Friday, May 12, 2006

Recipe for the 'anti-quota' soup


Thanks to Atanu Dey, we now have the recipe for that perfect anti-quota soup many of you have been waiting for. [Note: All the bold emphasis in the quotes, below, is from me; none of it is in the original.]

1. Take 7 standard measures of open display of intellectual heavy artillery [some of it fortified by a hectoring tone, and gratuitous mini-lessons in 'economic thinking'].

  • In a free market, price ... rises sufficiently to equate the quantity demanded and the quantity supplied. There are no shortages. Thus, for instance, there is no 'shortage' of diamonds or of Microsoft shares ...
  • Rent seeking behavior ... is not motivated by ignorance; it is motivated by greed and is informed by knowledge of how the system works.
  • If the gainers gain more than the losers lose, then it is theoretically possible for the gainers to compensate the losers for their loss ... Such a policy effects what is a called a 'Pareto improvement' ...
  • ... (after all, we are all Bayesians)...
  • ... before one can propose a solution, one should understand the problem.
  • ... distinguish between the causes and symptoms (or consequences), and address the causes, not the symptoms if you want to solve the problem.
  • ... understand the distinction between the equality of opportunity and the equality of outcome ...

2. Mix it well with 4 standard measures of intimidation or bullying.

  • ... it should come as no surprise that yet another idiotic scheme is hatched by the party in power ...
  • Persistent and widespread poverty is a consequence of asinine policy choices, just as much as prosperity is a consequence of wise policy choices.
  • Since the mindset which in the past consistently evolved and doggedly pursued illogical policies has not changed, ... any proposed new policy is also going to be flawed.
  • [...] This should be evident to the meanest intelligence, it would appear, but then perhaps our policy makers don't make even the meanest intelligence grade.

3. Boil the mixture for five minutes on low flame. Before taking it off the stove, add two pinches of questionable assumptions.

  • Unqualified candidates who enter the system are by definition unable to benefit from the opportunity to the extent that a qualified candidate would have done.
  • It is undeniable that certain segments of the population are ill prepared to compete for seats in higher education.

4. Garnish with some 'just-so' model of economic efficiency [1].

Assume that the full cost of, say, a 4-year IIT education is $50,000 (or about Rs 22 lakhs). Further, assume that a quota student ends up benefiting less than the full cost, say, $10,000, while a non-quota student gets at least $50,000 of benefits. The net loss is then at least $40,000. Instead of wasting $40,000 on one backward class student at the IIT ...

5 A drop or two of irony will be an added plus.

... why quotas ... [are a] morally repugnant policy. It penalizes certain people based on their group membership.

Indian educational system [is] a structure created by the incompetent and uneducated to produce more of the same sort of people.

Et, voila! You now have Atanu Dey's Original Anti-Quota Soup. It is guaranteed to taste even better when you keep chanting mantras such as "address the cause, not the effect", or "equality of opportunity, not outcome". Atanu has also planned a multi-course meal, so get ready for a quota-free Nirvana feast.

* * *

Atanu makes some points that I actually agree with. He argues, quite rightly, for expanding the supply of higher education with the help of private sector [though I don't share his enthusiasm for for-profit universities] and improving primary and secondary education. These are unexceptionable goals; what I fail to see is how pursuing these goals come in the way of using a policy of reservation (or, affirmative action) to help bring disadvantaged groups into the mainstream.

* * *

[1] Have you tried your hand at creating one of those toy models that are, ummm, 'just so'? I have. Here. It's a lot of fun! And, it is so satisfying too. You know why? My model 'proves' that quotas are economically efficient. As I said: 'Just So!'

15 Comments:

  1. barbarindian said...

    Your quota-math model is truly great fun. We will be toying with it extensively over the weekend. We will test it against some of our own theories which are explained in the latest posts on our blog.

  2. rc said...

    Three rules:

    Rule 1)
    OBCs cannot be discussed in the same breath as SC/STs. They are generally wealthy, educated, and politically connected.

    Rule 2)
    OBCs cannot be discussed as a monolithic group. The total number of OBCs in India is twice the population of the United States and 1/10th the population of the world. You can remove 100 castes from the OBC list and still not make a dent in the aggregate statistics.

    Rule 3)
    The key discussion must beabout OBC components. How they got to be one ? Why are none of the components reclassified even after 3-4 generations of preferred admissions? I know several OBCs in TN whose grandfather is a doctor, so are their parents.

    We are not quiet, we must file a petition in the SC to make available admission statistics of OBC components for the past 20 years.

  3. barbarindian said...

    As you promised, your quota-math model was truly great fun to work with.

    Here is our analysis:

    An analysis of the quota-math model

  4. injunjoe said...

    great work abi, for too long I've been seeing these weirdo statistics from these anti reservation bums. And I saw barbarindian's response, when hes nothing much to say- he's latches on to typo errors and starts the usual communist attacks.

    Keep up the good work man !!

  5. pennathur said...

    Abi,

    It is unfortunate that a credentialled academic should choose to laugh his way out of an argument rather than engage with it.

    The problem may be an excessive dose of Amartya'ism. Atanu's most important point seems to have escaped you - India is an extremely poor country of over one thousand million people. This state of poverty could not have come about without India following a consistent set of economically flawed policies over a substantially long time. Persistent and widespread poverty is a consequence of asinine policy choices, just as much as prosperity is a consequence of wise policy choices. Since the mindset which in the past consistently evolved and doggedly pursued illogical policies has not changed, it is reasonable to expect (after all, we are all Bayesians) that any proposed new policy is also going to be flawed.

  6. Abi said...

    Barbarindian: Well, your post adds to what I have said here about 'just-so' models. I really have to admire your brilliant intellect that takes a parody so seriously. Anyways, I am glad you had some fun with that exercise.

    RC: I really look forward to the result of the public interest lawsuit. Do keep us posted.

    InjunJoe: Thanks for your comment.

    Shiva: Thanks for your sermon, but no thanks. Please point to the line(s) of anti-reservation argument in Atanu's post that needs 'engaging'. The extract that you have given is so laughably general, and it doesn't even have anything to do with quotas! If you want to believe that this cynical sentiment actually contains some universal wisdom, well, ...

    Oh, btw, I *have* addressed three specific lines of argument in Atanu's post. His moral argument is full of irony, his characterization of quota students ('undeserving') is nothing but insensitive stereotyping, and his economic model is no more than a 'just-so' theory.

  7. barbarindian said...

    I wasn't joking. Reservation destroys value. After your own toy model caught you with your pants down, you are trying to laugh it off. Nice try.

    An analysis of the quota-math model

  8. rc said...

    RC: I really look forward to the result of the public interest lawsuit. Do keep us posted.

    Thank you ! My role is to make stuff public. That is the beauty of the information age.

    It is difficult to dig out facts given the OBC dominated government (the new assembly has only 1 open category, 34 SC/STs only due to reserved constituencies, and 200 OBCs), which will actively try to supress facts. All we have to do is a simple database query based on community code to get startling results. Our guess is three well educated OBC communities get most of the reserved as well as open seats - year after year.


    Luckily for us, facts will leak out unintentionally due to how they call students for orientation by their rank order. I will not be surprised if that scheme is changed this year so we can live in ignorance.

  9. pennathur said...

    Abi,
    100s of millions of Indians surviving on a pittance is no laughing matter. That we are here after the best efforts of 'visionary' leaders, 'statesmen', 'intellectuals', and 'scholars' is a matter of shame. If 'quotas' are not about geting out of the rut we are in let's not waste our time with it. I am not bothered about what happened in the 50s after we lost two of our best leaders - Ambedkar and Patel, and sidelined a third, Rajaji, leaving all power in the hands of a romantic loser. I am appalled that we have muddled through the last 20 years of opportunity. Any policy formulation exercise that does not begin with the admission that we have failed even after repeating a policy and implementing it differently, is cynical.

  10. cipher said...

    I agree with barbarindian. Abi tries to laugh away all the uncomfortable questions in the characterstic style of his and ofcourse the barbarindian model also holds the same if not greater esteem than Abi's.
    Being different and lets say exhibiting socialist trends has become a fashion statement for all these people. If you have that great a desire to help the downtrodden let us all know what you have done and how can we help instead of providing us with vague statistics borrowed from God knows where.

  11. pennathur said...

    Abi,

    http://www.indianexpress.com/story/4465.html

    More news on the "Knowledge Commission" vs. Arjun Singh. Even one of the two members (Dr.Bhargava) who dissented with the commission's decision to oppose Arjun's proposal has criticised him. That leaves Jayati Ghosh a "JNU intellectual" as the sole member of the commission who is still with Arjun. Now 'JNU intellectual' is doesn't mean a thing unless you are willing to stretch the definition of 'intellectual'. JNU has some great scientists of course. While Pratap Mehta may be a greenhorn out of grad school, Ashok Ganguly (ex-Chairman, HLL), Mandan Nilekani, and Sam Pitroda know a thing or two about generating wealth and developing talent. There is no lack of good counsel. In the 50s we had BR Shenoy, instead we chose to listen to Mahalanobis. Back to the starting line.

  12. MadHat said...

    ROFL!

    That was goooood!

  13. Ambar said...

    Abi, I laud your tactic of selective quoting from that post. There is surely no better way to quell a debate.

    " These are unexceptionable goals; what I fail to see is how pursuing these goals come in the way of using a policy of reservation (or, affirmative action) to help bring disadvantaged groups into the mainstream."

    Please please avoid obfuscating issues by equating reservation to affirmative action.

  14. madhat said...

    Please please avoid obfuscating issues by equating reservation to affirmative action

    Ambar, what do you think 'affirmative action' is?

  15. Abi said...

    RC: I am glad you are keeping a watch on the happenings in TN (and perhaps elsewhere as well). I look to you to keep us posted.

    Cipher: I can't help it if you feel that I was slinking off. I won't try to convince you otherwise ...

    Shiva: Thanks for visiting again.

    MadHat: Thanks. I too had a lot of fun writing that post.

    Ambar: What are reservations, if not a way of achieving affirmative action? Their goals are similar, and their results are also similar (and can be made identical by tailoring the AA program suitably!).

    I would appreciate it if you coulld point out the arguments (only reservation-related arguments, please; not some generic economics lessons) I have not specifically addressed. Read my post again; I have addressed three of them.