50,000 Hectares). This and similar such large patches of land were given to pastoralist by Mysore Maharaja some 400 years ago.

In 2012, a substantial part of this land (10,000 hectares) of it was allocated to three government establishments -DRDO, BARC, IISc for drone testing, enrichment of uranium and other scientific research respectively. And this was all done by the District Collector secretively without informing the involved Panchayats. And when the villagers got to fathom what was happening, it was quite late, constructions, building of compound walls had already begun. The villagers protested on two grounds – secretive transaction of land (that was given to them by the King 400 years ago) without their consent and second is the biodegradation of the grassland.

I am in complete agreement with their argument against secretive transaction without their consent. But in a documentary about the lives of these villages and how these nuclear/ government establishments will affect their livelihood – there were points made about how practices that are practices over generations will be lost, both culturally and biodiversity wise.  My questions regarding this narrative is twofold- what is 400 years of culture compared to 5000 years of culture we as a nation have gathered? Second being, where is the EIA that shows the negative impact on biodiversity by these establishments? And any sort of development activity will have a altering impact on environment. The civilizational transitions are not going to pause just because we cannot clearly articulate negative changes that it will bring along. An average human being today – let’s say a lower middle class person today enjoy the level of comfort that none of the kings enjoys 200 years ago. All of it is, courtesy environmental exploitation/ degradation/ utilization.

The fight on the Chellakere is legit if it were about non-involvement of the communities and their consent. May be had the communities been involved early on, the establishments could have had a way that was agreeable to both parties and the factories running. But the question that bothers me, especially regarding environmental degradation is that of – what is degradation and how is it different from use? Will grazing of cattle and pastoral activities not cause degradation- by loss in biodiversity and addition of GHGs? Is a nuclear enrichment plant the only way in which this area will get polluted?

The civil society that is helping these communities in staging a protest seem to actually be putting words in their mouth and articulate it for them. The civil society also is the one who is painting the picture for them. This is not an accusation, but an observation. As Leo Saldana ( in one of his talks to us in NLSIU) put it succinctly, the ones who have their stake in such matters are hardly lettered and in-articulate. In a state where even the articulate are victimized, what the in-articulate to do. In that case, the imagination and understanding of these people given this condition will never emerge to their own minds, let alone to the larger society.

The other possible pictures in my opinion is not vision-able for these villagers. Or is it that the state has betrayed so many of the vulnerable communities (by not keeping its promises) that the state has lost the credibility for anyone to believe what they paint?

 

Intial thoughts- Environemental goods and Market Based Environmental Policies

Market Based Environmental Policies , can they really work a solution to the environemtal crisis we face today? I have been trying to understand this for a while now. There are two concepts that address this matter  and they can be associated with two economist. One of the olden times A.C. Pigou and other of these times Ronald Coase. The problem of environment is not something they tried to address but the negative externality of any economic transaction. most times the negative externality of any economic transaction was borne by the environment. So their theories can largely be applied to addressing problems that are related to pollution/ exploitation of environment. 

While Pigou lived in the 19th and 20th century, Coase lived in the 20th and 21st century. Pigou tried to address the issue of environmental pollution by suggesting taxation. Later this evolved into the idea of regulating the industries that pollute. But taxation is tricky, as one may not know the actual cost of the polluting activity. Regulation may be technology specific regulation , although this means reduced bandwidth from the state to monitor , this will be a disincentive for innovations on less polluting technologies. The other type of regulations is to do with respect to specifying the quality/ quantity of pollution produced. This increases and facilitates innovation whereas costs high on monitoring of the industries. 

Ronald Coase in 1960 in a paper suggested to reduce negative externality what was needed was not taxation or regulation but property rights.  Property rights that are –  well defined ( of which object, what rights does the right provide), divisible ( are the rights separate and tradable) and defendable (enforceable , recognized by norms or customs of community or government). He got a nobel prize for this particular thought. It did do good in resolving many disputes.

My reason to look at these two regimes of addressing negative externalities is to understand what are the present form of -pollution control boards and environmental clearances processes following. The regime as in India is that of regulation – more Pigouvian as we have not ( and in some cases, it is not easy) to ascertain property rights to certain geographical entities like rivers, lakes etc. Why is Coase’s approach not practices in India – it could be because of the lack of establishing of property rights or inability to allocate rights. 

The other aspect with respect to Coase’s application to environmental goods, internationally, carbon trading is a perfect implementation of it. But can we trade carbon? Does environement work in the ways economist perceive it. Is it so simplistic that I pollute in America and ask some other entity in another nation to do forestration on my behalf. Will it work? Will America will also get to exchange “pure air” generated in that country where forestration is done “ in lue of” that industry in America? 

One needs to explore this further….

Watching – War on Democracy

It has been a year long in a course in study of public policy. Its been a busy year of working and studying and falling fatally ill. This trimester is a little easy and I am trying again to write and share my thoughts and experiences on issues of public concern.

As a part of the course one has to see, read and question the aspects of local and international politics and policy making. The dynamics involved in it.  For this purpose I am now seeing the documentary- War on Democracy. The movie is about what has United States of America done to its neighbors – Venezuela, Chile , Bolivia ,Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador from 1950s until early 2000s.

Had it been a year ago, I would have say crying wondering why would innocent people get killed in the larger politics of greed in this world. A question that begets answer of “collateral damage” from people who work at the upper echelons of any nation. I would have found it insensitivity and outrageous and disturbing. But having spent a whole year looking at issues after issues, I feel as much value emotions have in addressing a problem passionately, there is a place for strategic thinking which may or may not provide logically correct answers/solutions. So now I am looking at this documentary with these pair of dry eyes.

John Pilger interviews several ex-CIA agents who took part in secret campaigns against democratic countries in the region. He investigates the School of the Americas in the US state of Georgia, where Pinochet’s torture squads were trained along with tyrants and death squad leaders in Haiti, El Salvador, Brazil and Argentina.

The film unearths the real story behind the attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in 2002 and how the people of the barrios of Caracas rose up to force his return to power.

It also looks at the wider rise of populist governments across South America lead by indigenous leaders intent on loosening the shackles of Washington and a fairer redistribution of the continent’s natural wealth.

Source: http://johnpilger.com/videos/the-war-on-democracy

The documentary has a strong case to make. But the clips of the documentary seem to show clips that fit the narrative John Pilger wants to show us. I am not trying to make the point that the USA’s intervention here was in anyway benovalant. If anything it was clear display of vested interest. The installation of dictators , coup against  Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or the  killing of Salvador Allende of Chile have happened under their purview. The historical documents from CIA show the clear hand of Americans in it.

The point on Chicago boys, the loot of the Bolivians, the privatization of every service in Bolivia is all real, relevant and important. There are few points I would like to make about such documentaries. The ones that describe and delve into any problem in depth. They are good in bringing forth the issues none of the mainstream media ever cover. They give the perspective of the people who go through these policy interventions. Be it the effect of Washington Consensus   or the complete ostracization of Cuba or the experimentation of Chicago boys on real people of these countries. This perspective is very important, rather one of the most important perspectives in  understanding the cascading effect of any national or international policy or intervention. The documentary in the end shows how Venezuela and Bolivia now are doing well for themselves because of the people’s movement against the exploitative “empire”. Quite a relief.

But is the other side of the story of greed and a want of a new age empire ( like the imperial form). Is the narrative that simplistic?

Let us assume that is to be the case. In the world scenario where this empire seems to be so powerful does a country confront it with raw courage or it plays strategically so that it does good for its own people? Playing strategically is what is required. And thats politics right? It is not about confrontation of the wrongs in a simplistic manner, but to play the dirty game of politics and get what a nation wants. The virtues of equality, liberty and freedom etc  are  things a nation can bestow upon “its own people”.  It can not expect another nation to bestow it upon the world.

Nations, the minute nationality is ascribed to any individual, there comes into existence  “my people” and “others”. Nationstate is the status quo of the world order today. And wellbeing of economic kind is the only understood wellbeing in todays times. In the documentary the Bolivian hill people ask, if we were so rich with gold and silver, why are we beggars now. Why  are we so poor now. As much as one wants to glorify and romanticize simple living and living in sync with the nature, the times have forced people to seek economic wellbeing to meet their daily needs. Given these two basic premise, it will be foolish for any nation to believe or to think another nation will want to be benevolent towards them. Every nation state is always working for its own interest. May be its own rich people’s interest in some cases (That,the disparity within a nation is a topic of discussion for a later time).

The portrayal of one country as evil and another as a the victim seems to be inherently problematic. The victimized nation has to grow and to oust the evil in a strategic manner. It will be good to see documentaries and read books/ papers which show how did Venezuela come out of the coup and how are they now – as a nation and with respect to their economic status. What were the ways and means adopted? There is no doubt that, the background information on how a powerful nation interfered is as much necessary information. But a more nuanced narrative that covers aspects of more constructive aspects of such struggles ( like that of Venezuela and Chile)  especially emphasizing on  -how to come out of a bad situation may make a useful documentation for the world. The War and Democracy kind of documentaries are good for “awareness generation” ( like we call it in our development work lingo). But what we need more badly is documentation of lessons (training material 😉 ) on how to do it.

 

 

 

 

Food, enough and nutritious , for the producer! What about wellbeing???

IMG_9058

Old lady farmer from a village in Andhra Pradesh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always wanted to understand why a farmer, who produces food, and his family went hungry. I found it cruel and completely unacceptable that a producer of food had to go hungry, and not even feed his children. This and the fact that they resorted to suicides is even more saddening.

I am trying to understand if  in the current world context, the problem of food production and that of farmers – soil loosing its organic nutrition ( due to use of chemical fertilizers), water scarcity, salinity increase in soil etc can be addressed by organic farming, or sustainable farming or climate smart farming.

All these words organic, sustainable and climate smart seem to be synonymous to me. But they are not to be so. I am looking up Food and Agriculture Organization documents, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement, policy documents n organic farming by many states in India. From the readings until now the following is what the picture looks like:

  1. High yielding variety of seeds actually yield high produce, but are high on inputs ( fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides  and water) compared to organic farming in certain geographies. But one of the inputs required – water is becoming scarce. Also pests are becoming resistant to pesticides and yada yada.
  2. But when the world was going through food crisis especially in the developing world in the 1960s these high yielding, high input crops helped in increasing the food produce without destroying virgin forest to expand production. At that time the input demand of the cropping did not pinch as the exploitation of resources had just began and the limits of exploitation were not known to us.
  3. There is biomagnification of pesticides ad other chemical inputs in the food produced from this method. This is harmful for health. This is true. But the gravity of the issue is something I am yet to explore.  I do not want to dwell into it without concrete proof. Nonetheless, there is a lot of hue and cry about the health effects of chemical farming.
  4. Chemical farming in short is now perceived as a problem in the world. Even agencies like FAO are proposing organic farming at large scales.(Save and Grow).
  5. Organic farming definitely has very little negative health effects as the input that goes into it is all natural. Verdi compost, cow dung, leaf mulches.
  6. But the yield of it is less than the irrigated high yield varieties. The organic produce yield is less than chemical by 9-25% according to few studies. This is only in the case of irrigated high yield fields.
  7. When it comes to rained areas, organic yields better than chemical and this is consistent with many studies.
  8. Organic’s yield is better than chemical farming even in case of irrigated field during the period of drought.

The questions that I have running in my head are:

  1. Can small/ marginal farmers actually shift to organic farming gainfully? Right now there is very little support from the governments for them. Whereas chemical farmers have input subsidy. There is no such thing for organic farmers.
  2. With very little ecosystem to support a organic farmer and his risks,is it right to push these small guys towards it?
  3. What about the yield, the high yield and GMO proponents scare the hell out of people by saying when we move to organic we won’t be able to feed the world. How true is this?
  4. Generic farmer insurance ecosystem is very bare minimum with only crop insurances made available to them. Will the existing financial ecosystem make way for organic farmers too or not?

In short does both ecology and economics suggest our move to organic or only ecology? If one can prove with numbers that its both ecology and economics, then the shift should not be that difficult.

This apart there needs to be political will to move in that direction too. Chemical fertilizer and pesticide firms have huge cloud and therefore ensure that the politicians are well taken care off. So if the science and numbers say yes, still there is this huge irrational- illogical ( for the larger nation, not the politician. For the politician it is rational and logical to gain from this disputed situation from the huge firms) hurdle to be crossed.

And yes! How can one forget the agreements we sign up to. The Agreement on Agriculture with WTO and similar such multilateral agreements we sign as a nation. They may also try to restrict us even if economics and ecology permit our organic endeavor.

So, I will share more… as I know more of it….

 

Been a while…

6358478353485762831146152660_power-of-words-by-antonio-litterio-creative-commons-attribution-share-alike-3-0

I have begun a Masters education again in Public Policy from a “reputed” Law School in India last July. Its been a long time since I wrote. Its been a busy year at the new school trying to understand the language and discourses of social science- patriarchy, feminism, injustice, the lefts , the rights, the left to center, the right of centre, marxist, capitalist, yada yada yada…along with falling ill etc.

As much these social science ways of looking at things fascinated me, I think by the end of it all I would still prefer to remain an engineer. Pick up a problem and solve it.

All this time I have been trying to get myself to READ, READ and READ as much as possible and make sense of things, to be able to read in between lines, understand the social dynamics behind a particular issue at hand. I must admit that, its been helpful to engage with these things. But its frustrating to argue, debt and discuss on caste, class, gender, inequity, ulterior motive behind every move of a government  or the world as such. Only exception among the social sciences that seems to be concrete although erroneous many times is Economics. Fascination for this subject has not worn off. As much as it is good to know what is the backdrop of any given condition or issue, it will be useful to also work towards addressing these issues.

 

 

Hunger

Since the past couple of days, for some specific purpose I am having only two meals a day. First one post noon and the next one at 6:00 pm. As I eat only two times I eat really really well ( read it as gluttonize). Still I stay hungry for most parts of the day except between 12:00 in noon to 8:00 pm. My mind seems to not be able to overlook food, as I wake up hungry at 6:00 am and I sleep hungry at 12:00 am. Only a few times   have I been in a place when I did not have food to eat and I was hungry.

The plight of most of our (subsistence) farmers and their families  is of hunger, lack of proper nutrition to children and stunted growth. What must it be to stay hungry when you are a producer of food? Isn’t it cruel? One may wonder if I am being overtly sentimental about it. It would be good to go hungry and limit your meals for couple of days and observe it for yourself.  You will realise how it could fee. Many of us reading this post eat much before we get hungry and have forgotten how it is to feel ‘hungry’. In the state I come from, Tamil Nadu, people greet by asking Saptingala? ( have you eaten). Saptingala is a replacement for all the “good mornings”, “how are you”,  “how is the weather”, “how are things” and the “whatsups” .   This must have been the practice when there was not enough food for all. And to be well was as simple as  to have a filled stomach.

I was glad when the National Food Security Bill was tabled in 2013. But the new government at the centre is only trying to cut down the expenditure and make it minimalistic in nature.  The Shanta Kumar committee which was mandated to look at Food Corporation of India and recommend changes. The committee did that, but majority of its recommendations rather suggest to curtail the National Food Security Act. Two of its recommendations were : to reduce the percentage of population covered under it form 67% to 40% and to increase the cost of grains to half the price of the minimum support price provided by the government to the farmers from the present Rs 2/kg and Rs 3/kg for rice and wheat respectively.

It looks like the way of the BJP government to change laws instead of re-hauling the ineffective and inefficient institutions that are supposed to deliver law. Something similar has also done to the Environmental law, by the High Level Committee set up to look at the environmental law. In their haste to review the law in a limited period of 2 months, the committee goes about recommending changes to law rather than looking at the institution which has to provide the certificates and what lacks with them.  Ramaswamy Iyer looks at this  in his piece in The Hindu.

One hoped for development and wellbeing with this new government. the hope still is present. Hope this government does what it wants to do for industries without sabotaging the interest of the weaker lot: the farmers, the tribals who survive on the forest and others. Also hope it is not foolish enough to invoke  damage to the environment and forests that make the earth liveable.

All this rampant industrialisation without any consideration for the environment or cutting down the expenditure in food security  will give the government garner better economic development, higher growth rate etc. But what is the point to development when along with it, the only thing that it garners is increases is conflict, unrest and wider economic divide.

Thoughts on using Randomised Control Trials (RCT) to understand , evaluate and conclude how development program work

Its been many months I wrote any post here at TMN. Since the last post I have been busy traveling on personal and work trips. Many discussions, debates and conversations I thought were worth sharing here. But they failed to make it here sheerly because of my lack of discipline to write regularly. One particular subject which I wanted to write and still want to share remains to be the use of Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) by development economist to understand development programs and schemes rolled out by governments.

The pioneers and starts who made RCTs the vogue are Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo. I have read their book in parts, read criticism on their approach (RCT) to development economics and many other articles and interviews by them. To not be judgemental about the approach I wanted to understand it further. That took me to  ‘IGC-ISI India Development Policy Conference’ 2014 in July. But the cases, experiments and presentations made in the conference did not change but made my opinions and doubts on the approach stronger. A recent interview of Esther Duflo, made me revisit RCT and compelled me to write this post.

What is RCT?

A randomised controlled trial (or randomised control trial;RCT) is a type of scientific (often medical) experiment, where the people being studied are randomly allocated one or other of the different treatments under study. The RCT is the gold standard for aclinical trial. RCTs are often used to test the efficacy or effectiveness of various types of medical intervention and may provide information about adverse effects, such as drug reactions. Random assignment of intervention is done after subjects have been assessed for eligibility and recruited, but before the intervention to be studied begins.

Source: Chalmers TC, Smith H Jr, Blackburn B, Silverman B, Schroeder B, Reitman D, Ambroz A (1981). “A method for assessing the quality of a randomized control trial”. Controlled Clinical Trials 2 (1): 31–49. doi:10.1016/0197-2456(81)90056-8. PMID 7261638

How can RCTs help development or alleviate poverty ?

Here is an apt description of what RCT can do to development according to the authors of Poor Economics:

The authors propose that although we do not know  “what works,” careful observation  of the poor to help design interventions, cemented by randomised trials to assess  these interventions, can help us identify what does. Those who have the power to intervene (governments, international organisations, NGOs, philanthropists, and the  global middle and upper classes) are assumed to be well motivated, so that once  the deficit in their knowledge is overcome (in part through the good offices of the  authors), they will act.

Source: Randomise This! On Poor Economics Author: Sanjay G. Reddy*

Here is what I feel about RCTs used to implement  development projects and evaluation of development projects:

  1. The method as a tool to evaluate how development program have been delivered, seems to do a good job at it, as the sample size are vast enough and wide  spread and well ‘randomised’. But everything that makes a program click or fail is not measurable.
  2. There are ethical issues when RCT is used to implement a development program and see how the program  pans out. But I do not feel so strongly about it, because implementing a program that will fail to a large set of population is worse than trying it out on a small population and learn from it.
  3. The outcomes and conclusions made after RCTs (especially the ones I heard about during the IGC conference and read in Duflo’s interview) are very strong. Most times RCTs are only trying to test a particular aspect of a program. For examples : how does teacher’s attendance have impact on learning and therefore how to improve it. I find that approach quite narrow. It assumes many other factors that  play an important role in the success or failure of a program to be constant. It neglects the context of these programs. There is very little of context taken into consideration, eg: social structure and norms where the program is implemented,which the conclusions are made. I find this over simplifies complex problems and addresses the reasons for their failure only superficially. There is very little ethnographic outline to any program that is evaluated with this method.
  4. Most of the RCTs are designed with an inherent belief that human beings respond to carrots and sticks and THATS ALL! There is very little time spent on dwelling upon deeper reasons for dysfunctioning of institutions, programs and individuals of a particular society.
  5. Importantly there is too much arrogance when any economist concludes based on their RCT experiment. Which only makes one want to dismiss it immediately.

Abijit Banerjee , Esther Duflo and cohort who practice RCT seem to be  in fashion. As much as 100 RCT programs are on in India only from The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab alone.  Many state government agencies  here are already engaging with them quite a bit. And in all 500 odd such experiments across the world is happening .RCTs are very expensive. If only they could just make it more holistic, their work will have the impact they desire and more.

Thoughts and Questions as I read Thomas Piketty’s ‘Capital in the 21st Century’

Its a delight to have someone write a historical economics book looking at economies over a long period of time across a large number of countries. This expanse aids in portraying and reasoning the economic conditions more near reality of the times. With this its trying to see what will the economic future be like.  I am happy to be reading this book. Its an effort of 15 years of rigorous research on 20 countries over 3 centuries.

I am not done reading the book, but I am impatient and tempted to say that, this book may be able to see what lies as the economic future of the world. I say this because the author seems to take into consideration and be empathetic about the conditions of the times when the previous economic theories were formulated. Secondly, he is taking into account all the historical events and their connections to the economics of the times.

As a lay person ( not trained as an economist ) reading journal papers, news papers and looking  the trends of things around I had this observarion about the way economies have been in recent times : Economies oscillated between the keynesian (socialist)  and hayek’s  ( free market ) economics . This oscillation between the extremes and all permutations and combinations of parts of these two models will be a part of the cycle the world goes through and it will continue to go through.  As there is no permanent fix to any economic condition or social conditions like poverty and penury. New theories will evolve, will fix the social problems until these theories are well understood and misused by few for their own personal benefit. Economics as field so seems to be one which will keep evolving, getting more complex as time goes by and so will the problems.