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Inclusive One Party Systems Outperform Democratic Counterparts : 1

April 7, 2019 5 comments

In a previous series about post-1945 divergence in outcomes between India and China, I made the point that China is today the world’s largest industrial power while India is a stunted dwarf which cannot even project its power into small neighboring countries. This divergence has much to do with fundamental differences in the type of elites and systems of governance in those two countries. India ended up with a bunch of spineless and incompetent elites who were ashamed of being Indian and constantly sucked up to white guys in expensive suits. Chinese elites, unlike their Indian counterparts, did not hate themselves for being non-white and understood that their fortunes were intrinsically linked to those of their fellow countrymen. In other words, they cared about their own country- even if they did so for pragmatically selfish reasons.

But the much larger difference between these nations comes down to their respective systems of governance. Indian elites retained the super abusive and exploitative colonial administrative system they “inherited” at the time of independence. In contrast, their Chinese counterparts went on quite the house-cleaning spree after 1949. While you may, or may not, agree about the large number of bureaucratic eggs broken by the Chinese elites during the first 30 years after regaining independence, the end product is clearly superior to its Indian counterpart. But why is that so? Is it because the Chinese have a long history of bureaucracy, racial and cultural homogeneity or are the real reasons more straightforward- if rather unpleasant to accept.

In the rest of this post, I will show you how the superior performance of the Chinese system is intimately linked to its design, rather than quality of its employees. So let us begin by asking a few simple questions: Why is the Chinese administrative system far less dysfunctional than its Indian counterpart? Do they have smarter employees or more natural resources at their disposal? Or.. is it something else? Now let me flip that question around. Why is the Indian administrative system so incompetent, short-sighted and generally incapable of getting stuff done. While some idiots might want to assign blame to everything from race, “IQ”, lack of cultural homogeneity or other bullshit explanations- the real reasons behind the Indian system’s poor performance are rather obvious and surprisingly basic- starting with lack of accountability.

Anyone who has ever interacted with the administrative system in India at any length will be aware that there is basically no accountability for its employees. They can cause endless disasters and suffering through their incompetence and stupidity without any of it having real negative effects on their job security. At most, they will be disciplined by being transferred (for a couple of years) to some undesirable locale or position. More importantly, since advancement in the system is determined by age and colonial-era rules rather than performance, there is little incentive for them to learn from their mistakes or change for the better. But why is this still the case in 2019? Why did Indian political leaders never try to reform this shitty system since 1947?

Well.. there are many reasons why Indian political elites kept the manifestly bad administrative system which they “inherited”. As I wrote in previous posts, they never cared about the plight of their fellow countrymen because they saw themselves as brown versions of their erstwhile colonial white masters. But there is another and perhaps more important reason- India went down the path of becoming a parliamentary multi-party democracy. But what is the connection between becoming a multi-party democracy and administrative dysfunction? It comes to the number of competing power centers. In India, and almost every other democracy, the executive branch of power is in direct competition with the bureaucracy. But why is that problematic? After all, don’t “famous public intellectuals” constantly tell us that separation of powers is a good thing?

Though separation of powers might sounds good in theory, its real world performance is sketchy- at best. Some of you might counter this by pointing out regimes led by strongmen, dictators and other types of totalitarian leaders do poorly in the long term and I agree with that observation. There is however another model for totalitarianism- one based in a single political entity which allows for some diversity of people and views. While this might sound like something out of ‘1984’ by Orwell, the real world performance of many east-Asian countries suggests otherwise. China.. you see.. is not the only single-party country in east-Asia. For most of it modern history (1868-1947 and 1955 onward) Japan has been effectively a single-party system. The same is true for South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.

There is, therefore, no evidence for single broad-based political party system in power for decades having any worthwhile negative influence on the social and economic well-being of average citizens of said country. In fact, the converse appears to be true- especially when you compare them to India. But didn’t India have something similar under its first prime-minister (Jawaharlal Nehru) from 1947 to 1964? Why didn’t things work out nicely under him , as they did in those other Asian countries? Well.. for two reasons. Firstly, his tenure as the undisputed prime-minister of India quickly became a personality cult and he did not groom anybody other than his daughter to take over after his death. Secondly, all those other Asian leaders used their long tenures to destroy the previous colonial administrative systems.

Nehru and his successors were only interested in maintaining power in addition to appearing deferential and respectable to the ‘whites’. They did almost nothing to upgrade or reform the administrative system, let alone break it down and remake it serve Indians. Nothing was done to eliminate all those pesky multiple competing centers of power and bureaucratic fiefdoms. Almost no new unitary institutions with real power were created by him or his successors. In other words, they retained the same system and mindset which was previously used to exploit and impoverish India during the era of British colonialism- and it shows, to this day. After his death in 1964, things went from bad to worse and the rise of regional parties, formed due to inability of his national party to deliver on promises, made a bad situation worse.. much worse.

And this how you end up an administrative system full of essentially sinecured employees with zero accountability, no motivation or appetite for any improvement or the ability to think outside the box. That is why India still uses a criminal code written about 150 years ago which often irrelevant to the contemporary world. That is also why Indian cities look like poorly laid-out and crowded hovels. That is also why India was so late and inefficient at building power plants or even using its large coal resources. That is why cities in China look and function in ways which would shame their western counterparts- while those in India, sorta function. That is also why cities, towns and villages in India have far more uncollected garbage, sewage and filth than their counterparts in Vietnam or Indonesia. This is why the public health system in India sucks.

In the next part of this (hopefully short) series, I will talk about why the problem of multiple power centers did not seem to affect western countries from mid 1800s till the 1970s. Here is a hint: the “west” was largely non-democratic during that period and colonial exploitation of other people + post-WW2 growth provided enough surplus resources to paper over deficiencies.

What do you think? Comments?