Thursday, May 16, 2013

Borgias, Chaos, Creativity & Decentralization

In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.   - Harry Lime in the Third Man (1949)

This perceptive and amusing movie dialog came to my mind while reading Amish's piece in the Hindustan Times titled, "The Centre Doesn't Hold". Amish's argument was that a decentralized  messy and politically divided land is actually good for innovation.

Amish points out that America's lead in innovation can be traced back to the fact that US constitution has focused on states' rights, keeping the federal government relatively weak. In pre-colonial India too "our political divisions allowed our innovators and free thinkers to have options. If the Palas didn't like your ideas, you could go to the Cholas. If the Tuluvas of Vijaynagar didn't like your thoughts, you could go to the Bahmani Sultans. Since we were culturally one country, travel was easy. Decentralisation helped innovation and kept us rich".

Post independence, we adopted to a Constitution that was designed to keep power & control firmly in the hands of a Viceroy, and, in the bureaucracy, simply exchanging white sahib's for brown sahib's. We paid the price for this  centralized 'iron framework' through stifling economic policies from the 1950s to 1991. Perhaps this was just as well because, because, in the bargain, our institutions have become strong enough to manage political disagreements with less chaos and violence.

Since we are unlikely to be like Switzerland in the foreseeable future, will the next round of coalition governments in India lead us into an era of chaos, innovation and creativity?



* IMDB - The Third Man (1949) - Quotes -

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