Friday, October 17, 2014

my rediff piece: why it is time to scrap NREGA

'How many people have been skilled up and thus able to escape from needing to be in NREGA?'

'The true success of NREGA would lie in its irrelevance -- that is, people no longer need it as a crutch.'

'NREGA should enable them to climb out of poverty and stand on their own feet.'

'But this is expressly forbidden by NREGA rules. Skill development, which is what India needs more than anything else, is outside the purview of NREGA,' points out Rajeev Srinivasan.

There is a last-ditch effort to force India to save one of the most ridiculous legacies of the United Progressive Alliance government, its National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It makes no sense because it doesn't do skill development, routinely transfers public funds into private hands, and creates hard-to-break dependencies.

But most of all, I liked the letter-writing campaign in its support.

I was amused to hear that 28 'eminent economists' had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi telling him, in effect, that the heavens would fall if NREGA were to be touched.

I was reminded of two similar letters: One from 47 'scholars' (the 'Witzel letter') supporting an obscure pedagogue in a California lawsuit, and another from 40 'Nobel Prize winners' in support of Dr Binayak Sen, who was accused of aiding and abetting Naxalites.

The trouble with all these letters is a logical fallacy of 'appeal to authority.' It is as though by waving these people's credentials about, the proponents can cow down and browbeat into submission even the legitimate concerns of any opponent. But, in fact, the named people may a. not be authorities at all; b. may not be authorities in the subject matter under discussion; c. may have no idea about the proposition and simply signed off under pressure from a zealous proponent.

In exactly the same vein, the brave 28 economists are attempting an 'appeal to authority,' based not on their knowledge of development economics on the ground in India, but merely on their degrees, academic positions, or some such. I have not done a background check on them, but I suspect most of them are from the Jawaharlal Nehru University stable of extreme-Left economic thinking, and therefore their neutrality is suspect. These are people who gained from the status quo ante, and they would like to preserve it.

... deleted the rest

sent from samsung galaxy note, so please excuse brevity

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