Like the NREGA, the RTE helps destroy whatever is left

The NREGA, as feared, has caused tremendous harm and will continue to play havoc on the Indian economy. The Right to Education (RTE) is another act that will surely help destroy whatever little there is left of the Indian education system. It is as if the UPA led by the Congress has sworn to destroy India. Go read what Manish Sabharwal has to say about the RTE in the Economic Times of Jan 12th. An extract below the fold, for the record:
Continue reading “Like the NREGA, the RTE helps destroy whatever is left”

The National Rural Corruption Guarantee Scheme — Revisited

The National Rural Corruption Guarantee Scheme (NRCGS) was the title of a post from Nov 2007, one of a series of posts dealing with the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, starting with one in Nov 2004 on “Sir, won’t you buy this bridge and the Employment Guarantee Act?
Continue reading “The National Rural Corruption Guarantee Scheme — Revisited”

Google for Missing Details

Sunita Narain’s article “Missing Details” in the Feb 26th edition of Business Standard talks about the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS). (Hat tip: A Sarda.)

Creating productive assets such as forests and reservoirs is good for the economy, and should be done in any case. The goal of providing some income to people in financial distress in rural areas can have the valuable side-effect of the creation of productive assets. But when even that side-effect is forgotten and only employment is the goal, then there is a problem. It really becomes a total unmitigated waste when even that substandard goal of employment is subverted by corruption and theft of the financial resources.

Narain says that the details of the implementation of the scheme is missing and laments the failure of what she says was founded on a good idea. I think that NREGS is itself not a good idea to begin with because it puts the cart before the horse. I will go into the details later.

You may ask, why “Google for Missing Details” is the title of this post. The link to Narain’s article will take you to the BS article but only to a truncated version. The rest is behind a subscription wall. Here’s how you get the article if you aren’t a subscriber: google “sunita narain missing details” and you click on the version that is cached by Google.

I am clever like that 🙂

Does the NREGS Cause Inflation?

It makes sense to know a bit of economics, just as it is good to know how to do arithmetic. You don’t need to get yourself a PhD in mathematics in some area like topology or Lie groups. You just need to know basic arithmetic so that you can do your everyday figuring by yourself, so you know whether someone short-changed you or not. Thus spoke Joan Robinson: “The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.”
Continue reading “Does the NREGS Cause Inflation?”

National Rural Corruption Guarantee Scheme

Over two years ago, in Aug 2005, I had written that the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREG) will ultimately end up increasing the number of poor and deepening poverty — which of course was easy enough to predict since the policy is “pro-poor” and like all policies “pro-” something do, increases that something.

The NEGS is not novel. Maharashtra has had an employment guarantee scheme for decades. According to Sharad Joshi, it “has produced few permanent assets. And the EGS in Maharashtra is synonymous with corruption. Government officials concoct false registers of attendance.”

Corruption is not unexpected when money is involved and the transaction is between officials who have the power and control over the money, and the poor unemployed labor who would be willing to take only a share of whatever is due to him or her. It has been variously estimated that only about 25 percent of any relief money actually reaches the intended beneficiary. Politicians and bureaucrats steal the majority of funds.

Now reports are surfacing that the damned scheme is beset with corruption. That news would surprise you if you are in the habit of being surprised to learn that bears shit in the woods, or that astrologers prey on the gullible.
Continue reading “National Rural Corruption Guarantee Scheme”

The Great White Hope — Our Beloved Leader

The Hindu of 27th May carried a news item ( “Tell all job scheme is Congress brainchild“) which crystallizes the idea of India like nothing else I have come across of late.

It quotes Dr. Singh: “I request that you should carry the message across to people that this right [to employment] has been given to them by Soniaji. This right has been given to them by the Congress party… If you assist in implementing this law in a proper manner, you will be able to lay a strong foundation for creation of goodwill for our party and our beloved leader, Ms. Sonia Gandhi.” [Emphasis mine.] Continue reading “The Great White Hope — Our Beloved Leader”

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme

In a land where reportedly every generalization is trivially true, one generalization holds non-trivially and with overwhelming force. It is this: Indian governments are pro-poor. Every policy that any government ever espouses, fundamentally it always is pro-poor, irrespective of any minor variations such as pro-market or pro-planning or pro-industrialization or pro-globalization or pro-self sufficiency or whathaveyou.

My claim is that this pro-poor policy is not mere rhetoric. The policy works and how. I argue that all other policies have not yielded their expected results but the pro-poor policies have delivered as could be reasonably expected.

Pro-industrialization policies are expected to lead to an increase in industrialization. If India ever had such policies, they have had only marginal success because India is arguably not an industrial economy. Pro-poor policies are expected to promote the number of the poor, and there has been a monotonic increase in the number of poor in India.

The percentage of people below the poverty line is estimated to be around 25. That is, India has about 250 million people who are so unimaginably poor that they can’t cross the poverty line that is set way below what can be considered necessary for a human existence. Around 33 million were added to that role in 2001-02 alone For comparison, that is more than the entire population of Canada in 2001 (30 million).

Let’s put the number of the abjectly poor in perspective. Consider the number of people below the poverty line at the time of India’s independence. We had about 350 million people then. Assuming that 50 percent of them were below the poverty line then, there were 175 million abjectly poor people then. Now, about 57 years later, we have 250 million abjectly poor people. There has been an increase of 75 million in the ranks of the abjectly poor in the nearly six decades of pro-poor policies..

India’s pro-poor policies have succeeded in increasing the number of poor in the past and while past performance is not a guarantee of future results, the most probable outcome of current pro-poor policies can be expected to lead to increase in the number of the poor. The “Employment Guarantee Scheme” (introduced by the National Rural Employment Guarantee Bill) is pro-poor and the result will be as before.
Continue reading “The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme”

Sir, won’t you buy this bridge and the Employment Guarantee Act?

The converse concept of bounded rationality, it seems to me, must be unbounded stupidity. So is the statement that humans exhibit bounded rationality merely an euphemism for the fact that humans are prone to unbounded stupidity?

A moment’s reflection should convince us that the world around us is definitely complex and we cannot really fathom what the consequences of our actions will be. The best we can do is to try to learn from our previous bouts of “bounded rational” actions and try to avoid being unboundedly stupid.

Here is where one starts wondering what is it that I am going on about. I was coming to that.

It all began when recently my friend Dr Malpani emailed me about the Employment Guarantee Act, the details of which you can find here.

There seems to have been some sort of convention (details) where they adopted a resolution outlining the “non-negotiable” features of an acceptable EGA. These include–

a permanent and universal work guarantee, extension to the whole of India within three years, payment of minimum wages in all circumstances, central government funding, safeguards for the interests of women, decentralised implementation, and full transparency at all levels, among other features.

More about this later. But now, let’s go to Niger, the second largest country in Africa. Extremely poor and definitely overcrowded. Soil erosion, desertification, frequent famines, flash floods, lack of water — the usual laundry list of mini-disasters. So what did they do? They decided to dig trenches and wells to stop the flash floods and thus prevent further soil erosion which was causing desertification. Then they realized that it was actually leading to more desertification, instead of less. They had to cut back on their policy of digging wells for farmers to water their cattle.

A Niger government official explains:

Wells attract animals. Animals eat the vegetation. Because the wells attract so many animals, the vegetation never gets a chance to grow back. Which is the beginning of desertification, the very process that the wells were designed to prevent.

[Source: Peter Biddlecombe, “I came, I saw, I lost my luggage” pg 210.]

Considered in isolation, having wells for increased vegetation is a good thing if you want to prevent soil erosion. The problem occurs when there are other confounding factors such as too many animals. If the system has multiple distortions, trying to address one of those distortions without regard to the others, could lead to unintended undesirable outcomes and make the system worse off than before.

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Here is another one from a different part of the world. A world with cars and computers, and roads and highways. And often heavy traffic congestion. It would be clear to the meanest intelligence that to ease traffic congestion, you have to build new roads and highways and widen existing ones. Except that sometimes doing so only worsens the congestion. Totally counterintuitive.

Why building new roads does not ease traffic congestion:

There is no shortage of hard data. A recent University of California at Berkeley study covering thirty California counties between 1973 and 1990 found that, for every 10 percent increase in roadway capacity, traffic increased 9 percent within four years’ time…This phenomenon, which is now well known to those members of the transportation industry who wish to acknowledge it, has come to be called induced traffic…

The mechanism at work behind induced traffic is elegantly explained by an aphorism gaining popularity among traffic engineers: “Trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt.”

Here the confounding factor is that there is supressed demand for more road transportation and as the supply of the road network expands, the demand is expressed to the point where the roads are once again as congested as before and therefore the private cost of using the road once again exceeds the benefit and people stop using the road.

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One more case in point. This time from the development literature. Urban unemployment is a common feature in underdeveloped economies. Both in the organized (or formal) sector and in the informal sector, urban unemployment leads to a whole host of symptoms such as gigantic slums, urban crime, etc.

Once again, the no-brainer solution is simple: increase employment opportunity in urban areas so that the unemployment rate goes down and thus cure the associated problems. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. By stimulating job creation in the urban sector, one can make the unemployment levels actually increase. How does that come about?

The confounding factor is that there is a vast pool of labor in the rural sector and the average wages in the rural (agricultural, mainly) sector is lower than the wages in the urban (modern) sector. This leads to rural-urban migration. By raising the probability of finding employment in the urban sector through policies that create more urban jobs, it accelerates rural-urban migration and perversely raises urban unemployment. (For details, see the Todaro model.)

The Todaro model has strong policy implications regarding development strategies. For example, efforts to reduce urban unemployment by stimulating job creation in the urban modern sector are likely to be stymied eventually, in that they will raise the likelihood of finding a good job and hence induce a greater flow of rural migrants. Todaro has argued far and wide that the best strategy to reduce urban problems in developing nations is to seriously promote rural development (economic opportunities plus amenities like health care and education).

Which brings us back to the Employment Guarantee Act.

It is a no-brainer that the EGA will make the poor better off all across the length and breadth of India. It will raise hundreds of millions out of poverty. India will finally become a wonderful developed economy. Oh why didn’t we think of this before?

If you believe that, I have a red-colored bridge across the Golden Gate which I would dearly like to sell to you for a throw-away price of only $10,000. Send me a check and I will Fedex you the title to the bridge. It is a very nice bridge. The view is totally incredible. People come from all over the world and take tons of pictures. You will not regret your purchase. Money back guarantee if you are not fully satisfied with your purchase. To the first 100 people who send in their checks, I will throw in the Bay Bridge as a free bonus in the whole deal.

Here, I will go out on a limb and predict that if ever this EGA is implemented, it will actually increase the level of poverty and the number of poor in India. It will drag those at the margins of poverty deeper into poverty. The only guaranteed effect will be an absolute increase in the amount of corruption and some politicians will make obscene amounts of money.

As they say on TV, stay tuned. Details at 11.

[See “The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme” and “The Importance of Producing Stuff“.]