The road to hell is paved with good intentions

By shirishag75

First of all I would like to share about a video which I should have talked or added about in the ‘Celebrating National Science Day at GMRT‘ blog post. It’s a documentary called ‘The Most Unknown‘ . It’s a great documentary as it gives you a glimpse of how much is there yet to discover. The reason I shared this is I have seen lot of money being removed from Government Research and put god knows where. Just a fair warning, it would be somewhat of a long conversation.

Almost all of IIT’s are in bad shape, in fact IIT Mumbai which I know and have often had the privilege to associate myself with has been going through tough times. This is when institutes such as IIT Mumbai, NCRA, GMRT, FTII and all such institutions have made loads of contributions in creating awareness and has given the public the ability to question rather than just ‘believe’ . For any innovation to happen, you have to question, investigate, prove, share the findings and the way you have done things so it could be reproduced.

Even Social Sciences as shared in the Documentary and my brief learnings and takeaways from TISS has been the same. The reason is even they are in somewhat dire-straits. I was just sharing or having a conversation with another friend few days back who is into higher education that IISER Pune where the recent Wordcamp happened had to commercialize and open its doors to events in order to sustain itself. While I and perhaps all wordcampers would forever be grateful for sharing with us such a great place as well as a studios vibe which also influenced how Wordcamp was held, I did feel sad that we intruded in their study areas which should be meant for IISER’s only.

Before I get too carried away, I should point to people that people should look at Ian Cheney’s some of the old documentaries as well (the one who just did the most Unknown) and has found his previous work compelling as well. The City Dark is a beautiful masterpiece and shares lot of insights about light pollution which India could use well to improve both our lighting as well as reduce light pollution in the atmosphere.

Meeting with Bhakts and ‘Good intentions’

The reason I shared the above was also keeping in mind the conversations I have whenever I meet Bhakts. The term bhakt comes from bhakti in Sanskrit which at one time meant spirituality and purity although now in politics it means one who choose to believe in the leader and the party absolutely. Whenever a bhakt starts losing an logical argument, one of the argument that is often meted out is whatever you say you cannot doubt Mr. Narendra Modi’s intentions which is the reason why I took the often used proverb to prove the same point and is the heading of the blog post. The problem with the whole ‘good intentions’ part is, it’s pretty much a strawman argument. The problem with intentions is everybody can either say or mask their intentions. Even ISIS says that they want to bring back the golden phase of Islam. We have seen their actions, should we believe what they say ? Or even Hitler who said ‘One people, one empire, one leader’ who claimed that the Aryans were superior to the Jewish people while history has gone to show the exact opposite. Israel, today is the eight-biggest arms supplier in the world, our military is the second-biggest buyer of arms from them as well as far more prosperous than us and many other countries. Their work on drip-irrigation and water retention, agricultural techniques, there is much we could learn from them. Same thing about manning borders and such. While I could give many such examples the easiest example to share in context of good intentions gone wrong is Demonetisation in India which deserves its own paragraph.

Demonetisation

Demonetisation was heralded by Mr. Modi with great fanfare . It was supposed to take out black money. While we learned later that black money didn’t get wiped out but has become more into your face. This we learned later was debunked by the earlier R.B.I. Governor Raghuram Rajan and then now from R.B.I. itself. This is before Mr. Narendra Modi announced demonetisation. Sharing below an excerpt from the Freakonomics Radio show which has Mr. Rajan’s interview. Makes for interesting reading or listening as the case may be.

DUBNER: Now, shortly after your departure as governor of the R.B.I., Prime Minister Modi executed a sudden, controversial plan to abolish 500- and 1,000-rupee banknotes, hoping to crack down on the shadow economy and tax evasion. I understand you had not been in favor of that idea, correct? p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

RAJAN: Absolutely. It didn’t make sense. I was asked for my opinion, and I said, “Look, it is taking away money that people use in transactions. It’s going to create enormous disruption unless we replace it overnight with freshly printed money.” And it’s very important that we have all that in place, difficult to maintain secrecy, and then the fundamental sort of objective of this, which was to get people to bring out the money that they hoarded in their basements and pay taxes on them — I said, “That’s probably not going to work out, because they’re going to find ways to infuse the money back into the system without paying those taxes.”

DUBNER: It’s been roughly two years now. What have been the effects of this demonetization?

RAJAN: Well, I think more than the numbers suggest, because India was growing at that time. And we had numbers which were in the 7.5 percent growth range at that point, at a time, in 2016, when the world was actually growing quite slowly. When growth picked up in 2017, instead of going along with the world, which we typically do and we exceed world growth significantly, we went down. That suggests it had a tremendous effect on growth, but that, the numbers don’t capture it all, because what actually got killed was the informal sector — the people who were doing work with notes rather than with checks, who didn’t have formal bank accounts. And when you look at the job numbers that some private-sector people estimate 10, 12 million jobs were lost in that episode. And, of course, we haven’t recovered them yet. It was one of those places where more economic thinking would have helped.

DUBNER: Was it a coincidence that Prime Minister Modi went ahead with the plan only after you’d left?

RAJAN: Well, I can’t speak on that. I can only say that I made my objections very, very clear.

Freakonomics Podcast Stephen J. Dubner interviewing Mr. Raghuram Rajan, RBI Governor 5th September 2013 – 5th September 2017. Aired on 6th February 2019 .

I would urge people to listen to Freakonomics Radio as there are lots of pearls of wisdom in there. There is also the Good ideas are not enough podcast which is very relevant to the topic at hand but would digress about the Freakonomics radio for now.

The interesting part to ask from the details known from R.B.I. are –


a. Why did Mr. Narendra Modi feel the need to have the permission of R.B.I. after 38 days ?


b. If Mr. Modi were confident of the end-result then shouldn’t he have instead of asking permission and have the PMO have taken all the responsibility.


In any case, as was seen from R.B.I. counting only 0.3% of the money did not come even though many people’s valid claims were thrown out and the expense in the whole exercise was much more than the shortfall. R.B.I. didn’t get INR 10k crore while it spent INR 13k crore for the new currency. Does anybody see any saving here ?

The bhakts counter-argument is that the bankers were bad, if everybody had done their work, then it would have all worked out as Mr. Modi wanted. The statement itself implies that they didn’t know the reality. Even if we take the statement at face-value that all the bankers were cheaters (which I don’t agree with at all) , didn’t they know it when they were the opposition. Where was the party’s economic intelligence, didn’t it tell them so many years they were in Opposition. This is what the Opposition should be doing and knowing about the state of the Economy and know the workings to say the least.

There is also this https://www.scribd.com/document/401570379/Minutes-of-RBI-s-board-meeting-on-demonetisation

These are minutes obtained by Venkatesh Nayak under the RTI tool.