Em­pow­er­ing cit­i­zens is bet­ter than en­ti­tle­ments

Demo­cratic gov­ern­ments should pre­fer em­pow­er­ment as the great­est form of virtue and must di­rect all en­ergy in de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of cit­i­zens

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Hi­man­shu Arora

Is na­ture more than just good and evil? is civil­i­sa­tion bad? does na­ture per­pet­u­ate in­equal­ity? does civil­i­sa­tion per­pet­u­ate in­equal­ity? These ques­tions have been de­bated by philoso­phers since the very be­gin­ning. mod­ern philoso­phers like Jean-jac­ques rousseau ar­gued that “na­ture is good and civil­i­sa­tion is bad; that by na­ture all men are equal, they be­come un­equal by class-based in­sti­tu­tions.” Friedrich ni­et­zsche on the other hand ar­gued that “na­ture is be­yond good and evil; that by na­ture all men are un­equal; power is the supreme form of virtue.”

The psy­cho­log­i­cal, moral and eco­nomic dilem­mas that bother hu­man so­ci­ety and pro­vide end­less top­ics for de­bate like the na­ture of the gov­ern­ment, need of a wel­fare state, moral­ity of the rich, ris­ing in­equal­ity, etc. are dis­cussed and an­a­lysed by great philoso­phers the world over. They all dif­fer in their anal­y­sis but reach a com­mon con­clu­sion: Em­pow­er­ment is the great­est virtue. Some sophists ar­gued that the “man should do as he pleased so long as he re­mained within the law.” Plato ar­gued that “men are not con­tent with a sim­ple life; they are com­pet­i­tive and ac­quis­i­tive, they soon get tired of what they have and pine for what they don’t have.” The re­sult is en­croach­ment of one pow­er­ful group on the re­sources and the ter­ri­tory of oth­ers and class di­vi­sions per­pet­u­at­ing in­equal­i­ties. He fur­ther said, “any or­di­nary city is in fact two cities: one, the city of the poor, the other of the rich, each at con­flict with the other; you would make a great mis­take if you treated them as sin­gle state.”

The rich class seeks so­cial and po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion through wealth and the changed dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth pro­duces po­lit­i­cal changes, with feu­dal aris­toc­racy giv­ing way to plu­to­cratic oli­garchy – wealthy traders and bankers rul­ing the state. How­ever, ev­ery form of re­gres­sive gov­ern­ment tends to suc­cumb to the ex­cess of its flawed prin­ci­ple. aris­toc­racy ru­ined it­self by lim­it­ing it­self to a nar­rower co­terie; oli­garchy ru­ined it­self by con­cen­trat­ing on greed and in­cau­tious wealth. in ei­ther case, the end is ul­ti­mately peo­ple de­mand­ing change.

The change springs from the re­sults of grave and ac­cu­mu­lated wrongs of the past sys­tems; when states are weak­ened by ne­glected so­cial and eco­nomic ills, dec­i­mat­ing the masses and pros­per­ing the classes. Then comes democ­racy, a sys­tem wherein the masses ask for equal share of freedom and power, the equal right of all to hold pub­lic of­fice. The rule by the masses is a de­light­ful ar­range­ment; how­ever, it can also be­come dis­as­trous if the peo­ple are not em­pow­ered to se­lect the best leader.

now the ques­tion is, how will peo­ple get em­pow­ered? do they get em­pow­ered on their own? or they need an ex­ter­nal agency/state to em­power them? These ques­tions are dif­fi­cult to an­swer in an aris­to­cratic setup where the ruler de­cides what is best for its peo­ple. The aris­to­cratic form of gov­ern­ment will al­ways pre­fer ‘en­ti­tle­ments over em­pow­er­ment’. aris­toc­racy will en­ti­tle its peo­ple with free­bies so that they do not re­volt. aris­to­cratic and to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments weaken the in­sti­tu­tional checks, where the lead­ers ex­er­cise full con­trol claim­ing it to be in peo­ple’s

in­ter­est, so that no ob­sta­cles come up their way. How­ever, a demo­cratic setup en­sures, with­out any hypocrisy of vot­ing, per­fect equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity, speech and ed­u­ca­tion for all. Ev­ery man shall have an equal chance to em­power him­self. democ­racy, there­fore, is about pre­fer­ring ‘em­pow­er­ment over en­ti­tle­ment’.

The de­bate about ‘em­pow­er­ment ver­sus en­ti­tle­ment’ has be­come rel­e­vant in to­day’s world due to the rise of pop­ulism. Pop­ulists are com­ing to power in the West and other parts of the world rid­ing on the in­se­cu­ri­ties of the masses and by promis­ing pros­per­i­ties through an en­ti­tle­ment-based ap­proach of free­bies, sub­si­dies and pro­tec­tion­ism.

The en­ti­tle­ment-based ap­proach suf­fers from the prob­lem of time in­con­sis­tency: short-term in­ter­est of­ten de­mor­alises the pur­suit of more de­sir­able and sta­ble long-term poli­cies. For example, imag­ine that the res­i­dents of the state ‘Kings land­ing’ are of­fered by its gov­ern­ment a choice be­tween vot­ing al­ter­na­tives of a colour tele­vi­sion or loan waiver and res­i­dents of state ‘Win­ter­fell’ are of­fered by its gov­ern­ment to make a choice be­tween a school or a hos­pi­tal.

The res­i­dents of ‘Kings land­ing’ will fall in the en­ti­tle­ment trap and would choose ei­ther the colour tele­vi­sion or loan waiver, for­get­ting the prospect of a school build­ing for their chil­dren that would pro­duce gain in the fu­ture. The res­i­dents of ‘Kings land­ing’ will remain de­pen­dent on such en­ti­tle­ments and the gov­ern­ment will not in­vest in pub­lic ser­vices; the sit­u­a­tion of so­ci­etal goods, schools and hos­pi­tals will remain dis­mal and the state will fail to pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices like health, ed­u­ca­tion, san­i­ta­tion, water and power. The sit­u­a­tion will give rise to clien­telism where the poor do not have the money to buy pub­lic ser­vices that are in fact, their right. How­ever, the poor voter does have a vote that the leader wants. Thus, in re­turn the leader will de­velop a sys­tem of pa­tron­age and clien­telism, help­ing the voter by sim­ply hand­ing over en­ti­tle­ments to gain sup­port. The gov­ern­ment of ‘Kings land­ing’ will be happy pro­vid­ing them mo­bile hand­sets, TV, loan waivers etc., in re­turn for their votes, cre­at­ing a po­lit­i­cal-client re­la­tion­ship.

on the other hand, the res­i­dents of ‘Win­ter­fell’ will chose to em­power them­selves by se­lect­ing the al­ter­na­tive of school or hos­pi­tal for their chil­dren that would pro­duce mas­sive gains in near fu­ture. The res­i­dents of ‘Win­ter­fell’ will not be de­pen­dent on their gov­ern­ments for the en­ti­tle­ments be­cause they chose to em­power them­selves by de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

in our hy­po­thet­i­cal example, one gov­ern­ment chooses the pop­ulist path of en­ti­tle­ment and the other chooses the path of em­pow­er­ment. The pop­ulist gov­ern­ment pro­vided in­di­vid­u­als with free­bies to win votes whereas the vir­tu­ous gov­ern­ment pro­vided health, ed­u­ca­tion and good in­fra­struc­ture to em­power its cit­i­zens.

in the con­text of moral and eco­nomic dilemma dis­cussed above, the pop­ulist and to­tal­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment will al­ways choose not to em­power its poor and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple by un­der­in­vest­ing in pub­lic ser­vices and not de­vel­op­ing a wel­fare state. They will for­ever make the poor de­pen­dent on en­ti­tle­ments and will con­trib­ute to a grow­ing im­bal­ance be­tween the rich and the poor, thereby per­pet­u­at­ing in­equal­i­ties. This sit­u­a­tion was ob­served in latin amer­i­can coun­tries where weak wel­fare states and pop­ulist poli­cies en­riched the classes and dec­i­mated the masses by yawn­ing in­equal­i­ties.

The les­son for the demo­cratic gov­ern­ments, there­fore, is to al­ways con­sider em­pow­er­ment as the great­est form of virtue. it must place all its en­ergy in de­vel­op­ing the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of its peo­ple. The ca­pa­bil­i­ties can be de­vel­oped by cre­at­ing a strong su­per­struc­ture of wel­fare by heav­ily in­vest­ing in ba­sic health and ed­u­ca­tion, rule of law and vi­tal in­fra­struc­ture like roads, high­ways, water sup­ply and san­i­ta­tion. The ca­pa­bil­i­ties can also be de­vel­oped by cre­at­ing an at­mos­phere that pro­motes freedom of thought, speech, ex­pres­sion and har­monised de­bate. all these ca­pa­bil­i­ties are es­sen­tial to em­power peo­ple and en­sure long-term growth.

There­fore, it makes sense for democ­ra­cies like in­dia to em­brace the em­pow­er­ment-based ap­proach to devel­op­ment by di­rectly em­pow­er­ing poor res­i­dents through schools, hos­pi­tals, li­braries, in­fra­struc­ture, etc. These as­sets are pub­lic goods and gen­er­ate a mul­ti­plier ef­fect on so­ci­ety which ben­e­fits ev­ery­body in an al­most equal mea­sure thereby bring­ing equal­ity. How­ever, this is not to say that the gov­ern­ment should not en­act wel­fare pro­grammes like old-age pen­sion, em­ploy­ment gen­er­a­tion schemes for the poor, hous­ing for the poor, poverty erad­i­ca­tion and wel­fare schemes for women and child devel­op­ment. These are a crit­i­cal part of the so­cial se­cu­rity net and wel­fare state.

To con­clude, na­ture is nei­ther bad nor good; it does not per­pet­u­ate mod­ern day in­equal­i­ties. The mod­ern-day in­equal­ity is the in­ven­tion of man through class-based in­sti­tu­tions and weak moral struc­tures of the gov­ern­ments. The moral so­lu­tion to the prob­lem is there­fore em­pow­er­ment of the masses so that they can de­velop the re­quired ca­pa­bil­i­ties and freedom to live a dig­ni­fied life on their own with­out depend­ing on en­ti­tle­ments.

Arora is a young pro­fes­sional with the Eco­nomic Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil to Prime Min­is­ter. Views ex­pressed are per­sonal.

A demo­cratic setup en­sures, with­out any hypocrisy of vot­ing, per­fect equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity, speech and ed­u­ca­tion for all. Ev­ery man shall have an equal chance to em­power him­self. Democ­racy, there­fore, is about pre­fer­ring ‘em­pow­er­ment over en­ti­tle­ment’.

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