Digital Cabinet

Polevaulter Donkeyman's rants, raves musings and flame wars

Posts Tagged ‘classical liberalism

Boycotting Republic Day? Why not?

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Over the past 3 weeks in India at large and in Delhi in particular, there have been many large protests to highlight the plight of women in India vis-a-vis the violence and rape perpetrated against them, The proximate cause of these protests was the gang rape in Delhi of a 23 year old women, who later succumbed to her extensive injuries. An in depth discussion of this rape is beyond the scope of this post which would focus on one small tangential aspect and the response of an academic thereof. Please consult Wikipedia for a reasonably extensive summary of the incident.

In the aftermath of the rape, a demand was raised in various corners to boycott India’s Republic Day, which is held on January 26 of every year.

The Republic Day holds a two fold significance for India:

  1. On January 26, 1930 the Indian National Congress, the main political group agitating for Indian independence from British colonial rule, meeting in Lahore (now in Pakistan), promulgated the declaration demanding Purna Swaraj or complete Independence from the UK. Following this January 26 was celebrated as Independence Day.[1]
  2. On 26 January 1950 the Constitution of India was adopted, declaring India to be a sovereign democratic republic. This date was chosen to commemorate the Purna Swaraj Declaration (see above).

The Republic Day Celebrations in Delhi mostly consist of a parade of the different regiments of Armed Forces and the paramilitary forces, trucks towing aircraft, missiles and howitzers, and tanks (not in this exact order), followed by tableaux exhibiting the culture of the different parts of India. The forces salute their commander-in-chief, namely the President. This is replicated in the capitals of the States with the Governor substituting for the President. While the day is meant to celebrate the adoption of the Constitution and refreshing one’s loyalty and fealty to it, it is mostly a celebration of the power of the State as manifested by the guns, rifles, tanks, howitzers, missiles and combat aircraft.

Given the significance of the date, there has been a backlash to the call for boycotting the Republic Day. Given that Kashmiri separatists and Maoist guerrillas have called for similar boycotts in the past, opponents of the boycott call have equated those advocating a boycott this year as ideological bed fellows of the separatists and guerrillas.


This argument is puerile. It is similar to saying that since ISCKON promotes vegetarianism and the Swaminarayan sect also promotes vegetarianism, their adherents are no different from Nazis. There can be many reasons for boycotting the Republic Day Celebrations. One reason may be to not identify with the Indian State and the Indian people. I will not go into the legitimacy or illegitimacy of this reason in this post. Another reason can be to not identify with the Indian State while still pledging one’s loyalty and fealty to the Constitution and one’s identity as a people. As explained above, the formal governmental celebrations are a celebration of the State and its lethal power. It is perfectly reasonable to reject the celebration of this power of the State which is powerless to prevent heinous crime. It is perfectly reasonable, instead, to swear an oath of loyalty to the preamble of the constitution

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC[2] and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, DO HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.


(emphasis mine)

As has been explained in numerous opeds to reduce rapes in India requires not just law and order reform, it requires a change in society, a change in thinking which gives women equal status as men, where little girls are treated the same as little boys, where every individual’s dignity is assured from birth and is honoured and protected by all.

Swearing an oath to uphold the constitution and its guarantees to all people is a more meaningful gesture (and if followed up a more meaningful action) compared to the routine genuflection to the might of the Indian State, a might which is powerless not just to prevent but to even account for the acts of violence and injustice its citizens (or, given the attitude of the State, its subjects).

However trust a historian[3] of Modern Political History to make a knee-jerk accusation that any boycott of the Republic Day celebrations is anti-national. No explanation of why the boycott is anti national or why the boycott strikes at the people rather than the State. One would expect him, being a professor and an intellectual, to engage with the substance of the argument and attempt to educate others, rather than make some inane pun. Such an attitude is not just a reflection on him but on his employer. I would not be surprised if Prof. Habib defends the principle of academic freedom. But the flip side of academic freedom is the duty to communicate ideas or facts, not evade questioning via clever wordplay. Not surprisingly I was subsequently blocked on twitter by the esteemed professor.[4]


Given that January 26,1950 was the day when the Constitution of India was adopted, the words of late Justice Hans Raj Khanna[5] are appropriate

If the Indian constitution is our heritage bequeathed to us by our founding fathers, no less are we, the people of India, the trustees and custodians of the values which pulsate within its provisions! A constitution is not a parchment of paper, it is a way of life and has to be lived up to. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty and in the final analysis, its only keepers are the people. Imbecility of men, history teaches us, always invites the impudence of power.[6]


(emphasis mine)

One, final point. There could, conceivably, be objections that a boycott of the Republic Day is tantamount to disrespecting the sacrifices the Armed Forces have made for India’s security. However such objectors would have to explain how celebrating one day, according to the diktats of the State, amounts to honouring the soldiers who have served and sacrificed much for the nation. One can honour them on other days also e.g. the Army Day (January 15), Navy Day (December 4), Air Force Day (October 8) and Coast Guard Day (October 8). Moreover if one truly wishes to honour the sacrifice and service of the Armed Forces let them truly help the veterans (most of whom come from lower economic classes of society) and the widows and orphaned children of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice by giving them the love and support (both emotional and financial) they are entitled to, not just on one day but over the long term. After all, this is the same State, which while insisting that the Republic Day is a celebration of the sacrifice of the brave soldiers also pays the widow of a decorated army major an insulting Rs 80 (not even US $2) per month in 2010.[7]

Footnotes


[1] This is similar to July 4 which is celebrated as Independence Day in the US but is actually the date when the US Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. The American War of Independence formally ceased under the Treaty of Paris while the last hostilities ceased in 1781 with the fall of Yorktown

[2] Initially the preamble did not include the words socialist and secular when the constitution was initially adopted. They were added to the preamble by the Forty-second Amendment. Interestingly this amendment was enacted during The Emergency when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suspended elections, civil liberties and bestowed on herself the power to rule by decree. Not surprisingly I oppose the inclusion of both words; secular because it is superfluous given the protections under Articles 25-28 and socialist because socialism led to the economic stagnation of India for 45 years after independence. Moreover the very same amendment also introduced, for the first time, Fundamental Duties on the part of every citizen. Trust a State which abrogates the fundamental rights (including habeas corpus) of its citizens to also demand fundamental duties of them.

[3] According to the Times of India, he is the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad chair at Delhi’s National University of Educational Planning and Administration. However at the university’s website he is not listed amongst the faculty. Probably because the website is not up to date.

[4] I had also been previously blocked by Kanchan Gupta. That is a story I may tell some other time.

[5] Notably Justice Khanna was one of the dissenting judges in Additional District Magistrate of Jabalpur v. Shiv Kant Shukla which shamefully upheld the government’s decision to suspend habeas corpus. His dissent stated

The Constitution and the laws of India do not permit life and liberty to be at the mercy of the absolute power of the Executive . . . . What is at stake is the rule of law. The question is whether the law speaking through the authority of the court shall be absolutely silenced and rendered mute… detention without trial is an anathema to all those who love personal liberty.

[6] Khanna, H. R., Making of India’s Constitution. Eastern Book Co, Lucknow, 1981. ISBN 978-81-7012-108-4

[7] “The petitioner before us in the present case is a widow Pushpa Vanti, whose husband was an army major who had fought in three wars (in 1948, 1962 and 1965) and was decorated with fourteen medals. However, the petitioner is getting only Rs.80/- per month as pension, in these days when a kilogram of arhar dal costs that amount.” Pushpa Vanti vs Union Of India & Ors. (2010).

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Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

January 4, 2013 at 05:31

How Government leads to Xenophobia aka Blame Canada!

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Given the strong Canadian dollar and the suppression of the price of milk in the US due to government subsidies, Canadians across the border from Bellingham, Wash., have been flooding across the border to buy milk by the truckful:

Many Canadians are taking advantage of the high Canadian dollar by shopping across the border — with cheap milk and gas being two of the big draws — but some Americans are fed up with the cross-border crowd.

Some Bellingham, Wa., residents started a Facebook page calling for American-only hours at the local Costco.

On the Facebook page “Bellingham Costco needs a special time just for Americans,” residents write that they have seen flats of milk stripped away in seconds.

Some write that they have to wait in long lines at the Costco gas station as Canadians fill up first their cars, and then their gas cans.


The Facebook page states:

To our Canadian friends on here that think we hate you: You have to look at the root of the problem. Bellingham has laws that keep big box companys from expanding. The overcowding in this small slow paced town has agitated people. … So, the surface problem is overcrowding and the root problem is expansion. Basically, how would you feel if 10 extra people landed in your house out of your control and government officials wont let you do anything about it. You would be grumpy at those 10 people that you have no choice but to deal with. Are those 10 people to blame, no they are not.


So:

  1. Governmental subsidies keep the price of US milk artificially low.
  2. Government regulations keep businesses from expanding.


Solution?

  • Let’s discriminate against Canadians!! Who cares about the tripling of sales tax revenue due to the massive influx of Canadians?
“In the last two years, our sales tax generation has doubled or tripled the pace in the rest of the state, and its almost entirely because of the Canadians coming south,” [Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce] said.[1]


And finally to the person who setup the Facebook page: Those 10 extra people are NOT in your house, they are in Costco. And as far as I know, Costco is NOT your private property. Too many people forget what private property is all about.. But atleast you don’t blame the Canadians; that should count for something.


Take it away South Park:


Footnotes


[1] Facebook page calls for American-only hours at U.S. Costco

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

August 17, 2012 at 12:02

An Economic Case Against Immigration? Durka Dur

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Came across this article in @TRISH00L’s twitter feed

The author, Jaideep Prabhu (who also tweets as @orsoraggiante lays out an economic case against immigration to India of unskilled labour in response to an article by Nitin Pai in the Business Standard

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Your Lobbying Bad, My Lobbying Not … So Bad?

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Tamasin Cave, of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency on the Today in Parliament for March 2, 2012:


Note:

  1. Tamasin Cave neatly sidesteps the lobbying by the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing
  2. Ms. Cave correctly points out the first order relationship between the lobbying for NHS reforms and the size of the NHS budget (around 100 B GBP).
  3. However Ms. Cave then fails to see the second-order relationship i.e. lobbying is directly related to and caused by the power of the government to grant special favours. As long as government has the power to dispense such special favours, groups will continue to lobby it.
  4. If you want to reduce lobbying, if you want to control it, then reduce the power and size of the government to dole out special favours.


Because of the enormous benefits that can be won from the political process, it is rational for interest groups to spend large sums on lobbying for special privileges – an activity known as ‘rent seeking’.[1]

[1] Butler, E., Public Choice — A Primer, The Institute of Economic Affairs, 2012, p. 16

The Greatest Generation

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There is a reason why they are called The Greatest Generation

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

August 4, 2012 at 02:35

Illegal Immigrants = Giving a Drug Addict a Job = Buying a house in a red light district?

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This started with a tweet by Shashi Tharoor

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Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 31, 2012 at 00:25

Mr. Brigstocke, what’s wrong with free movement of capital and labour?

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Marcus Brigstocke on The Now Show of June 29, 2012 in a rant titled “Thank You and Goodbye!” (around the 20’40” mark)

…I’ve had it with bankers, multimillionaires and businesspeople and the rest announcing their imminent departure from the UK every time they are held to account by those of us who pay our taxes and vote. They are like teenagers who’ve had a row with their parents. <In an angry teen’s voice ranting> So for those threatening to leave when they are asked to pay their share of living here … GO. <Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive> Yes and once you’ve gone we will survive very happily. In fact I will happily drive any of you to the ferry terminal and push you off it. Here’s a thought, just so we don’t have to keep coming back to this tiresome discussion, its a simple honest decent proposal: <drumroll> Everyone has to live where their money is. See — easy! Now off you go …

If everyone has to live where their money is, what about people who have invested money in different places? Say they live in Manchester and have invested in a business in London? What if they live in Hull and their pensions are invested in e.g. BP? Mr. Brigstocke’s solution is simple enough.

Around the 25’30” mark:

I only wish that low income workers were able to hold the government to ransom by threatening to leave the country when they’re challenged. Just to wake up one day to a country where the only people at work spend their days moving fictional sums of money from one screen to another in the hope that the sums get bigger and they get a bonus. And somewhere in the distance as the streets lie unswept, unpoliced, shops shut, hospitals empty, schools boarded up, they hear “Goodbye Goodbye…<Some song which I cannot identify>

What is left unanswered is that if the current low income workers in the UK follow on their threat and leave, why would low income workers from other countries, whose income is vastly smaller,[1] not emigrate to the UK and sweep the streets, police the streets, open the shops, staff the hospitals and school?

Footnotes

[1] The UK defines poverty as income less than 60% of the median household income. In 2007-08, this was calculated to be GBP 115 per week for single adults with no dependent children. Source. In 2004-05 a fifth to a quarter of India’s population, around 200 M – 300 M (compare to UK population of 62 M in 2010) lived on less than GBP 2 per week. Source

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 10, 2012 at 11:07

What’s wrong with Truck Nutz?

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Source

  1. How does one define abundant in “Everybody’s work rewards them abundantly”?
  2. If one defines “abundant” as the amount that allows one “to live in comfort and provide for their family” then how does one define “comfort”?
    • An abode big enough such that each kid has their own room?
    • An income big enough that allows each kid to have their own gaming console?
    • An income big enough that guarantees vacations anywhere one wishes to take them?
    • An income big enough that one can afford to eat out n times a week?
    • An income big enough that allows one to buy the latest technology whenever one wants?
  3. Should a person have a right to more than the value added by his or her labour?
  4. All goals sound worthwhile
    • From each according to his ability, to each according to his work[1]
    • Work will make you free[2]
    • Zhi sheng yige haizi hao : It is good to have just one child[3]
  5. But difficult question is how (or even whether) to achieve (or strive for) that goal[4][5][6]
    • If one carefully reads the strip nowhere in the strip does the top-hatted person specify how one is to work towards making the goal of “abundant income” a reality
  6. What’s wrong with Truck Nutz?
    • Presumably people buy them because they get some benefit out of them, in this case a laugh (or a smile).
    • Is making people laugh and/or smile a less than worthy endeavour?
    • If the person on the right had invented the Zipper[7] or the Safety Razor[8] or the Tampon[9] or the Heart Lung Machine[10] or the Pill[11]would his argument be worth taking more seriously?
    • As Deirdre McCloskey pointed out

Give a woman some rice, and you save her for a day. That’s the simplest form of what Christians flatter themselves by calling “Christian charity.” Give a man some seed and you save him for a year. That’s the plan of investment in capital, tried for decades in foreign aid, without much success. But give a man and a woman the liberty to innovate, and persuade them to admire enterprise and to cultivate the bourgeois virtues, and you save them both for a long life of wide scope, and for successively wider lives for their children and their grandchildren, too. That’s the Bourgeois Deal, which paid off in the Age of Innovation.[12]

 
Lest one misunderstands I am, otherwise, a fan of Wondermark.

 

Footnotes

[1] 1936 Constitution of the USSR Art. 12

[2] List of Political Slogans

[3] Chinese Political Slogans

[4] Mass killings under Communist regimes

[5] Arbeit macht frei

[6] One-child policy

[7] Whitcomb L. Judson

[8] King C. Gillette

[9] Earle Haas

[10] John Heysham Gibbon

[11] Gregory Pincus and Min Chueh Chang

[12] McCloskey, D. N., Bourgeois Dignity, University Of Chicago Press, November 30, 2010.

Written by Polevaulter Donkeyman

July 9, 2012 at 16:22

Mr. Gupta, have you met Mr. Gupta?

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Mr. Gupta, have you met Mr. Gupta?


Note:

  • Text on the right on green background is from Liberty is not libertinism by Kanchan Gupta, written on February 9, 2009. Text reproduced in the following table in the left-hand column.
  • Text on the left on white background is from Mini skirts, Jamaatis and their dark world by Kanchan Gupta, written on July 8, 2012. Text reproduced in the following table in the right-hand column.

 

Kanchan Gupta on[1] the Pink Chaddi Campaign Kanchan Gupta on[2] the dress code[3] called for by Jamaat
A … point that merits elaboration is the disdain which the charlatans who pose as emancipators of women … have for local community sensitivities, which are often casually referred to as local culture and tradition No less telling is the implicit worldview of the Jamaatis. The world they crave for is not splattered with colours and cultural diversity; it’s a joyless world where women are made to disappear …
There really is no need to fashion our lifestyle after Sex and the City. Recall … how faces were blackened of women who refused to don the burqa.
Just because … lip-locking …raises no eyebrows in the West does not mean the East must ape the mating game. Frivolities apart, there’s something darkly and deeply sinister about the Jamaat’s attempt to impose a dress code …
What is material and important is whether those around the individuals … are comfortable with it; if they feel discomfited or outraged, then their sensitivities must over-ride the presumed right to make a spectacle of yourself in public. … what is being sought is to titillate the imagination of the lowest common denominator of Kashmiri society, the rage boys of Islam … in the guise of protecting faith-based, culture-centric sensitivities.
By idolising deracinated men and women who have scant regard for moral values … we are promoting everything that is antithetical to our culture, our tradition. In the absence of that resistance[4], time will come when Jamaatis – whatever their organisational loyalty and affiliation – will demand that women be barred from wearing “mini skirts and other objectionable dresses” anywhere in the country as it hurts Muslim sensitivities

 

Alternative titles considered for this post:

  • That was then, this is now
  • Gupta vs. Gupta
  • On Miniskirts and Pink Chaddis

Note: I am, in no way, implying that Mr. Gupta supported the Sri Ram Sena. He in fact refers to them as “a bunch of goons masquerading as soldiers of Sri Ram Sena” and states that he does not defend “Pramod Muthalik’s hooliganism”. The question however remains: why give more importance to one community’s sensitivities compared to another community’s sensitivities? Of course, it could be that his opinions on the issue of personal liberty vis a vis community sensitivities have evolved. However I received no answer when I asked him that.

  1. PolvolterDnkymn
    @KanchanGupta Great post. Have you repudiated “What is material … is whether those around … are comfortable” http://v.gd/VqSvni
    Sun, Jul 08 2012 11:52:14

 

Footnotes

[1] Gupta, K., Liberty is not libertinism, Feb 9, 2009

[2] Gupta, K., Mini skirts, Jamaatis and their dark world, Jul 8, 2012

[3] “Some tourists, mostly foreigners, are seen wandering in mini skirts and other objectionable dresses which is quite against the local ethos and culture. We have simply requested foreign tourists moving around to respect Kashmiri culture.” — Jamaat spokesman Zahid Ali said (emphasis mine).

[4] … the political will and courage to call [the Jamaat’s] bluff and stand up to [the Jamaat’s] bullying …

FPTP is just as bad!

with 14 comments

  1. PolvolterDnkymn
    @sabhlok All the ills described in the linked article happen in India which uses First Past The Post

Sanjeev Sabhlok excerpts from an article in The Australian by Janet Albrechtsen[1] on why proportional representation (PR) is bad (for Australia). He uses this article as to why India should not adopt PR for elections. I counter that all the evils of PR as propounded by the article happen in India too which uses the first past the post (FPTP) voting system

Albrechtsen’s salient points are:

  1. PR ensures extremist (I read as non-major)[2] parties get representation
  2. No centrist party gets a majority and thus has to enter coalition government with the smaller extremist parties
  3. Thus these smaller extremist parties hold the balance of power
  4. Policies not desirable to the greater centre have to be adopted so as to placate the extremist party.
  5. Under PR, voters cannot know, when they vote, what the future governing coalition will look like
  6. It takes months of horse-trading and backroom deals to form a new government

Refutation of Sanjeev Sabhlok’s contention

Each of these above scenarios occur in India too which uses the FPTP system

Table 1. Tally of Seats won by INC and BJP 1989-2009
Lok Sabha[3] INC BJP Total/% of seats
Ninth (1989)[4] 195 89 Not calculated[5]
Tenth (1991) 252 121 373/68
Eleventh (1996) 140 163 303/56
Twelfth (1998) 142 183 325/60
Thirteenth (1999) 118 189 307/56
Fourteenth (2004) 159 147 306/56
Fifteenth (2009) 210 117 327/60


  1. Non-major centrist parties get elected to the Indian Parliament.
    • The major parties in India closest to the “centre” are the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The last time the INC ever had a majority in the lower house of the Indian Parliament was in 1984.[6] The BJP has never achieved a majority on its own (it was formed in 1980)
    • Thus even with FPTP 40-45% of the seats go to the non-major parties
  2. Thus the smaller parties hold the balance of power
    • In 1999 the governing coalition was brought down by a minor partner[7]
    • But it is not the smaller parties only which are guilty. In 1991 and 1997, the INC which was supporting the coalition from outside withdrew support resulting in elections
  3. Smaller parties in India have also forced the government to adopt policies at variance with the major party.
    • The Indian government’s policy to allow foreign direct investment in the retail sector was derailed by the TrinaMool Congress (TMC) which has 20 (4%) of seats in the Lok Sabha and is a member of the current governing coalition.
    • The Indian government barely survived a confidence motion in the Lok Sabha after the Left Front[8] having 60 (11%) seats withdrew support over the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement[9]
  4. It is laughable to say that under PR voters cannot know, at the time of voting, what the future governing coalition will look like. Such phenomenon occur in FPTP too.
    • In the UK general elections in 2010 no party had a majority resulting in a coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems. At the time a tory voter or a lib-dem voter voted, s/he had no idea that there would be a future governing coalition (let alone what it would look like).[10]
      • Voters who voted for the Lib Dems, after the party pledged not to raise tuition fees, wouldn’t have known that the Lib Dems would vote for a tuition fee increase when in government as a coalition with the Tories.
      • Voters who voted for the Tories, believing its manifesto promise to be tougher on Europe, wouldn’t have known that the Tory PM Cameron would make a U-turn on his campaign promise to support a campaign by the European Parliament to reduce its monthly “travelling circus” to Strasbourg.
    • In India, due to the emergence of non-major parties on to the national scene, parties usually contest elections as part of larger coalitions, which one may think gives the voter an indication of what the future governing coalition would look like. However such coalitions are extraordinarily fluid and regularly lose and gain members.
      • The United Progressive Alliance (of which INC is the major member and which is now in power) has regularly lost members.
      • The National Democratic Alliance (of which BJP is the major member and which is now in opposition) has also regularly lost members.
      • In fact most of the smaller parties keep switching between the two major parties. Thus even in an FPTP system voters cannot know, when they vote, what the future governing coalition will look like.
  5. The last objection to PR is that it leads to months of horse-trading and backroom deals to form a new government. Such horse trading and backroom deals are nothing new in India.
    • Aaya Ram Gaya Ram politics in India have been going on for decades.
    • Horse trading in Uttar Pradesh has a long and (un)distinguished history.
    • In 1993 certain MPs of a small party were given “donations” of money to vote for the government and against a no-confidence motion (which the government survived).[11]

Thus given the above evidence I believe, unlike Sanjeev, that India does not need to be wary of proportional representation because any “ills” it has are already manifested in India with its FPTP system. Sanjeev’s position therefore stands refuted.

A Theoretical and Philosophical argument againt Albrechtsen

Turning to a more theoretical and philosophical discussion regarding PR and FPTP, I wonder why Albrechtsen is hostile to small parties. Is it because as a supporter of one of the major Australian parties (the Liberals) she is does not like the feeling of having to negotiate and compromise with other duly elected representatives? It seems to me that the article is arguing that the centre should be allowed to ignore the non-central opinions, that the 60-70% of the electorate has the power to ignore the remaining 30-40% which does not agree with them.

Turning to the issue of smaller parties preventing the adoption of good policies by the centrist parties, what is preventing the centrist parties to come together in support of the good policy and freezing out the smaller parties. e.g. in a 11 seat legislature let’s assume A has 5 seats, B has 4, and C and D have 1 each, with C and D being the non-centrist parties and A being in a coalition with C. If A is pushing a policy opposed by C with C threatening to leave the coalition why doesn’t A solicit support from B? If it is a reasonably centrist (and thus desirable according to Albrechtsen[12]) policy then I don’t see why B and A cannot negotiate some sort of acceptable compromise legislation. It is a failure of the major parties to come together to pass centrist policies and this failure is being disguised, by the likes of Albrechtsen, as the unreasonableness of the smaller parties.[13]

As for smaller parties forcing through undesirable policies, who is letting them? The major parties should be blamed for kowtowing to the smaller parties in their lust for power. If the policy is undesirable to the major party what is stopping it from telling the smaller party to take hike? The fear that it will lose a no-confidence motion? So is staying in power more important to the major party than opposition to bad policy? And instead of blaming the major parties Albrechtsen is blaming the small parties?

Australian Context

One point that should be made is that Albrechtsen wrote this piece in the Australian context. In Australia the upper house is elected by a PR system incorporating a single transferable vote with an “above the line” system. In this system a voter instead of individually ranking each candidate, ranks slates of candidates (each slate comprising of all the party candidates). Since the parties are in possession of these preferences they can then trade them with each other. While such trading agreements are published in advance, they are complicated enough such that it is difficult for the average voter to easily determine the fate of his or her preferences. In such a context parties get enormous power on how to direct the individual voter’s vote. Thus it makes the parties powerful and also it abrogates the link between the elected official and the voters and weakens accountability. I agree with Albrechtsen and Sanjeev that such a system which gives so much power to parties is bad for democracy.[14]

Personally I prefer the Instant Runoff Voting System. This allows voters to show their support for smaller parties without the risk of a major party losing because of a divided vote. Given that the Freedom Team of India (FTI) is a fringe party I am surprised Sanjeev[15] would not be in favour of a system which will allow people to vote for FTI without fears of a wasted vote.[16]

A Note on Language

The last important point I want to note is the language used by Albrechtsen. She uses the word “extremist” and “fringe” to denote the non-major parties. This a point worth noting. By labeling the non-major parties as extremist and fringe Albrechtsen is attempting to confine them to beyond the pale. However what is left unexplained is on what basis should the major parties be respected? Because they are supported by a majority of the public? The smaller parties are to be ignored because they are not supported by the majority? That logic is no different from one justifying the tyranny of the majority; so why constrain[17] the power of a government duly elected by a majority? But is being extremist wrong? In a polity dominated by major parties which do not believe in free trade[18] a position supporting free trade is by definition extremist. In a world where mainstream policy favours protectionism support for free trade is extremist. In a polity where the major parties do not believe in personal liberty[19] a position believing in personal liberty and autonomy is by definition extremist.

Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.[20]

A corollary to the above is the combination of Australia’s compulsory voting system with Albrechtsen’s view that fringe parties are not worthy of representation. It is akin to forcing people to go to the voting booth and then making them choose between alternatives which are both repulsive (one may be slightly less so than the other): “You must buy a car and it could be any colour you want as long as it’s vomit green or feces brown.”

By Albrechtsen’s (and by extension Sanjeev’s) logic parties such as Lok Satta and FTI that are fringe (and extremist given the pro-statist ideologies of both the INC and the BJP) do not deserve legislative representation.[21]

And the very last point. Majority government does not magically provide good policy and governance. A majority government is just as likely as a coalition to promulgate bad policy. It even finds it easier to ride rough-shod over individual freedom and liberty because there is no party in the legislature to challenge it. The only good government is a small government (whether minority or majority), constrained by a constitution with enough space for economic freedom and personal liberty to unleash the power of the free markets and free minds — the surest engine of human growth and progress.

Footnotes


[1] The Australian is the newspaper of the conservative establishment in Australia. Albrechtsen is a columnist for it. It is no surprise that the article is a paean to the establishment.

[2] This is a major point which I will come to later. As of now I will restrict myself to pointing out that the label of “extremism” is used to delegitimise the smaller parties.

[3] As of now its strength is 545 members

[4] The second largest party in that election was the Janata Dal which thereafter split repeatedly

[5] Because the INC and BJP were not the two largest parties

[6] 426 seats; The BJP had 2 seats.

[7] The minor partner was the AIADMK which had 18 MPs in a house of 545 (3%). It withdrew its support to the governing coalition because certain demands were not met e.g. dismissal of the then Tamil Nadu government run by AIADMK’s arch rival DMK

[8] A conglomeration of communist parties

[9] The said agreement is a most complicated agreement and on which I am not an expert. However it goes to original anti-PR point that small parties have a disproportionate influence on policy. My point has been that such disproportionate influence exists in FPTP too.

[10] One may object to this argument on the basis that it is not an apt analogy because in PR voters know that there would be a coalition, they only don’t know what it would look like and that this was not the case in the UK, since the voters expected their party to win (not the lib-dems surely?). However final polls before the start of voting show that no major party was close to getting a majority of the seats, thus raising the spectre of coalition.

[11] See also It’s official; political bribery is tax-free. Ask the taxman,

[12] Coalitions comprising of fringe parties produce “lower-quality policy and politics”. Supra note 1

[13] The issue of FDI on retail in India is the example of such failure by the major parties. As has been detailed above the TMC held the governing coalition hostage. The BJP could have supported the governing coalition as it had supported the policy when in power. Of course needless to say it dropped such a policy when in opposition.

[14] One rationale for why above the line voting was adopted is that since Australia enforces compulsory voting it behoves the administration to make voting as easy as possible. However above the line voting is an attempt to mitigate the impact of a bad policy viz. compulsory voting (based on the same rationale as conscription) by another bad policy such that the net result is even worse.

[15] He is a member and supporter of the FTI. His writings on FTI.

[16] Some may object that IRV denies the “one person one vote principle” but I disagree. While it may seem that the voters whose first preference candidate loses get to vote a second time for another candidate, nobody is preventing any voter from ranking any number of candidates. If a voter declines to choose any candidate apart from his/her first preference, it is no different from an eligible voter abstaining from an election in an FPTP system.

[17] Courtesy Sanjeev Sabhlok.

[18] Only 25 members of the US House of Representatives in the 108th Congress voted consistently in favour of free trade Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the 108th Congress

[19] The House of Commons passed, by large majorities, the Health Act 2006 which banned smoking in pubs. A private member’s bill to exempt pubs from the 2006 ban was defeated in 2010

[20] This is a paraphrase. The actual quote is “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!

[21] I have purposefully referred to Sanjeev’s writings on the two major parties of India given that his endorsement of the Albrechtsen’s viewpoint would lead to their entrenchment in the Indian polity.