Go To Village: The Missing Characteristics of Predictability for a Responsible Government
Come out of the Exit from the Tulihal Airport and take a right turn for moving towards Imphal. The first encounter on the highway would be a big pothole which has been there for at least a month by now. From the Airport to Keishampat, there are by now fifteen potholes (small and big) and staggered sections with the potential for becoming potholes sooner than later; the stagger points would collectively be more than fifty metres.
Why am I starting my piece with the scenario on potholes while the title relates to the latest development initiative of the provincial government? Before I answer this question, let me venture on what the Chief Minister might be having in his mind while launching this. Well, he definitely must be wanting to witness transformation for sure of the life of the people from one of “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short” to another of contemporary happiness and sustainability. Second, he might be having in mind a kind of paradigm shift of governance from the prevailing scenario of the public knocking every door of the government and the bureaucrats looking down on them as subjects praying for mercy and favour to a new one where the government keeps reaching out to the people. Third, he must also be searching for a mechanism wherein the convergence of interests between the government and the governed is such that a sustained two-way flow of information occurs.
While talking of this I remember Jon Elster’s dictum that “explanations in the social sciences should be organized around (partial) mechanisms rather than (general) theories”. To paraphrase Elster, we can say that “Go To Village should have mechanisms rather than slogans”. The mission would be successful if and only if it becomes a predictable behaviour of government. The sustained two-way flow of information would become a reality only in this way. If this occurs, the transaction cost of governance of development interventions – the non-budgeted costs for performance – would be much lower.
However reaching this level is not something which would result out of occasional visits by government officials to the villages. The people should have a generalised sense that the government is credible. While the visits by the officials are fine in the beginning, it is the continual two-way flow of information that would constitute the instrumental mechanism facilitating evolution of contextually relevant policy interventions. The issue goes much beyond the people being made aware of the existing programmes of the government and movement to a milieu where policies would forever be alive to the changing socio-economic dynamics. This would certainly entail a behavioural transformation of the wings of the government.
The behavioural transformation of the governmental mechanism would necessitate at least a character of responsiveness and responsibility. The government should forever (definitely not one-time) manifest a character of responsiveness. The core and critical problems of the people should never be missed out by the eyes and ears of the government. This should also happen in real time. Now this character of responsiveness to the issues of the people should necessarily be coupled by a firm and committed intervention to ameliorate the situation. This coupling of responsiveness by responsible behaviour is never a single shot affair requirement but be a norm of governance. Once the public come to feel that the government is predictable in so far as the wellness of the public, the predictability of responsive and responsible behaviour of government would be a generalised social feature. If this happens, the transaction cost of governance would be much reduced and performance would be enhanced. In the otherwise case, the relationship between the government and the governed would just be a strategic game with no generalised trust.
It is exactly in this case that the picture of the pothole scenario given in the beginning of this piece becomes relevant. It does not serve to enhance the credible predictability of the government. Governance is necessarily a holistic component and never isolated parts.
I would end with a long quotation from The Reason of Rules: Constitutional Political Economy of the Economics Nobel Laureate, James Buchanan: “Rules of the road, another familiar usage of the terms here, are not designed and/or did not evolve on the basis of any specification of the objectives of persons who are road users. Road users have widely varying purposes—business, pleasure, or some combination—which dictate many varieties of route, speed, and type of vehicle. Rules of the road serve the function of allowing persons to pursue their separate and independent courses, which may conflict in the absence of such rules. These rules do not imply that the objectives of users be reduced to a single counter, analogous to “winning” in ordinary games.
“Road rules draw another feature to our attention. The efficacy of a set of rules does
not depend on any matching of skill levels among those who use the facility. A set of
rules may be preferred because it tolerates the coexistence of good and bad drivers on the road, a feature that does not apply to ordinary games. Road rules have a social function, which is to facilitate the achievement of the purposes of all persons who use the facility, regardless of what these purposes might be. And the rules are adjudged in accordance with their ability to satisfy this criterion.
“In much the same way, the rules that constrain sociopolitical interactions—the economic and political relationships among persons—must be evaluated ultimately in terms of their capacity to promote the separate purposes of all persons in the polity.
Do these rules permit individuals to pursue their private ends, in a context where securing these ends involves interdependence, in such a way that each person secures maximal attainment of his goals consistent with the equal liberty of others to do the same?”
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