The bureaucratic Olympic creed

First there was the news that Pakistan was sending more officials than athletes to the Olympics: “‘Pakistan contingent will include seven athletes and 17 officials,’ a Pakistan Olympic Association (POA) official told APP.”

and now there is this awesome story about Indian officials behaving badly at the Olympics.   It is aptly titled “India’s Olympians deserve a medal just for putting up with their country’s officials.”  You could probably delete the word Olympians from that title (and replace Indians for India’s) and still have an accurate sentence.

Here are some of the best details:

a. India’s sports minister, Vijay Goel, has been in Rio and has been so rude that he was almost banned from attending events.  Here’s a quote: “‘We have had multiple reports of your Minister for Sports trying to enter accredited areas at venues with unaccredited individuals. When the staff try to explain that this is not allowed, they report that the people with the Minister have become aggressive and rude and sometimes push past our staff.'”  Goel of course was unapologetic and said it was a mere misunderstanding.  Way to represent your country  Mr. Goel.

b. “A nine-member team representing the state of Haryana arrived in Rio ‘to encourage the Haryana players.’ However, the group, led by the state sports minister Anil Vij, has been noticeably absent at key events—even those involving their state’s athletes. Instead they were found sight-seeing and frolicking on Rio’s beaches.”   In addition, many of the Indian delegates flew business class while athletes were relegated to coach.

c. Frugality seemed to be saved only for the athletes, not the officials. Dipa Karmakar, who came in 4th in the vault finals, was not allowed to bring her physiotherapist with her because it was “dubbed wasteful.”  Only when she qualified for the finals did officials react: “the physiotherapist was rushed to Brazil soon after.”  



Poop like a politician

Almost immediately after coming to power in India, Prime Minister Modi launched a campaign to clean up the country (called Clean India).  He asked“After so many years of independence, do we still want to live in filthiness? Can’t we resolve this much?”   His goal was pretty lofty too, (over) promising that “we will have a country where there is not even a speck of dirt in our village, city, street, area, school, temple and hospital.”

Modi launched the Clean India campaign in 2014 by urging bureaucrats to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth by sweeping instead of taking the day off:

“All staff were “requested” to come to work on Thursday by 9am and take a “cleanliness pledge”, promising to devote at least 100 hours every year – or two hours a week – to cleaning up, then pick up the broom and start cleaning immediately. As proof, before and after photographs have to be submitted.”

You can imagine how thrilled the bureaucrats were when they heard the news. I love the part about the before and after pics too.

Well, apparently there is still dirt to be removed and the Clean India campaign continues. The government is emphasizing the importance of ending “open defecation” and claims the it will “install 110 million toilets nationwide by 2019.”  This seems like an important goal since 40% of the population lack access to “safe, functioning commodes.”

For a number of reasons, the campaign isn’t going so well. One of the reasons seems to be cultural, in that many poor households have a long list of goods they would like to buy before adding a toilet to the house.  The article reports that a recent study used “survey data to rank 21 basic consumer goods in the order that Indian households would prefer to acquire them. According to their analysis, toilets ranked 12th — meaning a poor family would buy a television, a pressure cooker or a motorcycle before it acquired a toilet.”

So now there is growing demand for politicians to be role models when it comes to toilet use.  Seriously.

“The western state of Maharashtra this past week became the latest to pass a law requiring those running in municipal and village-level elections to present proof that they have access to working toilets. Five Indian states — with combined populations of nearly 400 million people, or roughly one-third of the country — have enacted similar legislation over the past two years.”

Opponents of the bill argue that rules like this “disqualify many poor candidates as well as those living in urban areas who use shared public toilets.”  The government eventually agreed and decided that candidates only needed to produce a certificate saying they had access to a “functioning toilet.”   I wonder which ministry is in charge of issuing these certificates… At least you can forget about framing any fancy diplomas when decorating your new office–you can just proudly display your toilet certificate instead!



External validity, Indian edition

We recently blogged how India faces some unique challenges to increasing teacher attendance; namely, leopard incursions.  Obviously we were (mostly) joking, but India is making news again in a way that seems decidedly unique to it.

While there is a big literature about the pros and cons of affirmative action, I don’t think many researchers (outside of India that is) have considered the events that the NY Times chronicled yesterday.

Here’s some background:

“Almost half of government jobs and university seats in the country are reserved for members of special groups. India’s Constitution guarantees equality to all, but it also enshrines caste-based affirmative action for the lowest social group, the Dalits, known in legal terms as scheduled castes, and for indigenous forest-dwellers, known as scheduled tribes. In time, the government created a third group, the Other Backward Classes.”

This has enraged other castes that now want to also be considered low-level so they can access these government jobs.

A slippery slope

The problem with giving in once means you don’t have a leg to stand on the next time it happens.  The government must have realized this last year when they denied a “relatively prosperous caste” its demand to be part of the “backward classes.”

Unfortunately, that just caused members of the Jat caste to up the ante. According to the Times, the “protesters had blocked roads around the capital, set fire to railway stations and cars, and temporarily shut down a crucial canal that is a major source of the city’s water. Nineteen people were killed in the violence in surrounding Haryana State, and fears of water shortages led New Delhi to close its schools to conserve its supply.”   

My only question is:  which caste is next?  and what happens if most of the castes are eventually deemed “backward”?  this seems like another way to push the Dalits back down to the bottom again.


“Streams of teachers could be seen sprinting across town”

In a recent blog post, I discussed the fact that there is widespread truancy amongst teachers and health workers in India.  Today I read a fantastic piece in the NY Times called “Fighting Truancy Among India’s Teachers, With a Pistol and a Stick.”

Briefly, it about a guy who decided to take matters in his own hands and do something about India’s terrible truancy problem.  Manoj Mishra, an education officer in Uttar Pradesh, has raised teacher attendance to 90%, a far cry from what it was before.  He has also become a local hero to everyone but the teachers themselves.

I imagine Mishra’s techniques are not ones that would be recommended by any NGOs but they do show that one person can make a difference.  Here are some great parts of the story:

a. What he found when first coming to the posting in Deoria:

“Mr. Mishra said he soon discovered that some of the missing teachers lived nowhere near their schools. One lived in the New Delhi suburb of Noida, a two-hour flight from the Deoria area; another in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, more than a thousand miles away. Another had not been seen in school for six years. He says many of them worked other jobs and had bribed his officers into reporting them present.”

b.  Mr. Mishra has some unusual methods of disciplining teachers and protecting himself:

“He [Mishra] had been reprimanded for beating up three teachers with a stick because he believed they had landed their jobs using fraudulent documents.”

“Teachers have threatened to shoot Mr. Mishra, roughed him up, turned his desk upside down and loudly denounced him in protests outside his office. Their allies, including ministers and legislators, have made phone calls and visits, demanding he ease up. Mr. Mishra has responded by packing a loaded pistol in his right front pocket, hiring private security guards and putting cameras in his office.”

c.  Creativity & results:

“Emboldened, Mr. Mishra began leading raids on the schools each month. He set up a toll-free number to report truant teachers, and painted it on every school wall. Locals watched gleefully on the days the schools were inspected, when streams of teachers could be seen sprinting across town trying to reach their classrooms before Mr. Mishra and his officers could get there.”

d. Caveat (or, you can lead a teacher to the school, but you can’t make them teach…)

“Mr. Mishra says making teachers go to school is only one small step forward: ‘Whether they teach or don’t teach, I can’t tell,” he said. “But now, at least, they come to school.’”


Cultural Appropriation: Sub-continent style

Mumbai recently hosted a Hindu Spiritual Fair.  There was an advertisement promoting women’s honor.  Who do you think was the poster girl for such a program?  Margaret Thatcher, naturally.  We at CG have only one question:  wtf?


and Hindus can look to Einstein and Mark Twain for patriotic inspiration.  Yep, that makes a lot of sense.


h/t @PragyaTiwari

This might be why teachers are “missing in action”

I recently discussed the excellent “Missing in action: teacher and health worker absence in developing countries” in my graduate development class. The authors sent enumerators to conduct random visits to primary schools and health clinics in Bangladesh, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Peru and Uganda to see if the teachers and doctors were present.  They found that, on average, “19 percent of teachers and 35 percent of health workers were absent.”

Of all the reasons they investigate for why teachers may not show up at school, the researchers forgot to test for the possibility of rampaging wild animals!  That would certainly cause teachers to think twice when deciding whether to go to school.

Here’s a link to a story yesterday from CNN.  The title pretty much tells you the gist of what happened: “3 mauled as leopard wreaks havoc at Indian school.”   The article states that “an estimated 1,500 leopards were in Karnataka state but that they rarely strayed far into urban areas.”  Rarely, but not never! Can’t be too safe.  Here is a picture of the incident:


I guess it’s better to be “missing in action” because you didn’t show up for the day than “missing in action” because you were killed by a leopard!

“Icon-based development”

No I am not talking about what the WWE does with The Rock or The Beast.

I’m quoting BJP officials in Gujarat talking about their plans to build the world’s tallest statue.

For realz.

“a huge new monument set to rise on a rocky island in a river surrounded by jungle in western India will dwarf them all. When the planned 590-foot-high tribute is done, it will stand roughly twice as tall as the Statue of Liberty. The subject of this soaring veneration: the late Indian independence leader Vallabhbhai Patel.  Elevators will whisk up to 10,000 visitors a day to an observation deck in the statue’s chest, builders say. There are also plans for what local leaders call “icon-based development”—including helipads, research facilities for fish farming and educational institutions.”

Sure because what statue in an isolated area wouldn’t just automatically generate economies of scope with fish-farms and schools?

People, I have to really question the Indian educational system. Check how the BJP describes the genesis of this “development project”

“Our question was: What kind of monument can generate the most public welfare?” said K. Srinivas, the state’s top civil servant. “We started looking at the statue’s potential in a scientific and methodical manner.”

I also think they may be slightly overstating the tourist draw this colossus will be:

“Local bureaucrats in the Indian state of Gujarat—the spot where the monument is to be built—say the huge statue has the potential to draw 12 million tourists a year, about twice as many as the Taj Mahal.”

As of now, the public budget for the project sits at $530 million. All I can say is that if this the best way for the government to spend half a billion, Gujarat must be a lot richer that everyone seems to think!  At least in the US when we government boondoggle big sports stadiums in the name of development, we put them in already existing cities and we do it from a position of wealth far greater than that of the state of Gujarat (with a per capita GDP of around $2300 in 2014, it’s above average for india but desperately poor for the US. Mississippi is the poorest US state and its per capita GDP in 2012 was $33,000).

Can a Swiss Lion revitalize Indian Manufacturing?

Economists often talk of the “ladder of development”. Historically a huge rung in that ladder has been a large amount of employment in the manufacturing sector leading to the creation of a middle class. Recently, as shown in the research of Dani Rodrik and others, poor countries are prematurely de-industrializing.

India is one of the most dramatic cases. Here’s Dani:

Industrialization peaked in Western European countries such as Britain, Sweden, and Italy at income levels of around $14,000 (in 1990 dollars). India and many sub‐Saharan African countries appear to have reached their peak manufacturing employment shares at income levels of $700.


Fortunately India now has a virile, proud, manly PM who is going to fix all this.

With a Swiss lion.

Robin tried the website multiple times today and it apparently is non-functional. So maybe it is an Indian lion after all?

While the Indian press is generally quite positive on the campaign, one prominent Indian is skeptical.

I gotta say that I’m with Rajan on this one. Sorry Modi.