Sunday, June 20, 2010

Too Big To Fail

I have always wondered, why things are so hard to change even when we are at a consensus that they must. Take the case of corruption, inefficient bureaucracy, casteism, communalism... the list is endless. The reason is that they have become "too big to fail (TBTF)". Take the case of government office saddled with corruption. Though a lot of people are at a receiving end due this menace but they are mostly the external stakeholders of this system. On the other hand, those benefiting from it, the peon, the kirani babu and the bada saheb can directly affect this system and most importantly, they are a sizable lot characterized by greed. In order to satiate their insatiable desire, they go out of their way to guard their territory.

Let me explain the complexity of the system. Even for the job of a government peon (esp. at a meaty location), the bribe runs into a few lakhs. Candidates even mortgage their properties and jeweleries to fulfill the requirements. So, it is but natural that they will expect quick returns at the office (responsible for corruption) as well as off it (in the form of dowry for prospective grooms). Only a die hard optimist will consider counselling the candidate as an option while weeding out corruption or the menace of dowry. Rather our protagonist or the reformer say Chandu might consider or call for improving or even revamping the selection system i.e. making it more transparent. Now, he is pitted against the big guys, the position holders in various service commissions. On the other hand, Chandu's stand against dowry doesn't only make him unpopular amongst the prospective grooms' families but it also antagonizes those brides' families who feel that dowry allows them access the best available groom in lieu of money. All this keeping in mind that Chandu is yet to face the Indian Legal System with some 3.1 crores pending cases and the Indian police that have taken corruption to a different level altogether. So Chandu is up against a system that is interlinked, self sustaining as well as dynamic even if it has its share of moral hazards. After all its corruption that adds value to this value chain that is instrumental in sustaining old as well as launching new political careers. As the legendary Paul Krugman wrote in his blog on "Too big to Fail" that the more interconnected a system is, the more prominent it becomes. And our society qualifies to be one such system. So our system may still be small in terms of the population that benefits through it but it still is "Too big to Fail" as the interests of the high and the mighty are directly linked to it. And keep in mind that I am talking about it on a micro level. On a macro level, the Indian Premier League (IPL) with a concoction of politicians, business tycoons, cricketers, audiences, slush funds is a classic example of a system that has explicitly become "Too big to fail" and we are struggling to deal with it.

So does Chandu who is caught in an inextricable and complexly interwoven web, have an option? Should he join them instead of hoping to beat them? The answer is that he can still beat them. But for that he needs to counter them with an equally potent force. This can be done through mobilizing the public opinion and utilizing the available fora. Chandu's method should aim at bringing about incremental changes first. These changes can collectively bring about fundamental changes. Else talking about fundamental changes can put you in the limelight a bit too early which can be detrimental to the cause (the case of Satyendra Dubey or Manjunath).He has to keep in mind that to win the war, he has to have the ethical stamina as well as patience so that he doesn't relax after winning petty battles. The difference between a battle and a war can be better exemplified by the Jessica Lal case (a battle won) and a fundamental change like RTI (a war won).

Else the system will get the better of him. As they say, "raise only that amount of dust that you can settle."

(Waiting to hear from you all)


  1. pretty true but.. derez much more to the story...
    nice read... :P

  2. Hey Tarun can you elaborate a bit on what's more to the story... as it would enrich this conversation.

  3. Hiya Saket

    Good to see you finally wrote this piece. I have been silently following your blog now. Anyways, my opinions are we discussed so many models in which TBTF applies (IIMs, IPL for instance). I think it would have been better if you had included a lot of examples together rather than harping on a single one for so many paragraphs. From my humble experience, blog-reading attention span competes with that of a butterfly.

  4. @ Srinoy I agree... It is more of an article than a blog. Point taken...

  5. Very well-written, Saket! The rot is much deeper though....Mainstream Media, Big Industrialists, Politicians and bureaucrats form an unholy nexus..& the republic is on this->