How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
And how do you ruin a great country? One easy solution at a time.
It is very easy for us to get seduced by easy solutions . It draws from our innate “do something” psychological bias. Just because a complex problem can’t be solved easily we settle for doing something in the name of appearing busy, involved and at the top of things. Part of the reason we settle for this is because we are pushed by our society, by our families and by stakeholders to do something! So what we settle for are easy solutions to tough complex problems.
I have always considered history to be the most powerful tool in a thinking man’s toolbox. And it is important for us to train our eyes towards one of the most prosperous states at the turn of 20th century-Argentina. Argentina is a text book case of what can happen when a country is seduced by ideas and dreams of easy solutions and utopia. But before that, lets get some background.
Lets kill the golden goose!
Argentina in the beginning of 20th century was a haven of free market economics. It was the first South American country with its own democratic government, urban transportation system, lighting system. In a few years it will have its own telegraph system. This is remarkable because outside the richest few countries of Europe this was unheard of. People were entrepreneurial and business was strong. However at the turn of 1930s decade, things started sliding. The reason is interesting. Any capitalist economy will always have its own share of inequality, disenfranchised and people who have lost out in competition. You will have to handle it in different ways if you are government. For disenfranchised the government has to enable them to increase their capabilities. For the unequals, you will have to protect them through institutions like law and order, policing and to some extent proper targeting of affirmative action. For the last section, you have to do nothing.
However, the role of government in those days was hazy and not much thought was given. What resulted was the degeneration of the politics to demogoguery. What does this mean? Demogoguery means policy making by the masses. Unfortunately, how much ever romantic our notions of democracy be, if anything we have learned from history is that masses are poor choicemakers. People just can’t forego short term gains for long term solutions. As a result Hipolito , the then President of Argentina was deposed by military junta and one of the shining beacons of democracy got extinguished. The military junta soon consolidated power by mobilising on demogoguery and denouncing democracy. People started believing in the power of easy solutions.
Soon thereafter Juan Peron a mercurial man with fortunes swaying wildly, rose to the scene. Peron was initially thrown behind the bars by the military. His charming wife Evita Peron intrigued to get him released and finally capture power. Evita was perhaps the most charming woman in Argentina at that time and masses were in love with her. In psychology there is a bias called the halo effect. Beautiful people can do no wrong! Evita was beautiful and she was considered to be intelligent.
As a result she and her husband persued some of the most reckless socialistic, populist policies in its history ruining the economy, industry and society of Argentina completely. Today, Argentina is still struggling to achieve its potential.
Why am I narrating this?
India now, Argentina then
Its simple. One man’s demogoguery is ruining the polity. One party’s demogoguery is polluting the waters. One ideology’s influence is affecting the future. Arvind Kejriwal has promised 700 ltrs of free water to Delhi citizens. The question here is, why did Aam Aadmi Party need to announce this? Which problem were they trying to solve.
Its simple to answer: THE PROBLEM OF ACUTE WATER SCARCITY.
But why Delhi has a water scarcity when areas around it doesn’t have the said problem in the same intensity. A slight amount of investigation tell us the Delhi JAL board just doesn’t have the means, abilities, capabilities and the knowledge to serve its core purpose. To gain an understanding how deep the problem is, imagine this:
Imagine you are the CEO of Delhi Jal Board. You know that you need to provide water to all the households of Delhi. BUT, you don’t even know how many households you are providing to today! No one in DJB keeps a proper record of water supplied and the number of households. No one has a quantitative idea of leakage.
Furthermore, the water sources you tap to extract water is fast shrinking in quantity and quality. Partly because the demand is very very high, secondly because the water sources are turning increasingly polluted.
But why are they turning polluted? The answer: the reckless, callous and careless apathy of Municipality. The sewage treatment facility of Delhi is working below capacity, the rivers, the lakes and the landfill sites are strewn with garbage and garbage incinerators are just not working.
The result: Every pond, lake, rivulets is turning like Yamuna!
Solving the water problem will take long institutional reforms. Capability building has to be at the core of such reforms. However lets imagine what will happen if the government of the day settles for such knee jerk solutions.
Delhi is a city where a large number of IT professionals work. They work in Gurgaon, Noida and the NCR region. Most of them are members of nuclear families and bachelors. The average members in a household will not be far from 1.8. 700 ltrs per day to such households is clearly an overkill. What happens?
One short answer: Wastage!
Long Answer: Collosal Wastage.
Who pays for this? Mother Nature.
Is it any wonder why our lakes, rivulets and ponds are drying up extremely fast?
Just because nature can’t sue doesn’t mean nature can pay. And just because Arvind Kejriwal can order so, doesn’t mean Arvind Kejriwal has the moral authority to do so.