India should change its constitution if it wants to prosper…

An interesting combination of entrepreneur Rajesh Jain and economist Atanu Dey suggest India should change its constitution. Then only can it improve its economic freedom and grow:

Knowledge@Wharton: Do you think politicians understand markets?

Dey: Actually they do — because they are also in the business of trading, give and take and all of that. They understand markets very well. They also would understand that markets have the power to transform and it creates wealth. But if you let the market do its stuff, then you have to be out of the business of command and control. So you can have competition in the market or competition for the market. And they prefer the competition for the market because they then extract dividends from it.

Jain: In fact, this is sort of structurally encoded in the Constitution of India. When you look at the Constitution, it’s essentially a derivative of the Government of India Act of 1935, which was set up by the British to control India. Out of 395 articles, 250 are taken from there. And India has the longest Constitution in the world.

Dey: Incidentally, nobody has read the Indian Constitution. Nobody. I challenge you to find a person who has read the Constitution. And I would say “That’s amazing. We have to stuff the guy and put him on display.”

Knowledge@Wharton: What role would constitutional change play if you were trying to establish economic freedom?

Dey: You can’t take a car and change it into a boat. I believe the Constitution needs to be replaced entirely with something that actually makes economic freedom — personal freedom — a fundamental right. We do not have the right to property in India. We do not have the right to free speech. You can say what you want to say, provided the government agrees with you. That’s it.

Jain: In fact just to add to that point, one of the states in India has passed a sedition act recently. This is not 1860 that we are talking about. This is 2015. People in India just don’t realize what’s happening. There was very limited protest.

Dey: If you speak against the government or any of its representatives, it is sedition. That’s the way it’s defined.

I don’t really agree. We pretty much have the right to speech. It may not be perfect but much much better than other countries. Ironically, the authors also quote China’s development for comparison. We are much much better off than China on these matters of freedom. If anything, China’s development suggests all citizen rights are with the Government.

I don’t think the problem is with the Constitution per se. It was made under trying times but still did a great job by pushing for equality. Above all the adult franchise for all Indians was just such an amazing thing. The concept of economic freedom was not as well understood and the idea must have been that political and individual freedom will push economic development as well. Unfortunately it did not happen and we got into a different zone.

What matters is the interpretation bit of constitution by polity and how they shape things. This is where things have gone wrong with politicians pushing their own agenda. So, may be a constitution change which actually curbs the powers of the polity will be a welcome change.But this is like belling the cat story.

2 Responses to “India should change its constitution if it wants to prosper…”

  1. Pratik Datta Says:

    “nobody has read the Indian Constitution.” Perhaps, it should be clarified that no “economist” has read the constitution! Then this first semester law student enthusiasm would be pretty normal!

  2. Amol Agrawal Says:

    Hi Pratik,

    Very well said indeed. Economists these days hardly read things which matter. And yet we assume huge importance in day to day affairs..

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