Blogs > Liberty and Power > India, anyone?

Nov 29, 2004 11:48 pm

India, anyone?

I leave for India in a couple of days -- a brief trip, to return to the village on the southeastern coast where I began my career as an anthropologist almost thirty years ago.

Ever wonder what a system of"affirmative action" would look like if were permitted to completely run amok? For decades India has employed what it calls a"reservation system" whereby up to 80% of positions are set aside for"backward" castes. Universities (as one might expect) are particularly keen on set-asides. The result is predictable, and sadly, all too familiar: the collapse of merit and dominance of group membership as the only acceptable standard for selection or advancement.

To be sure, we hear much today about out-sourcing to India. Try making a flight reservation without talking to someone in Bangalore or Delhi. But India barely registers a blip when it comes to technical innovation or academic achievement. The brain drain continues unabated, and always will, as long as smart people are pushed aside in favor of protected groups.

I will see if this analysis still holds water when I return. Any questions?

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Arnold Shcherban - 12/1/2004


You are essentially right about much more urgent and wide-scale social and economic prolems India faces than the one
emphasized by the author.
However, I might as well argue on the very issue he raised: the negative role of affirmative action, in general, and in India, in particular.
This attempt to blame affirmative action for the lack of innovative thought is not supported by any substantial arguments or statistics.
Where is that Thirld World country, former British
colony, that does not enacted affirmative action, and, as a consequence, blossomed in technical innovation and scientific discoveries? Show me such country and then, I
might join you in full support of this newly-discovered major cause of social inertia.
Where have you ever seen or heard of such a huge country with population of close to one billion, where hundreds of millions are not sure whether they are going to have enough food to avoid hunger tommorow, where dozens of millions still considered to be humanely, not mentioning socially inferior, and still have little rights for what any more or less civilized person considers natural (not just legal) to have, that would possess significant innovative potential?

Moreover, India is one of the last Thirld World countries whom one has a moral and factual basis to submit the lack of innovation blame to, since it is one of a few such countries that actually did make a major progress in overall education, especially technical education.
Today, many thousands of Indian high-tech specialists, computer system and application programmers, technical and business analysts, mathematicians and phycisists work along with the respective (from middle up to the highest levels) Western specialists, either on the West, including the US, or in India itself.
It is true that not many technological innovations or new scientific theories per se are coming from India nowadays, the country where one of the world oldest civilization was once born, the country considered by researchers all over the world as the cradle of European civisation that used to give the world so much technical and scientific innovation, not mentioing philosophical and cultural one.
So what? May be the India's phenomenon is just one of the representatives of a certain historical trend.
Along with Greece, Rome-Italy and China to name just a few.
Did Japan, the country vastly more developed economically,
much less stressed with social and multicultural-religious problems and "not acting affirmatively" award the world with great number of innovation and discoveries?
I don't think so. They mostly develop someone else's innovative ideas.

It's a pity the author of affirmative action blame discarded such a trifle, as (at the minimum) short historical analysis, as if the latter is nothing more than an annoying redundancy in the process of establishing causes of social phenomena.
One can guarantee that provided one-tenth of the miriads of India's economic and social problems, much more deep, serious and deserving attention problems are resolved, the lack of innovation one will become non-existent, regardless of the presence of the affirmative action;

Roderick T. Long - 11/30/2004

Okay, I don't know why those two Amazon links aren't working. But the second Kevin Carson link, at least, I can fix.

Roderick T. Long - 11/30/2004

By the way Chris, since you were asking earlier whether anything had been written from a libertarian perspective that was friendly to cultural rights, along those lines I can recommend The Multiculturalism of Fear by Jacob Levy and The Liberal Archipelago by Chandran Kukathas.

On the issue of economic rights, you might be interested in Kevin Carson’s website, particularly in his essays and online book defending what he calls "free market anti-capitalism."

chris l pettit - 11/30/2004

I actually just returned from a seven month stay in Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal...and see a heck of a lot worse problems than the "affirmative action" you cite. Access to education, lack of economic social and cultural rights (althought the Supreme COurt there is legally and theoretically fabulous and issues great decisions that just can;t be implemented properly...or won't be due to political cronyism). I would encourage you to look closer to the core to find problems instead of partaking in the distant reaches of area where the problems originate.