Category Archives: Op-Ed

The Paradox of Rationality: Administrative theories and the rise of the ‘Popular Demagogue’


Foreign policy begins at home, and yet no nation can independently manage the challenges it brings in its wake. Climate change, political instability, financial volatility, terrorist activity, food security and religious conflicts are challenges that do not limit themselves to national borders. These challenges call for international cooperation. However, since 2016, a game changing year in which political developments in the United States of America redefined the global political and economic landscape, there has been a rise in geopolitical rivalry, populism and protectionism all of which are complicating multilateral policy coordination.

The United States is a charter member of the United Nations and one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. In addition, it has been, and will continue to be one of the world’s largest economies by its sheer size. The power of the United States as a hegemon however has reduced in the recent past. Apart from the rising power of the BRICS nations damaging the super power status of the country, the biggest threat to America lies within itself. On the 9th of November, 2016 the world witnessed businessman turned television personality turned politician Donald John Trump elected to office as the 45th President of the United States. Globally, citizens were swept over, displaying disheartenment, fear, apathy, anger and plethora of other emotions attempting to draw a sense of understanding and meaning of what a ‘new’ America meant to the world. A narcissistic billionaire with grandiose plans and a disagreeable demeanour, in the time period spanning the first hundred days to six months of his presidency, Trump has taken stances that have left not only the international community but also denizens more disenchanted and disillusioned than ever before. With the discussed global developments as a backdrop, the administrative theories of Herbert Simon and Max Weber can be used to analyse the rationality governing organisational politics and the use of authority and power as a decision-making tool in the global political landscape.

Herbert Simon’s perspective

Here the behavioural approach to organisational theory provides an insight into the interplay of human behaviour in social systems. It is in this arena that Herbert Simon lay emphasis on the idea of administration as a core function of decision-making. He was instrumental in separating factual scientific judgements from ethical or value judgements in viewing administrative action. In understanding the several layers that the state of political administration is in today, the spirit of true democracy has been slowly losing its sheen to the populism wave. Thus it has left a void in the understanding of the role of political leadership in administration. Has power and authority subverted the framework and structure of an organisation to become a one-man show of critical decision making that is neither factual nor moral? While it is becoming increasingly evident from instances witnessed, a close look at models that explain the spectrum of rationality or even so to say encompassing irrationality. Simon propounded a theory of bounded rationality that has its roots in economic decision making. However, Simon preferred to call it as a combination of to satisfy and to suffice, making it ‘satisficing’. According to him, it was important to set the boundary of rationality before setting any administrative ‘principle’. However, contrary to economic theory, he believed that human capacity is restricted and it is not possible for an individual to derive maximum benefit from a course of action as its scope to even understand could be far-reaching. Therefore, bound by ‘cognitive limits’, decisions are so made.  Simon, rejecting the theory of total rationality, examines the spectrum of rationality along the boundaries from the standpoint of an administrative man. An administrative man, not in a position to perceive the exhaustive set of alternatives or solutions resorts to ‘muddling through’ policy framing, as described by Charles Lindblom. However, with respect to ‘good enough’ decision and solutions, the possibility of the area being subjective and grey is higher. If political decisions have an impact on a global level, is there legitimacy in the bounded reasoning by an authority?

Incidentally, ‘Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, the “economic nationalist” wants to sharply curtail immigration, erect trade barriers, reduce U.S. commitments overseas and destroy what he calls the “administrative state”. (Robinson 2017) Their inward looking, populist and nationalist agenda is now being touted as “Trumpism” and includes moves such as attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, imposing travel bans on immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations, increasing defence spending and aggressively promoting protectionist trade policies. Far from making America “great again”, this “Trumpism” coupled with the rise of BRIC nations, climate change, nuclear proliferation and terrorism is slowly but surely eroding the very foundation of the power of the United States. Following Bernard’s ‘zone of indifference’, Simon establishes the concept of the ‘zone of acceptance’ when authority lies within this realm. As a new presidential elect, it could be said that Trump may be basking in the glory of the ‘zone of acceptance’ and it may not be long before the zone shrinks in size. Given, the support from the electorate that he has garnered, as Simon puts it, ‘organisational loyalty’ may be a key driver for the support in the short run but may fail to manifest in the longer run with the zone of acceptance blurring out.

However, as Simon’s critics reinstate that Trump and his compatriots are not merely guided by factual economic judgements, but also use the sentiments of the masses for propaganda and mobilisation. Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate in Economics, remarked on Trump’s victory saying, “people like me – and probably like most readers of the New York Times – truly didn’t understand the country we live in” (Mishra 2016). This is true, even in the national context of India. The 2014 elections that brought Narendra Modi, a man with the history of the Godhra riots, to power still managed to strike an emotional connect with the masses garnering some sort of faith and support in power of authority.

At this juncture, it is also interesting to draw on the Weberian theory of the foundational structure of authority where traditional authority, charismatic authority and legal rational authority form the tenets of the theoretical base governing bureaucracy. Global politics, however, in recent times has been turbulent, a flight from the liberal rational democratic setup. Trump as well as Modi signal a wave of ‘charismatic’ leadership and authority in the society. Weber’s philosophy explains this phenomenon.

‘There is the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. This is ‘charismatic’ domination, as exercised by the prophet or — in the field of politics — by the elected war lord, the plebiscitarian ruler, the great demagogue, or the political party leader. …Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or statute, but because they believe in him. If he is more than a narrow and vain upstart of the moment, the leader lives for his cause and ‘strives for his work.’ The devotion of his disciples, his followers, his personal party friends is oriented to his person and to its qualities. Charismatic leadership has emerged in all places and in all historical epochs. …Political leadership in the form of the free ‘demagogue’ who grew from the soil of the city state is of greater concern to us…’ (Weber 1919)

Trump is a gifted demagogue, appealing to the prejudices and desires, mirroring the sentiments of the section of the population rather than using rational judgement. Weber describes the historical transition of authority from charisma to tradition to bureaucratic authority. What we witness today with Trump is bureaucratic with underlying shards of charismatic authority that makes many questions the legitimacy of this authority. So is the case with Modi. How can the rationale of Modi being the face and voice behind demonetisation be justified, instigating the debate as to why the Reserve Bank of India did not announce the policy.

Thomas Jefferson, American Founding Father and the third President of the United States of America, opined that an informed electorate is the cornerstone to democracy. An informed electorate is based on the assumption of relevant information that is backed by facts. The voters are then in a position to weigh the available knowledge to arrive at a reasoned decision, which may not be the gold-standard but is the best available in the given scenario. This relates closely to what Simon called bounded rationality. The onset of Trump however, did not identify with the said assumptions. Instead, it was illusionary and situated itself on the turf of emotion. The use of the rule of thumb and heuristic reasoning in not only the rise of Trump but even critical issues of immigrant labour, healthcare policy et al approached through this channel lays a doomsday ahead for America and the global economy.

Cooperation to Self-Interest?

In this regard, the Paris Agreement of 2015 becomes a stark example. The Paris accord sets out a global action plan and collaborated effort to mitigate climate change. It is a signal from countries to their citizens and industries to collaborate towards low-carbon and greenhouse emissions. It is strange to note the decision of the United States to withdraw from the treaty at a time when the world is in the irreversible transition from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy. Given this, the time was apt for the US to strengthen their economy for the potential gain of the green economic sector. As Rohit Prasad writes for Livemint, “It is possible the US could miss out on some of the $1.4 trillion global business opportunity that the global low-carbon economy represents. More importantly, it could lose its position as the leader of the liberal world order. The decision to make a visible and very public break reflects Trump’s proclivity to adopt sharp policy positions, his preference for hard military power over soft power, and his desire to compensate for the botched exit from Obamacare.” (Prasad 2017) This action viewed closely from the basis of rational decision making has several ramifications. The withdrawal by US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases is a severe international fallout. This is explained by game theorists as the collapse of organised coalitions and the rise of ‘self-interest’ driven players which serves no long-term benefit to the big elephant in the room, the insurmountable effects of climate change (Prasad 2017). The dichotomy is organisational theory behind decisions driven by self-interest and through cooperation and its failure in maximising efficiency is clearly visible. However, well-aware of the effect of the US exit, China, India, France, and other countries committed to the cause have reinstated their cooperation in the Paris Agreement. The means-end construct, that is, rationality in choosing appropriate means to achieve the ultimate purpose that Simon speaks of in organisational theory is largely amiss in the present case.


To conclude the ideas presented in this article, organisational desires and decisions are complex given the myriad issues that we face today. The wave of ‘irrationalism’ rooted in the economic suffering and dislocation of values has inhibited the power of reasoning in understanding the manipulative capacity of authority and power. With the growing concerns of citizenry and the need for international cooperation, expectations of rational motivation and plausible outcomes in both national and global politics remain a question to carefully ponder.

(Sattvika is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at


Mishra, Pankaj. 2016. “Welcome to the age of anger.” The Guardian . 8 December

Prasad, Rohit. 2017. Donald Trump’s Paris Agreement pullout: Masterstroke, death knell, or farce? 15 June.

Robinson, Eugene. 2017. “We don’t know where Trump stands. Neither does he.” The Washington Post. New York , 13 April.

2017. “The tale of America’s hollow climate change leadership.” LiveMint, 7 June.

Weber, Max. 1919. “Politics as a Vocation.”

Utopian Socialism: An attempt to understand the precursors to Scientific Socialism

Anmol Narain

Utopia has been lovingly described as a state of speculative existence in which society possesses qualities that are highly desirable and near perfect with respect to the dynamics of the division of labour, of individual liberties enjoyed by citizens in a collectivist framework and the distribution of power amongst the inhabitants of that particular entity. The word utopia was first coined by Sir Thomas Moore in 1516, in his book describing the fictional island of Atlantis.

The term has, over the years, been used to describe both social experiments grounded to reality and works that have been associated with the description of a fictional state of existence that chronicle a perfect end to be achieved. Dystopia, on the other hand, finds its way into the murky waters of well written fictional enterprise that elaborates upon everything that could go wrong in situations that, in practice, centralise power to such an extent that individual freedoms take a back seat. Take, for example, George Orwell’s 1984, the epitome of everything that could go wrong with the excessive centralization of power to the extent that freedoms thought to be free from infringement, such as basic privacy, are rendered unimaginable. One could even think of Aldoux Huxley’s Brave New World, which takes one to the institutionalisation of mankind’s most basal sexual passions, the underlying theme amongst both pieces converge in the excesses of power and control, which could be interpreted to be manifestations of the biggest fears of western liberal thought espousing individual freedoms. This, as well as practical failures of excessive centralization and their eventual collapse, has created a culture that cringes at the every hint of the term ‘social engineering’, which is quite detrimental to the pursuance of certain value orientations, albeit, with a healthy system of checks and balances in place.

This very end to be achieved, in terms of the virtues that the near perfect state will possess, varies across different conceptions of the term utopia. One could start by categorising the differences in all of these near perfect ends on the basis of the themes that are most commonly addressed in the most prominent works of discourse ranging from Plato to utopian socialists like Owen that consolidated the platform for the beginnings of scientific socialism. These differing ideas vary along the lines of the distribution of power within social systems in relation to the ownership of property, in the division of labour with respect to the contribution of different aspects of the population in the process of production and in individual freedoms and liberties that citizens enjoy. All these processes are then seen in the light of the larger moral structure that conforms to each author’s perception of what is right and wrong, built upon socio-cultural institutions that complement each other like the family in relation to theology, music, literature and systems of education.

The earliest conception of an ideal society can be traced to Ancient Greece, within which, the works of Plato delve into fundamental questions about what constitutes justice, virtue and reason. The true nature of these absolutes can only be perceived if people manage to obtain a great degree of control over the mind and body that arises from years of rigorous training in mental, physical and moral arts. This, in essence, would allow people with the necessary intellectual vigour to perceive reality in its absolute form, as an interaction of abstractions removed from reality allegorically described as the objects that cast a shadow on the walls of the cave that represents the vision of humanity (Cohen 2006). Plato, in one of his last dialogues refers to the creation of his ideal city, Magnesia, which would be situated far from ports that would have facilitated maritime trade, which by consequence would have made the population of the city more vulnerable to corruption that stems from the mercantile aspiration of profit making, wealth creation and hoarding. His conception of the city is influenced by the close relation between ethics and law, between education and moral psychology in bestowing upon the citizens, the ability to attain true virtue (Plato Laws 664 CE, cited in Bobonich and Meadows, 2013).

In accordance with what was stated earlier in The Republic, it consists of a society that is divided into classes on the basis of a division of labour. It proposes a categorization of citizens into a class structure of producers in the form of farmers and artisans, the warriors which are the auxiliaries and guardians which constitute the ruling class. Virtue, at first glance, can be contextualised as adherence to normative functions that place people along the societal hierarchy. But at a deeper level of understanding, the very concept of what virtue constitutes of becomes of paramount importance in relation to the true nature of things and the existence of absolutes that only those with the necessary intellectual vigour can grasp. This is where the role of the king who understands the fluidity between the true nature of things and how they have to be contextualised to different situations in practical reality, comes into play.

Power hence rests within the hands of those who have access to resources involved in the process of production such as the merchant class but even more so with the guardian classes and the philosopher kings. They, by virtue of being on a higher platform in terms of intellect combined with access to robust training, have a clearer understanding of the forms and hence have greater moral authority. Each household within Magnesia is to be given ownership of two plots of land that are equally productive. Hence, there is individual ownership of land but each shareholder must consider his share to be the common property of the whole city, though the land itself is passed down within the family over generations. Further, each household is to help fund the city’s system of common meals. The volume of land allocated differs in within the classes wherein those at the top receive land that has assets four times worth the value of the lot a given to the class at the bottom (Plato 740A3–6, Bobonich and Meadows, 2013)

In terms of citizenship, it is only the landed gentry and their male heirs that constitute the decision-making mandate in a participative direct democracy of the polis. But within Plato’s utopian city of Magnesia, Although women lack an independent right to own property, they are liable to military training and service and attend their own common meals. The Athenian holds that they can attain the four cardinal virtues and for this reason requires that they are educated (Laws 804D-805A, Bobonich and Meadows, 2013).

For Aristotle, women are not citizens of the ideal city, since they are excluded from political office. But in Plato’s Magnesia, women can participate in elections and hold political office and so the Athenian explicitly counts them as citizens. All citizens apart from the philosopher-rulers arguably remain within the cave with access to the glorified vices of music and poetry that is correct only if deemed virtuous by a man that possesses virtue himself, of a higher social standing, of course, which in effect, though extremely subjective, leaves little room for individual choice, freedom and creativity. But this is only in respect to creativity in expression, in terms of rhetoric and logic, all citizens are educated in accordance with their aptitude for mathematics, resistance to basal pleasures and rhetoric wherein those who qualify to move on to dialectics and become the future pool of guards and rulers. Those who do not, are directed towards practical aspects of social life such as trade and commerce.  In terms of religion, god is presented as the appropriate source of law and human institutions. But the very definition of god is that of the immortal element within each human, which is the reason.  Hence virtue is equated with a godlike quality of reason and the standard that one must aim towards. (Peters, Zarnic, Besley and Gibbons 1999)

As society trudged through the rise and fall of empires that had consolidated themselves into the ambit of a feudal nature with the surplus of mercantile capitalism, it eventually came to a point where the change in the productive forces was such that it brought to light the beginnings of a new class struggle that stemmed from changing social relations between the dispossessed and those with resources. The identity of the proletariat developed in this context of the aftermath of the French revolution and the beginnings of industrial capitalism stemming from science, innovation and the influx of capital from colonies. (Mukherjee 2010)

There came a point in time during the Kantian period of enlightenment that constituted the bedrock of the greater movements towards positivist empiricism, that everything was subjected to the most unsparing of criticism wherein everything had to justify its existence before reason. Hence, the reason became the sole measure of everything. Hegel characterised this point as one in which the world stood upon its head (Engels 1880)

It was only later on in history, that it became possible to contextualise this vision only to the bourgeoisie. And virtues of justice and reason could only be confined to beneficiaries within that class. Hence the ideals of the French revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity) though the product of the antagonism between the feudal nobility and the powerful guilds, were only limited to those that had the material resources to benefit from the auctions of the land seized from former nobility. This is in contradiction to the general perception of the victory of the exploited masses over the rich and lazy.

At this point in time, the antagonism between the masses and the capitalists had not developed because it was at this point that the workers began to get alienated from the guild workers as capitalism moved from her mercantile origins to industrial vigour which later consolidated proletariat identity. Hence, the great thinkers of the 18th century could no more than their predecessors; go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch. (Engels 1880)

It was in this context that Saint-Simon, Fourier and George Owen came to be and the one thing they had in common was the fact that none of them represented the interests of the proletariat in particular. They didn’t claim to emancipate a particular class to start with, but all aspects of the population in one go. They, like the French philosopher Rousseau, wished to bring about a kingdom of eternal reason and justice, but this kingdom, they realised was as far from reality as that of the French philosophers. It is to all three that the bourgeoisie world seemed as irrational and unjust as the feudalism and barbarism that preceded it. This claim towards a higher ideal, a truth of sorts was seen more as a happy accident from individual men of genius, isolated from the chains of historical development. The ideals of  Rousseau’s social contract, convoluted in practical reality, had found their way into the reign of terror, from which the wealthy upper middle classes, who had lost confidence in their own political capacity, had taken respite in the corruption of the directorate and finally under Napoleon’s despotism. The polarisation of the working class as an identity came to be a consequence of the freedom from property that the small-scale peasant and capitalist proprietors were subjected to.

To sum it up, the brilliant promises of the French philosophers and what they believed to achieve with the social and political institutions born out of this triumph of reason were, disappointing caricatures, beings of satire. The time was apt for men to formulate this disappointment and search extensively for better alternatives. 

The categorization of a class war

It was in 1802 that Henry Saint Simon’s Geneva letters came to be. Born in 1760, as Engels puts it, he was the son of the great French revolution. Quite scientific in his approach, he has been known as the founder of modern sociology. His analysis of class difference and human ideals to achieve were less based in the quantitative but on more qualitative aspects such as socio-cultural institutions that, according to him, would foster an environment conducive to the achievement of his ideals of a just and fair society. To him, the conflict between the 3rd estate and the privileged classes was one that was characterised by friction between the workers and the idlers. These workers and idlers were, in his account, not restricted to particular classes. The workers included the wage workers, the merchants and the bankers. From the reign of terror, it had become apparent that the workers were not capable of handling political power in a just and transparent manner. The idlers had already lost their capacity for intellectual leadership, he, therefore turned to a rigidly hierarchic New Christianity that would combine science and industry, while giving legitimacy to political power in a pseudo-theocratic structure. (Caspar J M Hewett 2008)

The scholars that represented science and the bourgeois that represented industry were to transform themselves into public servants while at the same time, retain a position of social and economic privilege. It was at this time that he showed fluid tendencies towards authoritarianism within a capitalist setup and welfare in terms of responsibility to the poorest of the poor that would, through concerted action like the extension of credit to all, eventually be elevated to higher levels of socio-economic prosperity. This must be seen in a temporal context wherein there was no significant polarisation along the market-state continuum in popular political discourse. (Vincent Geoghegan 1988)

What Saint-Simon especially laid stress upon is this: what interested him first, and above all other things, was the lot of the class that is the most numerous and the poorest (“la classe la plus nombreuse et la plus pauvre”).

Due credit must be given to him for categorising the French revolution as a class war, not one between the nobility and the guild workers but also one that involved the non-possessors, which was in the year 1802, a pregnant discovery. It was in 1816 that he declared that economic conditions were the basis for political institutions. In terms of administrative structure, he called for the decentralisation of power wherein decisions would be made on the basis of unbiased market forces and precedence to be given to individual decision making in the hands of the aware and reasonable. (Engels 1892)

An Amorous World: Coming to terms with our metaphoric relation with Nature and the Law of Passionate Attraction

Charles Fourier was born in 1772 at Lyons into a family of drapers. After losing all his property to the revolution, he went into business as a broker. It was in the context of this market-oriented structure that he was struck by the shortcomings and injustices of individualism in a competitive social space. He spoke about the perfectibility of human nature and put emphasis on the free play of appetites and passions as opposed to the misery that stems from the restraints imposed by society. Unlike his contemporaries, his criticism of society on the basis of its historical growth is valuable in the anticipation of scientific socialism. The four stages of the development of society are Savagery, Barbarism, Patriarchy and Civilization. (William Morris and E. Belfort Bax 1886)

Civilisation represented the period of modern society that he happened to live in during the post-enlightenment era. In his criticism of mercantile and industrial capitalism, he insightfully speaks of the creation of poverty as a result not of a lack of resources but, of superabundance in direct reference to systems of competition that increase the gulf between those that have access to resources related to production and those that do not. “under civilization poverty is born of superabundance itself” (Engels 1892)

In terms of his utopian vision, he wrote, in precise mathematical formulations, the exact number of people he wanted one polis to consist of. His people were to be governed by a ministry of Amorous Relations. He does not dispute the division of labour, rather, he celebrates it in a form that encourages and enables people to do what they want to do, thus abolishing the opposition between pleasure and work. Hence power would be centralised to the extent of proper state machinery which would not come at the cost of individual freedoms and passions. The link between pleasure and wealth is the very ground of his conception of an alternative social order. (Christopher Prendergast 2012)

Family relations were to be deconstructed and reconstituted in accordance with god-given passions which were the elementary fluid of the cosmos wherein the purpose of science was to discover a mechanism by which the satisfaction of human beings was the highest. Hence, in the Amorous world, Omnigamy was imperative to the functioning of utopia.(Beecher 1986)

Social Experiments: New Harmony and New Lanark

Robert Owen was a welsh industrialist who conducted several social experiments in order to create self-sustaining systems of utopia that he invested and lost most of his fortune in. His alternative to the existing regime was not based on a theory rooted in progressive history. He was of the opinion that history was a series of fortunate or unfortunate accidents dictated by chance rather than the human agency, independent of patterns of any significance. He had the utmost faith in the ability the of capitalist enterprise to uplift the masses. It was on elite social engineering and the manipulation of the environment by those with means in the form of resources at their disposal, that he laid emphasis on. This would primarily be the initiative of the government which would take the lead in policy and practice to kick start a slow and gradual process of transition towards his utopia of freedom from the dogma of religion and institutionalised norms supporting specific status quos, a society where reason would prevail. (Stewart, Anne 2012)

It was he who popularised the notion of establishing islands of socialism in a sea of capitalism. He happened to be a successful capitalist himself.From 1800 to 1829, he directed the great cotton mill at New Lanark, in Scotland, as managing partner with a population, originally consisting of the most diverse and educated elements that gradually grew to 2,500. He turned an industrial township into a model colony called New Harmony within which drunkenness, police, magistrates, lawsuits, poor laws, charity, were unknown. He was the founder of infant schools and introduced them first at New Lanark. (William Morris and E. Belfort Bax 1886)

He posed great faith in the development of human agency at the hands of external circumstance and nurturing environments. It was with this in mind that he set up comprehensive systems for education and at the age of two, the children in his experiment went to school, where they enjoyed themselves so much that they could scarcely be home again. (Engels 1892)

Whilst his competitors worked their people 13 or 14 hours a day, the working-day at New Lanark was only 10 and a half hours. When a crisis in cotton stopped work for four months, his workers received their full wages all the time. And with all this, the business more than doubled in value, and to the last yielded large profits to its proprietors. In spite of all this, Owen was not content. The existence which he secured for his workers was, in his eyes, still far from being worthy of human beings. “The people were slaves at my mercy.” Three great obstacles seemed to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the existing form of marriage. He knew what confronted him if he attacked these – outlawries and excommunication from official society.

Banished from official society and ruined by his unsuccessful Communist experiments in America, in which he sacrificed all his fortune, he turned directly to the working-class and continued working in their midst for 30 years. Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself on to the name of Robert Owen. He forced through in 1819, after five years’ fighting, the first law limiting the hours of labour of women and children in factories. He was president of the first Congress at which all the Trade Unions of England united in a single great trade association.


The new mode of production was only beginning to gain momentum in terms of the consolidation of the class antagonism between the newly forming proletariat and the bourgeois capitalists. Socialist thought until the advent of scientific socialism was governed by notions of breaking away from systems to create entirely new ones. The formulations of different ideals to be achieved came out of a need for meaning and greater purpose, the conquest of reason, in a society manipulated by greed and crony profiteering. Escapists, as some might call them, they were well-informed mechanisms that isolated themselves to a very large extent from the existing mode of production and called for a leap to a greater pedestal of clarity and truth. The fundamental flaw common to all conceptions of utopia before the advent of scientific socialism was an understanding of the historical process that didn’t base itself on historical materialism but rather to random happenings of chance not worth studying in detail, Fourier being the only exception to the rule. Unfortunately, he proposed a resolution between Freudian repression and actual impulses which were, and still is to a very large extent, an idea that most societies aren’t ready to face.


(Anmol Narain is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at



Beecher, J. (2008). Charles Fourier: Il visionario e il suo mondo. Bolsena: Massari Editore.

Bobonich, C., & Meadows, K. (2013, June 21). Plato on utopia (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Summer 2013 Edition). Retrieved from

Cohen, S. (2006). Allegory of the Cave. Retrieved from

Engels, F., & Aveling, E. B. (1892). Hegel: The Philosophy of History. In Socialism, Utopian and scientific (p. 535). New York: New York Labor News Co.

Frankel, B., & Geoghegan, V. (1988). Utopianism and Marxism. Contemporary Sociology,17(6), 763. doi:10.2307/2073573

Geoghegan, V. (1987). Utopianism and Marxism. London: Methuen.

Hewitt, C. M. (2008, December 28). The Great Debate 10th Anniversary, 2008. Retrieved from

Morris, W., Bax, E. B., & Oliver Wendell Holmes Collection (Library of Congress). (1886). The Utopists: Owen, Saint-Simon, and Fourier. In Socialism from the root up. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.

Mukherjee, A. (2010). Empire: How Colonial India Made Modern Britain. Economic and Political Weekly45(50), 73-82. Retrieved from

Oliviera, R. (1999, July 6). Plato and Philosophy of Education – The Encyclopaedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (edited by M. Peters, B. Zarnic, T. Besley and A. Gibbons) – EEPAT. Retrieved from

Stewart, A. (2012, February 16). Social engineering can have positive outcomes too | Owen Sound Sun Times. Retrieved from



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Policy Brief | Literacy Without Learning

Sakshi Mehra


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Executive Summary

India has made significant progress in boosting school enrolment rates and increasing access to primary education as evident from the fact that enrollments have reached 96 percent since 2009 and 56 percent of new students enrolled between 2007 and 2009 have been girls. However the same has not reflected positively in dropout rates and levels of learning. Nationally 29 percent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school. Increase in school enrolment is not translating into higher learning outcomes and cognitive skills as measured by several studies.  

Reasons to be Worried

  • Annual Survey of Educational Research (ASER 2013) found that only 54 percent of class V children were able to do simple 2 digit subtraction.

  • In 2005, 50 per cent of children in Grade V were unable to read a simple Grade II level text. The number is virtually unchanged 10 years later in 2014.

policybriefloknitiTable 1: Grade 9 completion rates of children by their reading levels at age 8-11
Source: IHDS data for 2004-5 and 2011-12.

Policy Options

India’s education system has many challenges at all levels, but all of them will fail if children don’t emerge from their early years of school reading fluently. The current discourse on education reforms have been discussing the following alternatives

  • There is an active national debate to scrap the No Detention Policy (NDP), a policy that prohibits failing children in classes 1 to 8. It is believed that in the absence of a proper regulatory framework, this has unfortunately led to ‘no learning’ in many cases.
  • Another approach involves a detailed look at the financing structure of school development plans. Currently, all budgetary plans are made using DISE (District Information System for Education) data, which has no component for learning outcomes. A specific amount that can be used as a learning grant should be given to the states, which should be linked to clearly determine learning goals. School committees based on learning outcome plans should take expenditure decisions regarding this grant.
  •  I believe we need to look at investing our time and resources in an approach that is neither too myopic and shortsighted, nor so broad and long-term that the millions already in school remain excluded from its benefits. In this context, we must begin from correcting the deficiencies in the classroom. It has already been established by researchers over the past decade that the teacher is the most influential factor for achieving quality education. Unfortunately, despite Teachers’ salaries accounting for 90 percent of education expenditure, One in four government primary school teachers are absent and only one in two is actually teaching.

Influencing learning outcomes by improving the teacher’s performance may further be adopted in two different ways: –

  1. Financial incentives and sanctions for teacher motivation: It is the intangible factors such as enthusiasm and passion that are likely to account for a majority of the variation in value added by the teacher and students’ learning outcomes. Evaluation of teachers based on their contribution to students’ achievement or their true value addition should be made the basis for financial rewards and promotion decisions. Performance based incentives could prove to be an effective way to keep the teachers motivated and deliver optimally. A UNICEF paper on teacher absenteeism in India also talks about the scope to effectively enforce sanctions on erring teachers. (Saihjee 2011) Guarantee of a salary, accompanied by weak sanctions actually creates an incentive to be absent. Thus, addressing the moral hazard problem will provide a solution to the problem of academic underperformance.
  2.  A Teacher empowerment program: This approach delves into the root causes of underperformance of teachers by addressing the hindrances to perform to potential. Thus, empowering the teacher through institutional changes for a more conducive teaching environment is the key. The program aims to place power in their hands and facilitate its responsible use. Of all these options, I recommend that teacher empowerment be pursued.

Why Teacher Empowerment?

It has already been established by researchers over the past decade that the teacher is the most influential factor for achieving quality education. Addressing teacher motivation through sanctions or financial incentives will not be as effective as desired as proven in several studies.

A study by National Bureau Of Economic Research conducted on New York City Public Schools suggests that there is no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance. (G. Fryer, Jr, 2011) Similar studies conducted in the Indian States reveal the same trend. If anything, this may adversely affect learning levels by increasing stress levels on teachers and students, encourage a narrowed curriculum of teaching to the test and propel student exclusion. Despite the opportunity and incentive to be absent, the fact that 3 out of every 4 teachers opts to be present indicates that there is clearly more to the issue than merely a “free-rider” problem. Thus, the root problem does not stem from the teacher’s motivation level, but from the lack of institutional support that is necessary for the teacher to perform to his or her potential and these are what need to be fixed so as to empower the teacher to deliver better in the classroom.

Scrapping the no detention policy is likely to be counter-productive by increasing the chances of early dropouts.  Moreover, the decline in learning levels is erroneously being attributed to this policy, whereas data from 2005 to 2010 (before implementation of RTE that introduced NDP) shows the same poor results.

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What Needs to be done?

An insight into the following challenges substantiates the need for institutional changes for a more conducive learning environment that enhances teacher performance and thus reiterates the need for a teacher empowerment program.

  • A study by Sipahimalani-Rao highlights unauthorised leave in Government schools is actually a mere 3-4 percent of total teacher absenteeism as against an inflated projected figure of 24-25 per cent (Priyam 2015). The latter per cent is because teachers are sent on formal chores outside the school during working hours. These non-teaching tasks include management of mid-day meals, organising construction work in the school, maintaining data and so on. During elections, government schoolteachers are posted as booth-level officers on voting days, and they have to prepare, check and maintain electoral rolls prior to voting. Distraction from core responsibilities of teaching could not be more obvious.

Action item: Raising the amount of time teachers spend on the core job needs serious attention and a minimum benchmark for the same must be clearly demarcated.

  • To exacerbate the problem, there are huge teacher shortages (Rajasthan has close to 20percent single-teacher schools) and this further overburdens the teachers.

Action item: Filling the staffing gaps should be made a priority.

  • Despite 16,000 teacher training institutes, the passing rates of the 2015 Teacher eligibility Test (TET) was a mere 17 percent, which is an alarming indication of the underperformance of the teacher education system. The 2012 Justice Verma Commission has made remarks including lack of training in training institutes and exam results being manipulated (MHRD 2011) Low-cost private schools barely spend anything on teacher training.

Action items:

Making teacher training institutes more accountable

Teacher unions need to act as institutions of value to produce well-informed teachers with an enhanced capacity for consensual action for the common good.

Teachers also must be given special training to deal with the diversity amongst students, especially students from underprivileged backgrounds as social class also impacts learning abilities. 21 per cent of children from economically stronger backgrounds who could not read or recognise letters in the age group of 8-11 managed to complete Grade 9 as against 7 per cent of their counterparts belonging to economically weaker and poorer sections

  • A significant number of Indian teachers, especially government teachers are expected to miraculously teach in multi-grade classrooms in remote locations with few amenities. This is a clear Violation of the 1986 Policy Operation Blackboard norms, which mandates at least one teacher for each class/section and at least one room for each class.

Action item: Strict adherence to Operation Blackboard norms, of at least one teacher for each class/section and at least one room for each class. Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) of 40:1 and 35:1 at primary and upper primary level respectively, as prescribed in the RTE, should be enforced.

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(Sakshi Mehra is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at


Paper by Aarti Saihjee, Education Specialist, New York UNICEF-Penn Learning Programme on Social Norms July 2011

Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools Roland G. Fryer, Jr. Harvard University and NBER, November 2011

Manisha Priyam 2015 Contested Politics of Educational Reform in India: Aligning Opportunities with Interests: Oxford University Press

Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education, Volume 3, 2012


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When Bad Guys Get Elected: A Quick Take on the Electoral Process


Sachin Tiwari

This polemical account is an upshot of a twitter conversation with another MPP grad on an article in New York Times by Maskin and Sen that he shared. The authors explain how a majority rule based electoral process (instead of the prevailing plurality rule) might have stopped Trump, who is the leading presidential candidate in the upcoming election in the US and has won the primaries in 23 states (Read: How Majority Rule Might Have Stopped Donald Trump). The authors seem to suggest that on a one-on-one contest, Trump would have been defeated in 17 states. Sure! But, it is a conjecture as best as anyone else’s because it just did not happen. Giving it to the authors, they do say that it might have stopped Donald Trump.

The alleged outcome must necessarily happen for this thesis to hold any water. Launching off from this point, the authors write –

In the early contests, Mr. Trump attracted less than 50 percent of the vote (in Arkansas he got only 33 percent); a majority of voters rejected him. But he faced more than one opponent every time so that the non-Trump vote was split. That implies he could well have been defeated in most (given his extreme views on many subjects) had the opposition coalesced around one of his leading rivals.

 True! Anyone with a keen eye on elections and voting behaviour would agree with that one on defeating a candidate by coalition of the opposition around a leading rival. This leads to the question – does it (coalitions as these) happen? If yes, what prevented it from happening in Trump’s case? The near impossibility of determining this curious phenomenon is the point of this post. I would argue that this is at best an academic quest which helps scholars but lacks the capacity to look beyond the process and account for the outcome. It appears sloppy on account of the fact that the reasoning (as quoted above) is used to argue that the candidates getting elected are not the right ones or desirable ones. It is theoretically correct that the winners lack the support of a majority of voters. The problematic bit comes next –

As with the Republicans and Mr. Trump’s flirtations with fear and violence, India now suffers the ill effects of a serious confusion when a plurality win is marketed as a majority victory. The Muslim Brotherhood government of 2012 to 2013 in Egypt provides another, and similarly disturbing, example; it helped to undermine democracy in Egypt altogether.

The assumption that the winning candidates in the cited examples from US, India and Egypt (party in this case) are ‘disturbing’ and have had negative consequences is the problem. This is an impressionistic inference. Let me present a counter view – that the inherent ability of a democratic setup in checking the unrestrained behaviour of elected leaders prevents the ‘disturbing’ consequences from happening, although during the campaign the contesting candidates might come across as potentially problematic if they act on their rallying points.

Systemic checks in a democratic setup

This is true of India and the US as history suggests. The system of governance – executive, legislature and the judiciary, are at least minimally robust enough to check the anti-public interest and self-serving (or even party serving) of the winning candidate when he is appointed. Except for the period of emergency in India during Indira Gandhi’s reign, we can see no evidence of a leader running amuck with his own agenda. The analysis by Maskin and Sen stands reasonable in the electoral process but runs out of consistency when it comes to their assertion that this process produces winners who are likely to undermine democracy or are against the best interests of the country. It would have been nice to see a specific example supporting their assertion. In India, even a seemingly larger than life leader like Prime Minister Modi has had a tough rope walk in terms of appeasing the Hindutva groups supporting his party, and keeping the interests of other minority groups in regard. It is not as straightforward as the article might suggest. When bad guys get elected bad things do not necessarily happen! A campaigning Donald Trump is very likely to undergo a change as Donald Trump in the White House. This change will be due to the candidate being given the power as a result of his electoral win. This power is not dictatorial. This power is not freewheeling. It comes with rules, conditions and protocols of decision-making. And hence, it should not be assumed that a candidate pitching contentious and potentially divisive policies during campaigns when given power will be able to do exactly same things. That is the strength of the democratic system.  Otherwise, one can forever imagine and probably introduce more workable election procedures and keep finding problems with the winning candidate because he may end up acting in problematic ways. That failure of the winning candidate is not because he was not voted by the right procedure. What stands as a guarantee in the ranking system that the winning candidate who will ‘truly command majority support’?

If the challenge is to arrive at an election system which leads to a winner who truly commands majority support then that elegant suggestion by the authors is well taken. But for those who are keen on understanding leaders in roles of power and acting in full public glare, this is only a wishful arrangement. There are other variables like human behaviour which can lead to equally desirable or undesirable outcomes. The point is to throw light on those situations that can make a useful contribution to political theory.


(Sachin Tiwari is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at


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Climate Change in India: Challenges and Solutions

Sai Charan Bandaru

To begin with, India is the fourth largest emitter of Green House Gases (GHG) and has the obligation to take a proactive stance since it is going to be one of the worst victims of climate change as mentioned in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report (AR5). The estimated countrywide agricultural loss in 2030 will be over $7 billion. It could severely affect the livelihoods of at least 10 percent of the population. Wheat yields in the Gangetic plains are expected to experience a 51 percent reduction in the most high-yielding areas due to heat stress. This region currently produces 14 to 15 percent of the world’s wheat and feeds around 200 million people of the region. Extreme temperatures are expected to increase by 1-4°C, with a maximum increase in coastal regions.

If the impact of climate change is felt at local levels then adaptation measures should also focus on the same instead of imposing it from the top. The need of the hour is not to wait for global aid or wait for the negotiations to be successful, but to act intelligently at the local levels since small, consistent efforts bring about lasting change. The AR5 suggests that about 80 percent of the agricultural losses could be reduced if climate resilient and cost effective agricultural practices are followed. For example, simple measures like rainwater harvesting can prevent intensive groundwater usage and the need for constructing large dams which will eventually harm the ecology. However, the real challenge lies in implementing the same across India. Constitutional challenges like division of powers between the Centre and the States – agriculture belonging to the state list, lack of political incentives for the policy makers to take far-reaching steps, non-homogeneity of geographical features etc (e.g. rain water harvesting measures for the plains of Uttar Pradesh and the dry land regions like Vidarbha in Maharashtra are entirely different) are major hurdles. Most importantly, we should take into account people’s reaction to any changes in their agricultural practices. Particularly in India, where more than 80 percent are small and marginal farmers, their willingness to adopt a new practice is fraught with difficulties and it compounds when it is taken for the entire country. Under such circumstances, the optimal policy level solution is to tweak the existing programs instead of framing a new program altogether.

One alternative is to create a separate component in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) that includes climate change adaptation measures like rainwater harvesting and climate-resilient agricultural practices in the dry land. NREGS is well penetrated in all the states where dry land agriculture is practised, namely Maharashtra, Telangana, Rajasthan, parts of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand (constitutes nearly 60 percent of the net area under cultivation). The awareness regarding the harmful effects of climate change and adaptation measures must be penetrated to the local levels and demand for sustainable agriculture must come from the people. Once the demand is created it will be easier for the climate resilient crop varieties to enter the market. Moreover, the process involves participation which is a necessary prerequisite to enhance the people’s capacity to handle climate change.

In the energy sector, the obvious solutions are to increase the energy efficiency of coal plants and to promote the renewable sector. In the former, India is investing in supercritical and ultra-supercritical technologies to improve the efficiency of power generation in coal plants and phase out the older generation power plants. Such measures are necessary but not sufficient in cutting the GHG emissions. Moreover, coal continues to have a major share in power generation since we still have 30 crore people who do not have access to electricity and coal is still the cheapest option. The real challenge lies in the augmentation of solar energy since compared to biomass, wind, and other renewable sources India has a geographical advantage of receiving 4-7 kWh of solar radiation per on an average. Presently, India is running the largest renewable energy capacity addition program in the world with the target of 1,75,000 MW of renewable energy by 2022 of which solar itself constitutes about 1,00,000 MW. In the year 2014-15, it witnessed 42 percent increase in the solar capacity. Funding mechanisms like diverting additional revenues from coal cess increase ($6/ton, which is the highest clean energy cess among developing countries) to fund renewable energy projects have been initiated. But such momentum can only be sustained if it is backed by indigenous R&D, innovation, and manufacturing capability. Solar systems are dependent on local conditions and need to be optimised for specific applications and geographical factors. Therefore, a flourishing R&D base in the country is critical if India wants to convert this solar energy vision into a reality. Such an innovation ecosystem requires close collaboration between the research community and the industry. India can be a laboratory for the global R&D institutions and industry to collaborate with their Indian counterparts to come up with innovative solutions. The innovations should also focus on utilising solar power to low-cost home appliances especially in rural areas where more than 60 percent of the energy needs are met through traditional biomass-based fuels. These innovations in solar energy also need a consistent demand to make them viable in the long run. Online platforms like e-commerce sites can be incentivized by the government to market them with competitive pricing. By virtue of its geographical advantage, it can actually be a focus point for research in solar energy provided right incentives are given from the policy side.

Another area where creative solutions are required is the creation of carbon sinks. They are necessary to trap the emissions in the atmosphere and bring them back to the carbon cycle. India is following the afforestation program to increase its carbon intake capacity. For the past 27 years, India has been trying to increase its forest cover from the present 23 percent to 33 percent, which still remains a pipe dream due to increasing pressures to achieve rapid industrial development. The problem lies in the poor implementation of the afforestation program. Afforestation is often seen in India as a compensatory mechanism for the forests destroyed and not as a source of revenue generation for the timber products and other forest produce, particularly for the local communities. Sufficient studies in this area are required to market afforestation as an innovative tool for climate change adaptation. Nearly 40 percent of the forest cover in the country is degraded and the trick lies in increasing the productivity of this land instead of searching for new barren lands through mapping using satellite data already available for these lands. The administration becomes easier if the local communities were made a part of this process. If they are allowed to sell the forest produce it becomes an incentive to protect them. Also, agroforestry can be coupled with it to augment their revenues. Research focus should be on promotion of those species of plants that have high carbon sequestration potential.

Innovations are also required for a sustainable habitat through energy efficiency and smart urban management. More than 30 percent of the emissions are from the urban areas. The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat (one of the eight missions under NAPCC) talks about improvements in waste management, recycling of waste water, sewage utilisation, sludge management and extensive increase in public transport like Rapid Bus Transit, Metro Rail improving the energy efficiency of buildings etc. in urban areas. Each of these problems requires separate attention and they are much bigger issues even if we do not consider the climate change aspect. For example, urban waste management is a vexing issue with problems ranging from bureaucratic apathy to lack of appropriate technologies suited for local needs. Even more is the increasing vehicular pollution. Before we see the complete effects of climate change, India needs to address its homegrown pollution which has more immediate and direct impact on its people. For example, the Uttarakhand floods in 2012 were caused by poor urban management meddling with the sensitive Himalayan ecology.

To achieve that target of limiting the temperature rise to below 2ᴼC by 2100, the world can emit only 2900 Giga ton (Gt) of Carbon dioxide. Till 2011 the world has emitted 1900 Gt, meaning the carbon budget is highly constrained and the remaining 1000 Gt has to be used judiciously for the next 80 years through the means of climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. Although it requires collective action, India cannot wait for anyone. The focus of the mitigation and adaptation measures in India should be to find innovative indigenous solutions which will complement foreign-funded programs like Clean Development Mechanism. After all, we are living in a time borrowed from our future generations and it is never too late to act.



This essay was submitted for the European Union-The Hindu Centre Essay Competition

(Sai Charan Bandaru is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. He can be reached at


Chikkatur, A. (2008). A Resource and Technology Assessment of Coal Utilization in India. Coal Initiative reports. Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. Available at

IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA

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