Saturday, July 21, 2007

The anti-war candidate

Several people have observed that Americans aren't really anti-war: they're anti-losing. Which explains the shortage of genuinely anti-war candidates, on all sides, in the run-up to next year's presidential election, despite the Iraq war being a disaster and Bush's ratings being in the toilet.

The exception is Ron Paul, from Bush's party and his home state (Texas). The oddity of a solidly anti-war libertarian running against "Rudy McRomney" has caused quite a buzz; he has appeared both on the Daily Show and on the Colbert Report in June. And now the New York Times has a long and informative feature on him and his ideas.

Extreme libertarianism of the kind Paul espouses seems a bizarrely unworkable idea. But increasingly in today's world one wonders -- well, I wonder -- whether every other system isn't worse. And at least some of Paul's ideas will find support on all sides of the political spectrum.


Anonymous said...

he does seem to be catching the imagination of a lot of people. wonder if there is room for a far right far left alliance in India. At least there will be some consensus about economic policies and a common civil code.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I wouldn't call Paul far-right -- that phrase generally indicates fascists or ultranationalists, which he isn't. Libertarianism deserves a category of its own, and certainly has nothing to do with, say, Jean-Marie Le Pen, or our home-grown rightwingers. I don't think there is a single libertarian politician of any significance in India.

Niket said...

I am not sure if US is really ready for a truly libertarian candidate. Americans support libertarian philosophy as long as they have to pay less for gas, booze and stuff. For all other purposes, they can come up with enough excuses how their stand is consistent with a libertarian philosophy.

Not that this is an American trait; humans in general can reconcile their diametrically opposite viewpoints as being consistent.

BTW, I have recently moved next door to your campus.

Anonymous said...

Really, don't you think libertarianism is a luxury only really rich and egalitarian societies can afford? A libertarian would be seriously out of place in India. Small government? If anything our problem is that government doesn't do enough.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

Niket -- good to know. The husband of one of my colleagues works in your department, I think. We should catch up.

Anonymous -- the funny thing in India that I notice (especially from the left) is that the government has done nothing for primary education, health care, etc, for 60 years -- therefore we want them to do more. They botched it completely and thoroughly for decades, so let's give them another chance.

Anonymous said...

Is that sarcasm? "They botched it completely and thoroughly for decades, so let's give them another chance."?

a. it's not completely botched *everywhere* although it's botched in many places.
b. in several other countries the govt. has been quite successful at reforming health and education, there's no reason why that can't happen in india too.
c. what's the alternative? *even* if you argue in favour of privatization or private-public partnerships, govt. has a very important role to play.

Niket said...

"in several other countries the govt. has been quite successful at reforming health and education"
Name one country where government has done this without deregulating the education section (I can't talk about healthcare, but I am sure its not very different there too).

Rahul Siddharthan said...

anonymous -- as I said, I'm not an extreme libertarian in the Ron Paul mould (I certainly support gun control, for example). I think there is a role for government, but that role is ensuring education, healthcare and other necessities -- not providing them. This can be done via scholarships for the needy, a social security system that provides access to healthcare, and so on. (Government employees already have systems like CHSS that allow you to be treated at private hospitals. Why not a need-based system for everyone?)

Take education: it has been estimated that what state governments spend on running their schools amounts to over Rs 1000 per child per month. If the governments simply gave that money directly to the parents, in the form of education vouchers, many of them may be able to get a better education. Administering a voucher programme would cost a tiny fraction of what it costs to run government schools.

Anonymous said...

Vouchers to private schools may not be the answer to our education problems. Private health care in India is also problematic.

Countries that have reformed health without deregulation? Cuba is a prominent example. Education: South Korea.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

The paper on the Chilean system suggests that the problem may have been parental choices, not based on "performance", and schools catering to those parental choices. This is equally a problem in India, where schools focus on "cramming" because that is what works in exams.

We have several problems here: the government schools are mostly dreadful (the exceptions are the KVs, which are an example of how government employees get pampered); private schools value cramming for exams over a broad-based education; parents want their kids to be "toppers" and go on to engineering and medicine college, rather than get a broad-based education. (It could be argued that the schools are merely supplying what the parents want.) School vouchers will do something about the first problem but will certainly not solve the second or third problems: we need other approaches for that.

From what I've read of east Asia (not sure about South Korea specifically) -- their approach to education is not all that different from ours: favouring rote learning over creativity. Perhaps they do it more efficiently.

Healthcare and Cuba - please. I'm willing to accept Cuba as an example where a communist government actually did build a healthcare system that worked, but that's all. It was built on massive Soviet aid, and has been creaking since 1991. It was also built on very un-democratic principles. Private practice is simply not permitted, and salaries are rather low. This was OK in the Soviet days but is causing big problems today, with tourism being a more lucrative profession than medicine. And it also means that while Cuba has many strengths in its healthcare, it also has many gaps which cannot be filled in the current system -- a lot of modern equipment and newer medicines are simply not available. In any case, none of this can be replicated in India or anywhere else.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

One more point -- I'm not sure about Chile, but in India, the first question is not "does performance improve when moving the kid from government to private school via vouchers", but "was the kid going to school in the first place?"

Unfortunately, in large parts of the country the answer is no.

A lot of poor parents are already sending their kids to private schools. And a lot of others aren't sending them to school at all, because they can't afford a private school and the government school is worse than useless.

Anonymous said...

The question of how to deliver quality education, or what "quality" is -- is a whole other issue. So it's not useful in this context to find fault with S. Korea because it may emphasize rote-learning. Our system emphasizes rote-learning too, private schools and public schools alike. The problem is that even then we don't have the schooling achievement (however narrowly defined) that we should.

The point in Chile was not only parental choice. More importantly the point was that private schools compete by signalling their quality, and they can either improve quality through higher teacher effort, better facilities etc, or they could attract the better students into their schools, watch test scores go up as a result, and then proclaim that they're a good school. The authors find that Chilean schools do the latter. The better students may benefit from this because they have better peers to study with, but the worse students get left behind.

Private schools may be delivering better results than public schools in India, but the reason could be the one above. If the reason above holds, then sending everyone to a private school could simply take us back to the original situation. We don't know what will happen, but we can't embrace the voucher idea unless we (a) have a better idea or (b) are willing to monitor private schools. The bottom-line is that you can't do away with regulation.

And really I don't know why Cuba should be dismissed out of hand simply because it's "built on un-democratic principles". Apparently even the NHS thinks it can learn from them, I'm sure India could too.

Rahul Siddharthan said...

The competing-for-better-students thing could happen and does happen even now in India. I see it as a secondary problem. The primary problem is that there are lots of potentially "better students" out there that aren't in school at all.

"Private schools may be delivering better results than public schools in India, but the reason could be the one above."

Or the reason could be that 90000 schools don't have blackboards, and 21000 of them don't have teachers either.

My wife, who is very much skeptical about the "school choice" initiative here because she doesn't think private schools are reliable enough, wrote an article recently that overviews the situation in India. What's interesting is that some of the potential beneficiaries (Irula tribals) are hoping that such a program will encourage the Government to improve its own schools -- they don't want to get rid of government schools, but are not happy with the current situation either.