Leadership is endogenous to the system which selects them. Leaders emerge from within the system and gain legitimacy through the acceptance of the people within the system. Thus there are two components: the people and the system. Both are causally related to some extent but can be considered separate for analysis.
Bad leadership cannot emerge out of a good system with good people in it. Conversely, good leadership cannot emerge from a bad system and bad people.
That leaves two other scenarios: good people, bad system; and bad people, good system. My conjecture is that in both of those, bad leadership is very likely to happen.
By “good people” I mean a collective of persons who are not systematically different from the average that prevails among humans. They are just the normal bunch with the usual dispersion of innate mental and physical capabilities. They are neither a bunch of saints nor are they irremediable sinners. They are not supremely wise and informed, nor are they stupid and ignorant. Just the average lot of people is what I consider good people.
By definition then, any sufficiently large collective of people is good. By that definition India has good people since India is large and there is no reason to believe that Indians systematically deviate from the norm.
India has, and has had, poor leadership. Therefore it must be that the system is bad, since the people are good (by definition.) So what is a bad system? A bad system is one which leads to bad leadership even though the people are good.
That appears like question begging but it is not quite so. I am defining a bad system operationally: if the leadership that emerge is bad from a collective that is good, then the system is bad.
In other words, a bad system is sufficient for bad leadership but a bad system is not necessary for bad leadership. That is, you could have bad leadership from a good system if the people are bad. But I conjecture that the “bad people, good system” combination does not obtain usually because most collectives have good people.
My submission here is therefore: Most countries that suffer from bad leadership are victims of bad systems.
(I should expand on this but not here. Still a quick example is in order. Venezuela has immense natural wealth in terms of oil reserves. It could be a rich country instead of what it has been reduced to: a nation of starving people. The Venezuelan system has selected poor leaders like Guevara and Maduro. The system is bad, not the people. The leaders are, to put it generously, stupid, ignorant cretins who should be exiled to Mars.)
India has a Bad System
I submit that for good leadership to emerge, the system has to be changed. How that change can be effected is another matter for later. For now, let’s focus on India’s system.
It is universally–and correctly recognized–that the Indian political and bureaucratic classes are generally corrupt, broadly incompetent, poorly educated, and severely lacking in vision.
To repeat, the problem with India is that it has bad leadership. It has and had bad leadership. And all along, India has had essentially the same system. Barring the minor cosmetic changes, the system is essentially unchanged since the British put it in place.
Since India has good people (by definition since India is a large collective), India’s bad leadership is because of the bad system. Let’s examine the Indian system and see how it leads to the emergence of corrupt leaders.
Power to Interfere in the Economy
The Indian system gives enormous powers to those in government (the politicians and the permanent bureaucracy) to intervene in every aspect of the economy. These agents of the government therefore have the opportunities and the means to profit from their official positions, which is entirely due to the system. These opportunities to profit provide the incentives to the venal and unprincipled to compete and the winners in the competition are those that have the least scruples in stealing from the public. The Indian system, not the people directly, creates the kakistocracy (government of the least principled and the most corrupt) that is India
The second problem is that India chooses its leaders democratically. More specifically, it is a “first pass the post majoritarian democracy”. Any party that is able to club together a coalition of special interest groups larger than any other party wins, and therefore rules. The special interest groups may be based on any number of criteria: caste, religion, language, economic classes, etc.
Power to Discriminate
The third problem is that in India, the government has the power to discriminate among groups. That is, the government can make rules that benefit different groups differentially. The system does not prohibit the government from granting special privileges to different interest groups.
(For more on the generality principle, see this post from Dec 2013.)
Taken together those three features — enormous discretionary powers of the agents of government, the creation of electoral majorities, and the ability of the government to make discriminatory rules — are the ingredients for a toxic outcome of immoral leaders, damaging policies, and widespread poverty.
An alternate system is easily conceivable, although how to change the current system to the better alternative is not easy.
An Alternative System
In the alternative system, first, the government will be prohibited from intervening in the economy. For example, the government would be prohibited from engaging in commercial activities such as transportation, food procurement and distribution, education, housing, mining, industries, telecommunications, etc etc. That would mean that the government would have none of the hundreds of departments that it currently has, and therefore no ministers and bureaucracies, and therefore very little opportunities for making a fortune by being in government, therefore there would be little reason for the venal to get into politics to make money, etc etc.
The second feature of a better system would be that the government will be prohibited from making any laws that discriminate among people. All laws have to follow the generality principle — anything that the government grants to one person or group, it has to grant to all persons and groups. This will eliminate the problem of the politics of discrimination and voters will not have the incentive to vote for politicians who would make policies that differentially benefit them.
Majoritarian democracy suffers from a problem which is that those who are in a minority are always at the mercy of the majority. Note that there is no such thing as a fixed majority. A majority is created by grouping a suitable set of minority interests.
The generality rule makes it pointless for anyone to club together a majority for differential gains. Only those majorities would form that are not reliant on special interests. The general interests of the people would be most honestly reflected in the majorities that result from a system which prohibits discretionary and discriminatory rules.
Career Politicians and Bureaucrats
The problem of Indian democracy is that it selects professional politicians. To become a politician, one has to spend decades — generally right from their teenage years — working full time in trying to win elections. This leaves no time for the person to learn anything of any value. Indian politicians, generally speaking, don’t know science, economics, history, geography, commerce, arts, sociology, philosophy …
They know nothing other than how to manipulate groups of people through demagoguery, the giving and taking bribes, and gaming the system. The average politician’s training is essentially how to steal, manipulate and rob the wealth that others have created, and use part of that robbed wealth to manipulate the elections. Such a person is the least capable of understanding or making good public policy or serving any public interest.
The minister of industries has no knowledge of business or industry. The finance minister a lawyer who knows nothing about finance or economics. The defense minister has no understanding of military matters. The minister for higher education does not have a college degree. The minister for health knows less about the subject than the average college dropout.
That is a recipe for a disaster, not prosperity.
Politics – the Quick Path to Prosperity
Being a career politician or a career bureaucrat is enormously profitable: it’s the quickest way to make a fortune. Therefore it attracts the most avaricious, the most corruptible, the most immoral and the least qualified.
So how can the system be changed? Not easily for sure. Any system persists because of its popular acceptance. This is true not just of democracies but also of autocracies, kakistocracies, monarchies, caliphates, plutocracies, or whatever. No system of governance can survive the revolt of the populace.
The phenomenon of inertia works in the social-political sphere as much as it does in the material world. People born to a system generally accept it as legitimate, and what’s worse, accept it as morally correct. Those born to a capitalist society, accept capitalism; those born to a socialist society, equally easily accept socialism.
To change the system, one has to change the popular mindset. That’s very hard to do, and takes time, effort and dedication.
Another way is an external shock to the system. Exogenous shocks shake the system out of its inertia and puts it on a different trajectory.
A third way is a change in leadership. This has happened several times in the recent past: Deng Xiao Peng in China, Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore, Lenin (I didn’t say only good change), and Gorbachev in the USSR.
Finally luck. When the American colonies fought for independence from the British, those who led the revolution — the Founding Fathers of the United States of America — were not career politicians. They were scholars of science, history, philosophy, economics, politics and sociology. They were successful in their own fields. They were professionals but not professional politicians. They had their professions and expected to get back to their careers once they had served the public which they saw was their duty.
Poor Luck of the Draw
No such luck for India. The men who were in control when the British left India, were career politicians. Examples: Gandhi was a brilliant politician and but knew very little of anything else, and was clueless enough to not know of his own ignorance. Nehru was a pseudo-intellectual who had only a few ideas, and what’s worse, they were wrong.
The BJP is really no different from the Congress. Both parties are indistinguishable in their policies. That is so because both have the same goal — to gain and remain in power so as to steal as much wealth as they can.
Until we get people who are not just good but more importantly are wise, we will not be able to change the system. And until the system changes, we cannot have a different outcome. What India needs is a Third Party. And we have to create that.
It’s all karma, neh?