Vantage point

Monday, November 15, 2004

Selling reforms to the poor

Economic reforms in our country have been against-the-tide, rather than a part of it. Every government that carried out reform did so because circumstances forced it to. Which is why what we have got are minimum quality reforms, implemented very timidly.

Why is it that it is difficult to find a politician who stands pro-reform, rather than not-anti-reform?

I think the reason is that no political party has ever thought of selling reforms to the public. Why is it? Is there no market for reforms? Or have politicians missed a trick? Or is it because the system is now caught in the vicious cycle of statist policies?

A few days back, during a long drive to a customer's office, I started talking to the taxi wallah. I asked him which political party he supported, and he said Congress. Next I asked him what according to him made India remained poor, and he said corruption. Over the next half an hour I had an amazing chat with the guy, as I sold him the idea of libertarian policies. I managed to convince him that widespread corruption is not the cause, but a symptom. The conversation was an eye-opener for two reasons.

In the conversation I used two different principles that are close to my heart. The principle of selling, and the principles of libertarianism. I found myself first talking to him, understanding his personal "environment", understanding what made him tick and what ticked him off. Just like we are taught to do in a sales job. Next I presented him my "solution" by tying it with his reference points. For instance I asked him the process he had to go through to get his taxi permit. Then I told him that in the system I believed in, he wouldn't need a permit. And I explained him how it would work, and not cause an over-crowding of taxis.

You know what? He was convinced.

People by and large have a reasonable amount of common sense, and libertarian ideas appeal to the common sense. That one conversation opened my eyes about how there was a huge untapped market for libertarian ideas in this country. And the reason all political parties were still selling rehashed Fabian-Marxist-Keynesian-Lohiaite-Gandhian ideas was because no one had taken the initiative of tapping this market.

The idea of Swarajya was confined to the drawing rooms of the intelligentsia for many decades in the Gokhale-Agarkar days. Gandhiji sold the idea to the lowest common denominator and transformed the mental landscape of India. Today libertarian ideas in India are in the same place as Swarajya just before the first world war. We need another Gandhi to yet again transform the mental landscape of India.

I am thinking of becoming a member of the Swatantra Bharat Party.