Saturday, 27 April 2013

Quotas and reservations - again

One of my earliest blogs was on the subject of reservations and quotas for groups defined in some arbitrary way - colour race or in India's case by caste or the lack of it. 

I argued then that any such policy of preferential treatment of people from special interest groups lead to a corrupt regime where establishing entitlement takes precedence over striving for excellence. 

In this week's Economist the harm done by 'affirmative action' as it is called in America is reviewed once again. Much better put than my own blog post but essentially the same argument. I feel vindicated. 

But I also know that the political imperative to continue with a system that provides so much opportunity for patronage is not likely to diminish. That India's corrupt and debased system of caste-based reservations does nothing to help those whom it is intended to benefit is not a strong enough argument, so long as there are enough voices to convince the majority of the downtrodden that their turn will come if only they fight for an even bigger quota. The desperate will buy any promise however debased, and the charlatan politician will make any promise howsoever false.

But that should be no reason for India's reformers and thinkers not to lead a quiet revolution in thinking that accepts the manifest  impossibility of guaranteeing jobs and prosperity not by better education, infrastructure, respect for law, and protection of property, but by offering access to a percentage quota  of the same grossly inadequate opportunity

To paraphrase the Economist editorial's concluding paragraph:

Selection on the basis of caste is neither a fair nor an efficient way of identifying and helping people who suffer social and economic disadvantage. Caste-based reservations replace old injustices with new ones: it divides society rather than unites it; it creates an incentive to establish entitlement rather than to work hard and excel; it blunts enterprise and dulls effort while encouraging complacency. Governments should tackle disadvantage directly, without reference to caste. If a school is bad, fix it. If there are barriers to opportunity, knock them down. And if the sons and daughters of people like the late ex-President KR Narayanan and  Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar apply to a university or for a job, judge them on their academic prowess, not their caste.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly,all this is academic rumination! Where/Who are the 'reformers and thinkers' that you are referring to? The political class who are the biggest beneficiaries of the caste-based reservation system will not let it die, since that would mean the end of their power of patronage. A political class that is itself populated by people who owe their positions to an accident of birth, cannot suddenly transform into thinking about any 'merit-based'system.