4 thumb rules to detect slow progress in reforms - Positive externalities of slow reforms

Almost every public policy problem is termed 'complex' and needs 'reforms'. What's the sign of slow progress in reforms? 

Slow progress in 'action' results in following four things which can be used as thumb rules to check the pace of reforms.

1) Reports of committees outlining reforms end up being syllabus of civil service examinations

Consider the case of 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC). It gave a comprehensive report on administrative reforms that are to be undertaken. What ended up happening? 

  • There's a little progress on implementation of such reforms. Instead, these reports occupied 'must read' section of syllabus of recruitment to Indian civil services.

  • Every year scores of UPSC aspirants learn the ARC reports by heart to be reproduced in the exam. 
  • They occupy a space of bookshops famous for selling reading material to competitive examinations.
  • Coaching institutes summarize these reports to ease students' burden and sell them.

2) A new branch of academic literature is initiated to study the lack of progress

People in academia initiate a new strand in academic literature to study the 'slow progress.

  • Various political economy models are proposed to explain the dynamics of inaction (emphasis on the irony of the term - two contradictory terms)

  • Fancy researchers even construct game theory models. 

3) Definition of 'radical' changes. Ensuring basic pre-requisites becomes radical

If inaction continues for long, even basic aspects become radical.

  • Owing to lack of efforts from government, ensuring teacher attendance and strict action for absence is now being viewed as a radical step.

4) Scores of second-best solutions emerge

What to do when the government can't take action against absenteeism? Obvious - give them monetary incentives. Such approaches have an underlying presumption that governments can't take the hard approach and hence settle for such solutions.

It only needs someone like this to remind that one doesn't need to complicate the problem by thinking about designing complex incentive systems to ensure attendance, which only result in marginal effects at the best. It just needs the will to get things done.

Positive externalities of slow reforms

Following the wise advice of 'look at the best in others', if one looks at the 'best' in 'inaction', one realizes that inaction regarding reforms is generating employment, putting many people to work
  • Book shop owners who earn money by selling reports of committees on reforms.
  • Photoshop outlets who earn money by distributing such reports
  • Thesis topics for students to study the inaction
  • Papers for professors to study the inaction
Question to think about - what would Keynes have said this form of generating employment?

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