On a mailing list I was on someone asked if “this crisis going to increase Government role in society? That would be a terrible outcome!” That was back in April. My reply was the following. I am posting it here, for the record. It’s been four months since I wrote that, and unfortunately the government response has been as I had feared. [Begin quote]:
In a world of uncertainty, this much is as certain as it gets: the government will use this pandemic to grab even more power, push even more centralization of authority and greater political control over the productive capacity of the economy. This will further impoverish the people, and push the nation further along the road to serfdom. The babus and politicians are thrilled at the opportunity to increase their permit-quota-control-permission rule. They are salivating at the treasure they will extract without any concern for the blood they will inevitably extract out of an already impoverished people.
I predict that Modi will be doing things that will rival — if not exceed — the misdeeds of the great dictators like Stalin, Mao and Hitler. According to Stephen Kotkin, Stalin is the gold standard for dictators. Hitler dictated for a short 12 years; Mao for longer but did not have the military-industrial complex power. Stalin ruled for over 30 years and had the military machine.
My back of the envelope calculations show that at worst, the pandemic’s death toll (without a total lock down but with whatever locally appropriate preventative measures) would have killed about 2 to 5 million. But with what Modi has done, and plans to do, around 50 to 70 million Indians (mostly those at the bottom of the economic heap) will die in the next 10. These deaths will be from economic distress and deprevation that the government policies will impose on Indians.
Modi will make it a class conflict — the poor against the non-poor. He will pile on taxes on the non-poor class to give handouts to the poor. That is a shrewd political move since it will guarantee electoral victory. And he will go for nationalization of the kind that would in comparison make Indira Gandhi look like she was some sort of paragon of privatization. The greater centralization and politicization of the Indian industry will set India back a couple of decades. It isn’t going to be pretty.
Of course, people like us — the chattering classes and the intellectuals — have little to be concerned about. We are all rich enough to get by comfortably even if half our assets are taken away by the government. That’s not the worry. The worry is that the Indian economy’s productive capacity will be severely hit, if not fatally so, and the brunt of that will be felt disproportionately by the poor. Right now, just to take a small example, the child mortality in India is 2,500 every day. I estimate that that will see a 50 percent jump in about a few months. And that figure will not come down for at least 10 years. Doing the numbers is depressing.
It’s depressing that the Modi and his henchmen are so unconcerned about human suffering. Do they lack heart? Or do they lack a brain — they don’t know the harm they are causing? Or is it both? [End quote.]
In the end, people pay for the hubris of their leaders. Lacking humility, the leaders believe that they can control what is clearly beyond their comprehension. Adam Smith warned about “the man of system” who considers people to be like pieces on a chess board, to be moved and manipulated at will according to the whims and fancies of the man. But people are not inert matter and they suffer terrible tragedies inflicted on them by leaders who lack wisdom and humility.