Left-Right politics and the need for a proper right wing party in Kerala

I have been reading more and more about American politics and recently been pushed more and more to the right of the political spectrum. So, I looked at how the system fares in my home state of Kerala and was surprised to learn that the Congress ( the supposed right wing in Kerala politics ) is actually center-left. So I want to talk to you about the importance of having a proper right wing party in Kerala.

But first, what is left-right politics ?

Liberty Leading the People
Liberty Leading the People

The term first appeared after French Revolution when the people who supported the King sat on the right side of the President in the National Assembly while the people who supported the Revolution sat on the left. This was because the supporters of the King wanted to avoid the shouts, swearing and other indecencies that enjoyed a free reign on the left. The Left was the ‘party of movement/change’ and the Right was the ‘party of order’. But over time left right division has been associated with different political ideologies.

What is the Left-Right divide in American politics ?

If you look at contemporary American politics, it seems to me like the Left’s central ideology is ‘Social Justice’ ( supported by the Democratic party ) while the Right’s central ideology is ‘Individual Liberty and Individual Responsibility’ ( supported by the Republican party ). This division is absent in Indian or Kerala politics. Also the problem here is that since French Revolution’s slogan was ‘Liberty, Fraternity and Equality’ how can the Libertarians be on the Right ? The best explanation I can think of, is since the country is majority Christians and since most ( not all ) Christians believe in gentle persuasion as the only acceptable tactic for spreading their ideas it boils down to traditionalists enabling liberty. I have talked about the three rules of freedoms and rights. Most libertarians are for maximizing freedom, not for anarchy. They understand the symbiotic relationship between self-control and freedom. If I have a belief that I must not take your life, you have the liberty to your life. If you want liberty to your property then you want everyone to be convinced that it is immoral to steal. So since most religious people are mindful of other people’s rights this maximizes the freedom available to everyone and therefore they are on the Right side of the spectrum.

The Left side of the political spectrum consists of Socialists, Communists etc. But even though I am for equality of opportunity I can not be for equality of outcomes. I suspect that inequality is a natural state and different people have different motivations, ambitions and inclinations. Ensuring equality of outcomes will be oppressive rather than liberating. That being said, I agree with a lot on the American Left. There is an intellectual corruption on the American Right, with their support for creationism and denial of climate change. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, nobody on the Right is attempting to reform it like Dave Rubin is attempting on the Left.

After I noticed the problems with the Left’s argument on pro-choice I started to learn about Republican positions. For the longest time, I thought that if I went to US, I would be a leftist ( or a liberal ), but now I think I would be a right-winger ( or a conservative ). I think shows like ‘Last Week Tonight’, ‘The Newsroom’ and ‘The Daily Show’ misrepresent the Republican viewpoints.

What is the major problem with Leftist philosophy ?

To me the main oversight in Leftist philosophy is the potential for evil in human beings. Most Leftist parties are ‘for poor people’ and ‘for oppressed minorities’. If you start a party and you spend a large amount of time trying to promote it as the ‘Party of the oppressed’ or ‘Party of the poor’, then if these people who vote for you stop being oppressed or stop being poor, then they will no longer vote for you. And since most important thing that politicians care about is ‘coming to power’, parties for the poor tend to become parties for poverty. Parties for the oppressed tend to become parties for oppression.

How is all of this relevant to Indian or Kerala politics ?

CPI(M) and Congress flags
CPI(M) and Congress

In Kerala our choice is between Congress ( center-left ) and Communists ( far left ). Why is there no party that supports individual liberty ? All political parties want to expand their power while we know the government is a corrupt machinery incapable of getting much done. Why is no one advocating for limited government ? Even if you believe that leftist philosophy is good, you must believe that there needs to be a strong opposition to the left, for purposes of balance. Otherwise those of us who are Keralites will have to live as an alien outside Kerala to further our career ambitions and live in a corrupt state when we return.


Should Indian Railways be privatized ?

Should Indian Railways be privatized ? Looking up the answer to this question on the Internet would lead one to conclude that no, it should not be privatized. I am not convinced, I think it should be privatized.

Lets look at the arguments against privatization, one by one.

  • It is not clear how it will improve situation

The argument is that privatization and increased competition will improve the quality of service, drive down prices and spur innovation. It should reduce corruption and force employees to do their best. For a government owned company the employees have no reason to work hard, treat its customers well and figure out how to make everything better. They get paid regardless. This causes them to mistreat their customers and generally be lazy about their work.

The Indian Railways lost ₹30,000 crore (US$5 billion) in 2015. This is despite the fact that it is a high demand business with a government sanctioned monopoly. Booking a train ticket is so painfully difficult that it a subject of so many degrading memes on the Internet. The compartments are noisy and sleeper classes are filled with bed bugs. The toilets are dirty. The staff is unpleasant to deal with. The train stations are riotous and unclean. It smells of shit and urine.

I wonder how many levels of incompetence it takes to suck so badly at a job.

Privatization has helped the Indian telecommunication sector and aviation sector. It is possible for it to work in the rail industry as well. Even if it doesn’t help, it is at least worth a try.

  • Look at the state of American and British Railways

They are significantly better, aren’t they ? But even if it isn’t, there are a thousand reasons it could work better in India. Yes, I know there are a thousand reasons why it couldn’t work also. But why not give it a try ?

Concerning America, their landmass is 3 times that of India and they are a very affluent and urbanized country. This means that most of the travel is very long and hence very inconvenient to be conducted by train. So rail is used mostly for goods and human beings pay a little more to travel by planes.

  • It is a natural monopoly due to high cost of entry and exit

This is partially true. The high cost of entry and exit is largely due to high cost of building and operating railways, so we may need to have some government assistance with regard to this.

One solution to this problem is to let the rails themselves be owned by one company and combine this with multiple companies owning the individual trains. The train companies lease the rails from the rail company to provide their service.

Sure, some government assistance will be needed to acquire more land, ensure that there is stiff competition etc but these are all problems that have well known solutions. It can definitely not be a fire and forget endeavor.

Also I don’t understand how it becomes harder for individual investors to exit the rail business as most companies are traded on the public stock market. If you want to enter the rail business buy a few shares of the company at the Mumbai Stock Exchange. Want to exit ? Sell them at the stock exchange.

  • Some routes may be under serviced because they may be unprofitable

Form a government company to service only these routes using tax payer money. There is no need to keep the entire business in the public sector and cause incalculable misery to everyone in India to benefit a few.

  • The railway employs a lot of people these jobs may be lost in privatization

Privatization does not automatically cause loss of jobs. If a private railway business can operate with fewer number of people and automate away a lot of these jobs it would benefit the customer with lower fares. This money saved by customers can be used to buy new things which creates new jobs. See the parable of broken windows. Another possibility is to tax the rail companies and pay unemployment benefits to these people directly. At least the public will be spared from their laziness and callousness.

  • Defense concern. Countries like China could buy up all Indian Rail businesses and in the event of a war, discontinue them all

We can repossess these businesses in the event of a war. The other problem is if they sabotage it silently while they are holding it. This problem can be solved by stronger policing.

  • National pride and unity

A lot of arguments center around how Indian Railways is a matter of pride for Indians. Sorry, I would rather travel comfortably than with pride. Also, I don’t think it is a matter of pride given how absurdly mismanaged it is.

So anyway, I think most of these arguments are bogus or ill-informed. I have similar thoughts about the power industry ( power cuts are uncommon in Western countries ) since there is no innovation in solar, wind, nuclear power in India despite us having no serious oil reserves. I think India is a poor country on account of power. But more on that later.

What do you think ? Let me know in the comments section.

On free markets

Jawaharlal Nehru had once said “Why do we need 19 brands of toothpaste?

So, I thought about this for a while, since it is a fair question. Producing 19 brands of toothpaste is enormously inefficient. It requires many people doing accounting, marketing and other housekeeping activities which are resources you could divert into the production of other goods and services. Then I realized why : “It eliminates corruption” ( among other inefficiencies ).

I am yet to see a good systemic solution for government corruption. One common solution proposed is to put people to watch the government officials to check if they are corrupt. But of course the problem here is that it creates a new problem : who will watch the watchers ?

Free market is a solution to this problem. Imagine a toothpaste company ( say “Colgate” ) trying to make toothpaste. It requires the supply of 100 Kg of Calcium Carbonate from the rocks in a nearby quarry. The quarry owner agrees to sell this to Colgate for $100. Imagine the supplier in charge of securing the raw materials instead asks the quarry owner to charge the company $200 so that both of them can pocket $50 each. This cost would in turn be borne by the customer purchasing the toothpaste. However, in this case, another company ( say “Pepsodent” ) may be able to obtain the same quantity of Calcium Carbonate for $100 from another quarry and the sell their toothpaste for a lower price. Given two packets of toothpaste with exactly the same quality which one would you choose ? Surely the lower priced one. This should put Colgate out of business and thus end this instance of corruption. Therefore, this provides a systemic incentive to end corruption.

The fall of the politician

Imagine you are a politician trying to gain support for your cause. In due course of this process, you have to argue with someone on whether Mahatma Gandhi was a good man or not ( these things happen, you know ?). You are relying on the assumption that Gandhi was in fact a good person and this is crucial for you to win the argument.

Now, lo and behold, your opponent raises the point : “Gandhi was a criminal”. The trap is set, and you are naive enough to fall into it.

Will Rahul Gandhi now turn crafty ?

The problem here is that your opponent has invoked a cognitive bias we like to call non-central fallacy. Truth be told, Gandhi was a criminal. The British government clearly said that you must not make salt and Gandhi made salt. Therefore, he was a criminal ( he violated the law ). Now there is no time to convince everyone that all the ideas that come into your mind when you hear the word “criminal” does not apply to Gandhi. Therefore, you cannot say that he was the ‘good kind of criminal’. That he violated an unjust law. Since you care about the truth you are unwilling to argue any other way. You lose the argument and therefore lose support for your cause.

But you go home and analyse : “Why did you lose ?”. Here is where you arrive at a difficult and dangerous conclusion : the truth is not enough. People are driven by their emotions, their cognitive biases and their prejudices. It is OK to bend the truth so long as the ends justify the means.

The deceitful politician is born.

— Credit to phantasm for saying “You always get the leader you deserve”