Friday, June 10, 2011

What are the lessons of Gurgaon?

The recent New York Times piece on the city of Gurgaon is pretty good - and naturally, has gotten everyone talking.  (For responses, see Alex Tabarrok, Kevin Drum, and Matt Yglesias.)

Me, the first thing I thought after reading it was: why are well-researched and well-presented solid pieces like this not printed in the Indian media?  Why is it that it is the New York Times that publishes a story like this - which we all (Indians, that is) then email to each other saying "Have you checked out this nice story about Gurgaon?"

Of course, the answer to that came pretty immediately.  The story wouldn't really make sense in an Indian context because most Indians (middle-class Indians that is, who would be reading such a story) would know exactly what it was talking about and greet it with a yawn.  Yes, shabby or non-existent government services are the order of the day in India.

As Yglesias points out (contra Drum), the one "ideological" conclusion you can definitely draw from the piece is:
The first takeaway point from Gurgaon’s success in the face of the lack of municipal government is to underscore the incredible value of good government.
True enough - although this is hardly an ideological point.  Ideology comes in when we debate what services the government should provide - and everyone pretty much agrees that whatever services it provides need to be good. 

And of course, the next question becomes: what exactly is the way towards good government services?  And the answer - at least right now for India - is to encourage neo-liberal reforms and hope in turn that the rise in the standard of living and competition from private services leads to a citizenry that expects better government services.  It's by no means clear that this will work - but it seems to me the only possible way.   

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