Thursday, May 7, 2009


It is indeed paradoxical to attempt an analysis of the relevance of Public Policy education today, which by its very definition is an analysis of the processes involved in the formulation of Public Policy. However, there are reasons which make it significantly meaningful for me to undertake such an intellectual exercise. The paradoxical nature of this attempt, notwithstanding, the real appeal of this discipline (Public Policy) lies in the much needed promise to social science theorizing of various disciplines that it is indeed possible to apply the vast reservoirs of reasoned and rationalized analytical knowledge to the interest needs of the society towards effective governance.

However , for such an attempt to be successful and to accommodate the various social science disciplines into one practical science of decision making in the public domain, there needs to be an overriding emphasis of the discipline that justifies the interdisciplinary amalgamation of often methodologically conflicting disciplines. This overriding emphasis presents itself in the form of a problem oriented approach, which by virtue of its existence in the public policy domain automatically necessitates and justifies the synthesis of ideas and techniques borrowed from the divergent and often compartmentalized social science disciplines making public policy essentially a multidisciplinary action oriented science.

However, to conclude on the very nature of Public as an integrated specialized and multidisciplinary knowledge structure of social sciences it is essential to investigate the possible influences and factors that led to the acknowledgement of the need to integrate various social science disciplines in a historical context. It is natural to conclude, given the novelty of the attempt of public policy to integrate the knowledge of various disciplines towards an interdisciplinary science that an acknowledgment of such a need has no historical precedence. However such an assertion is as far away from the truth as possible. History is testimony to instances where the need for using the knowledge bank of social sciences have been felt and acknowledged with an undying conviction. However the real novelty of public policy as an academic discipline that hit the academic institutions during the 1970s lies not in the singular recognition of the role of social sciences in solving public problems which has a huge history of past occurrences but the very fact that the treatment of policy sciences as a contextual multi-method and problem oriented science in the hands of the public commitment makers was indeed a very revolutionary attempt at dealing and influencing private, social and public reality.

The following extract shall exemplify the aforementioned paragraph “The policy scientist perceives himself as an integrator of knowledge and action and hence as a specialist in eliciting and giving effect to all the rationality of which individuals and groups are capable at any given time. He is a mediator between those who specialize in specific areas of knowledge and those who make the commitments in public and private life…Both the intellectual community and the community at large is beginning to acknowledge the indispensable place of the integrator, mediator and go between….

(Lasswell, 1970a: 13-14)

Furthermore to appreciate the bridge between approaches aimed at exploring social reality and of using such knowledge in the form of a prescriptive knowledge structure careful attention must be drawn towards locating the emergence of policy sciences in an institutional setting on the historical timeline of evolving disciplines in social sciences. The earliest conception of policy sciences as a as a proposed discipline transports the mind to the Post Second World War US around 1950s when Harold Lasswell was beginning to make an impact with his proposed discipline of public policy as a manifestation of his vision of a multidisciplinary enterprise capable of guiding the political decision process of the Post Second World War industrial societies. In this context, therefore it is imperative to conceptualize the impulses of time, place and history in his comprehension of a need for policy sciences. The historical rationale with regards to time and place would suggest that the imagery of ill effects of governance directly observable after the Second World War was the most important stimuli for his grand theorizing.

A definite precursor to emergence of Policy sciences is quantitative methods of operations research which as a management science was evolving when industrial engineers shifted their focus of attention from individual work operations to the overall operations of the firm. The basic conception of Operation Research was stimulated in the critical environment that prevailed after the Second World War wherein groups of operation researchers were sponsored by the government in core sectors like iron and steel, road and rail transport textiles, agriculture etc. The extension of the operation science methodology to social and governance issues implies the ground for the integration of different academic schools of thought in the social sciences to further the cause of problem solving in different government initiatives, actions and inactions.

Additionally with regards to pre-existing economic determinism rooted in classical free market emphasis, the situation after the Second World War presented a new paradigm of public policy. This alternative approach was centred on the works and contribution of John Maynard Keynes wherein he unravelled the underlying causes of the Great Depression of 1940s. Thus the contribution of Keynes opened up a new can of worms with regards to pre-existing conventional thinking in economics of laissez faire and it is difficult to disregard the impact which Keynesian paradigm of Macro economics had on the argument towards the need for Public Policy.

Keynes essentially stated how free markets devoid of Government intervention would have a constant tendency to find an inefficient & unemployment equilibrium, contrary to what the classicists would claim or believe. This meant that the Governments did have an extremely crucial role to play in deciding and influencing fiscal allocation and that the market could not be given a free hand to reach unemployment equilibrium.

Now, then the manipulation of the allocative processes towards allocative efficiency would require rigorous empirical skills and also the conclusion of full employment shall essentially be a normative decision. Therefore a definite correlation can be drawn with regards to Keynesian prescription of government intervention in the free market mechanism through fiscal management and the rationale for the growth of Public Policy.

However even though the emergence of policy sciences was largely a product of the ground level socio-economic factors of the Great Depression and the corresponding Second World War, at the level of conception, a policy orientation was evident much before Lasswell and Y Dror, in the very beginning of American social science. The concerns which informs the policy science writings of Lasswell finds its roots in the drive towards educational and sociological training for legislators furthered by Lester Ward with a view towards embedding rational decision making into the very culture of political institutions of American society.

According to Brooks “The vision of a new politics share a conviction that the institutionalization of scientific analysis into the policy making process is a necessary condition for the attainment of democratic government in modern society.” Lasswell essentially acknowledges the role of American Pragmatism wherein he seconds the belief that his conception of policy sciences is nothing but a contemporary adaptation of American pragmatic thought furthered by John Dewey. In this context therefore special emphasis was given to the integration of scientific method and creative intelligence towards more reasoned and relevant public policy.

Questioning the Validity of the Novel Initiative of Harold Lasswell

The contribution of Lasswell can thus be regarded as the first systematic effort towards a new field of enquiry aimed at the needs of decision making in public sphere. The validity or the real need for this is that which shall be explored further and like the very nature of social reality, is an extremely complicated ideal with an unlimited range of overlapping variables. In this context it is essential to focus our attention towards the self proclaimed ambitions of Harold Lasswell with regards to the policy sciences framework.

If at all anything was lacking in the vision of Harold Lasswell with regards to the conception of Policy Sciences, it was modesty of goal setting. The emphasis of this multidisciplinary knowledge structure of Harold Lasswell known as Policy sciences, was thus on assimilating the intelligence needs of policy practitioners and analysts to act as a mediator between academics, government decision makers and the citizenry by providing objective solutions which shall be easily discernible to eliminate the scope for uninformed political debate in areas where the objective knowledge of policy sciences is more authentic However the characteristic goal setting to prescribe the very nature of Public Policy was not limited to an interdisciplinary and objective study of social reality but towards a mega policy for the analysis of the political policy process. It essentially accommodates and is rooted in the notion of theoretical complexity of analysis and evaluation.

However, the inherent contradiction to the basic theoretical and methodological premise is presented when it also intends to be normative by allowing a specific scope to value judgments in the selection of the most suitable policy deal with a concerned social problem. The argument put forward by Lasswell with regards to adoption and prescription of normative and prescriptive methods for policy formulation and analysis was the fact that he visualized the nature of policy science as a desperate measure to maintain the interests of democratic polity and of perpetuating its interests for promoting the cause of human dignity in theory and practice. He therefore assumed that public policy should be set and constrained by the need in facilitating the development and evolution of democratic government in a corporate liberal society.

At the intentional and theoretical level even if Public Policy as a discipline came up in recognition of the need to construct a science of public decision making to further the cause of democracy, at a practical level it is highly debatable if it has been successful in being able to do so. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest in line with the evolutionary trajectory of policy sciences post 1960 down to the present day, the evolution of policy sciences has happened more on technocratic lines then on the lines of democratic polity. This is a huge deviation from what policy sciences essentially set out to be.

With one foot already on possible cynicism with regards to the theoretical propriety of policy sciences we cannot help but unravel the multitude of other theoretical contradictions in the policy making project. If empiricism is considered as the tricks of the trade for policy analysis, then how are we to conceptualise that armed with all the empiricism the analyst is supposed to take a normative stance. If the facts of a social problem do speak for themselves in case of an empirical approach then this essentially implies that those problems will by themselves be capable of suggesting objective solutions. The reasoning would automatically imply that there needs no real normative assessment. This therefore can be extended to the conclusion that consistent with the positive and empirical assessment of reality a normative stance rooted in values of utilitarianism is either falsified or a methodologically impossible thing to achieve. The only ground for such a claim to exist (mutual existence of empirical and normative assessment) can be found if the accommodation of empirical analysis and normative methods can be qualified at the level of action but never at the level of theory. The theoretical contradiction therefore is apparent in its very structure. In this context, however, it is essentially important to resist the temptation of suggesting empirical evaluation under quasi-experimental conditions.

The inherent contradiction of the prescription of Lasswell does not end at the acknowledgement of the conflict between the adoptions of empirical methods with the hope of a normative analysis of empirical deductions. It goes much beyond into the prescription of an action oriented science of policy making or in other words public decision making. It has already been stated how the grand theorising ideal of policy sciences finds no justification in its evolution but in the context it is interesting to explore the reasons which contribute to such a happening. It is a matter of fact that social sciences occur in strict contexts of time space and history, essentially implying a micro-level occurrence. In this logical framework the very expectation of a grand theory to explain such behaviour is logically inconsistent with the occurrence of reality. Therefore it would not be an exaggeration to conclude that such grand theorising would be incapable of explaining a micro level occurrence and formulate policies for its mediation or management. Unlike the empirical discipline of modern economics where Micro models can be aggregated to conceptualise a bigger macro phenomenon, the context of a social problem at the micro level cannot use aggregation beyond the boundaries of its context.

Let us now focus our attention to the most important hurdle towards the clarity of conceptualisation of Public Policy as an academic discipline. The most important argument produced by Harold Lasswell in his 1970 work prescribing his visions of a policy scientist as an integrator of knowledge of multiple disciplines presents within itself the most important contradiction. The argument essentially is that public policy as an academic discipline has a need to emerge because of an indispensable requirement of specialisation in the art of policy making, formulation, analysis and evaluation as an action centred science since the pre existing social science disciplines cannot or have not done justice to the requirements of public action.

Lasswell therefore, wanted to selectively borrow relevant knowledge from the pre-existing knowledge structure based on the normative assessment of the relevance of the different disciplines to the needs of the problem. However the real contradiction in such an initiative is that it is extremely problematic to normatively decide and reach a consensus on the relevance of a particular approach towards the mitigation of public problems.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comprehending Child Labour.

Comprehending child labour and examining the rationale for its existence shall depend on the disciplinary orientation of the examiner. However the attempt here is to provide an explanation from the perspective of economic development by using the science of development economics.

The basic hypothesis, using this model is to unravel why, in spite of people the world over being almost similar, there exists a sea of difference in economic achievement. The answer to this lies in history which plays a significant part in the explanation.

Focusing on what a development economist would term as coordination failure, there is a possibility of making the following assumptions in development economic terms: Firstly, a child’s contribution to the labour market reduces his/.her capacity to accumulate human capital. Consequently, it flows logically that those children who participate in the labour market receive a lower return on their education investment by virtue of a failure to accumulate sufficient, qualitatively determined human capital.

Any analysis of the role of ‘History and Expectations’ in explaining the prevalence of the problem of child labour, would allow us a perspective on what can be termed as parental human capital - Essentially we can say there exist three mutually exclusive kinds of human capital. The first category presents us with a situation, explained by a poverty range where parents go for relatively more children, send their children to be integrated into the child labour market, thereby compromising on the possibility of a complete educational experience. This decision is independent of the possible returns to education. And the household’s decision remains unique.

Focussing our attention to the second category, a certain kind of prosperity range, parents decide to have fewer children and also make arrangement to provide them with a complete education, deciding against integrating their children into the labour market. Similar to the first category this is also a unique situational model.

The third category presents the most interesting model. It is an expectation and history range. Thus it is possible to extrapolate that the parent’s beliefs interact with the parent’s human capital to negotiate and decide on one of the aforementioned equilibrium paths.

Moreover for the first category, it intuitively follows that the for levels of parental human capital within the poverty range the parent’s earnings are so low that it is optimal to have more children and to send these children into the labour market to provide for household consumption.

At the direct opposite end of the spectrum, when the level of parental human capital falls within the prosperity range, the parent’s earnings are sufficient to provide for household consumption requirements and in this regard it is optimal to have fewer children and to make arrangements for the provision of a complete education. This furthers the argument that the dynamics of child labour is such that families will only send their children to work if forced to do so by economic necessity.

However, within the expectations range, this idea need not necessarily hold and initial conditions are insufficient to determine the household’s optimal choice. Specifically within this range the mechanism of equilibrium selection depends on the state of the economy and the beliefs of the households in a way that fulfils the household’s expectations. This implies that if a parent believes that the return to education is high, then the concerned parent is more likely to have fewer children and each child’s education is likely to be completed (no child labour) which fulfils the households initially high expectations.

Looking at it from another prism, if the same parent would believe that the return to education is low then this parent will have more children and send these children into the labour market. The fact that the children participate in the labour market implies that they incur the negative child labour externality, which reduces their ability to accumulate human capital. Therefore, because the parent believes the return to education is low, the parent undertakes actions that fulfil this initially pessimistic expectation.

Here, for apparently ex-ante identical households it would appear ex-post that they came from completely different demographic and economic regimes – the cornerstone of the hypothesis being explored from the question.

Since the concentration is on public policy it is important to state that the existence of an expectations range introduces an important role for government policy. Government policy can be used to steer expectations away from a ‘bad’ equilibrium. For example, banning child labour and mandating education will force households to learn that the return to education is higher than they believed.

Thus, by removing the child labour, incomplete education, high fertility option from the household’s choice set, the household is forced to internalize the negative effects of child labour and move to the Pareto superior outcome with low fertility, complete education, and no child labour.

Consequently it is not difficult to argue that once the household’s expectations have been altered there will no longer be any need to enforce child labour and education laws because families will now internalize this high return to education and choose to educate their children in the future. This policy intervention will also reduce fertility as households substitute child quality for quantity.

In this framework, it is extremely interesting to note that if a government implements a policy that bans child labour and mandates education within the ‘poverty range’, this will unambiguously reduce household welfare for the current households. Thus the appropriateness and effectiveness of a ban on child labour may not only depend on the cause of child labour but the stage of the development process.

This very idea of expectations serving as an equilibrium selection mechanism has a long history in development, dating back to the seminal work of Rosenstein-Rodan (1943, who died recently) and the further theory of the “big push”.

Let us discuss the variety of outcomes on offer - If all households choose a complete education then the return to education is high enough to support this equilibrium. On the other hand, if some households deviate from this choice then the return to education will be too low to support this equilibrium and we will observe complete child labour.

Moreover in these two frameworks policy serves as a coordination mechanism whereas, it could also serve as a learning mechanism! Thus perceiving child labour from the lens of history and expectation demonstrates that indeed initial levels of human capital can influence the development path of a particular country in a particular instance and in a particular context.

An attempt to summarise all of the aforementioned ideas would essentially make us agree with the following conclusion - Poverty and child labour are linked: poor households are often forced to make difficult decisions about current consumption and future income when deciding the number of children to have, the amounts of educational inputs for their children and how much they can be made to work.

Thus, implicitly in making such decisions families are required to forecast the future returns to education. The actual returns to education, however, will likely depend on a number of factors, including the growth of the overall economy and inputs into the education infrastructure by the government.

However, it would not be too far fetched to state that it is unrealistic to expect perfect foresight on the part of poor households, so these households will likely extrapolate the future returns to education based on their own experiences. It is also likely that working as a child will harm the overall human capital attainment of an individual, so the adult labour market experiences of parents who were child labourers may be quite different than those who were not.

A situation or a vector of circumstances that has overlapping generations where the household’s optimal fertility, child labour, and education decisions depend on the parent’s expectations or beliefs. We are aware that there exists a range of parental income where the fertility rate is high; the child participation in the labour market is causally connected to incomplete education if a parent believes the return to education is low.

Furthermore, due to the fact that the children’s participation in the labour market reduces their ability to accumulate human capital as a result of a negative child labour externality, the action of sending the children into the labour market is sufficient to ensure that the parent’s initially pessimistic expectations are fulfilled and justified with real world developments.

The opposite end of the spectrum, however, introduces us to something very different, if the parent believes the return to education is high, then fertility rate is low, and each child receives a complete education (no child labour). This action, in turn, fulfils the household’s optimistic beliefs since the children do not incur the negative child labour externality. So we can extrapolate that a onetime policy intervention, such as a banning of child labour and making education mandatory, can be enough to move a country from the positive-child labour equilibrium to the no-child labour equilibrium by temporarily removing the high fertility/child-labour/incomplete education equilibrium from the household’s choice set when parental income falls within this ‘expectations’ range.

Thus since we can also extrapolate that this type of policy intervention either reduces household welfare if parental income is below this ‘expectations’ range or is unnecessary above it, we could, for instance, also vaguely conclude that policy effectiveness depends and/or would largely depend on the stage of the development process.

Freedom & Equality.

Free people are not equal and equal people are not free.

It is one thing to comprehend freedom and equality as utopian ideas and quite another to explore its relevance in a given anthropocentric context. As far as utopian ideations are concerned there is little scope for individual disagreements on what it is to be free and what it is to be equal. However, applied to any anthropocentric or moral issue, we would find emerging disagreements with regards to what is the more desirable of the two. Even if it were possible to build a universal consensus regarding the desirability of any one over the other, there would still be unending debates on whether at all the two are mutually exclusive possibilities.

Most often the so-called civil society who would resist attempting theorizations on physical reality beyond their own academic specializations be tempted to conveniently have a convincing view about social reality as arm chair social theorists, since it is perceived by them that every individual by virtue of existing in a social context automatically qualifies themselves as theorists capable of commenting and influencing public opinion about the polity. This frequently results in a certain situation where individuals shouting the loudest about social ideals are those that are least informed or trained to reach relevant conclusions about something as complicated as social causality.

The challenge therefore remains to explore freedom among inequality and equality among people who are not free by cleverly avoiding conclusions of arm chair social scientists. With such an objective in mind we need to acknowledge that the crucial concept that is being explored is which of the two among being free or equal is the overriding human identity and whether being free limits the collective capacity to be equal. Attention needs to be drawn also towards the dichotomy that exists between the personal and the collective. And freedom - economic or political is more likely to always be a personal desire as opposed to the desire for equality which is a collective conception arising from an altruistic desire of mankind.

Adam Smith tried to account for this dichotomy in his classical free market advocacy wherein he stated with conviction that what is in the interest of an individual consumer or producer can and also would be in the interest of other actors involved in the free market process. However whether that would lead to an equal distribution of resources is arguable as the most effective means of economic activity does not guarantee the most equitable allocation of productive resources; it simply implies that resources are distributed in such a way that is the most efficient for the economy.

Furthering this free market economic determinism it would be but natural to conclude that free people cannot always remain equal since free people do not necessarily have equal access to productive resources and secondly equal access to productive resources does not always guarantee equal efficiency in using them since if individual freedom is employed to decide on the choices of using those resources then the efficiency of usage would be severely limited by individual capacity. This would mean therefore that the only way to ensure equality in a world of unequal ability is to artificially limit individual ability thereby furthering the cause of equality.

Equality therefore does not seem to be as much of a noble idea anymore when the only ground for its establishment is through the curtailment of individual freedom. However, this reasoning cannot be used to justify unequal access to opportunities since then it again is a direct attack to individual freedom. Therefore the challenge to public policy making appears to be to establish a society with emphasis on individual freedom. And as far as equality is concerned equality of opportunities instead of equality of outcomes should be the cornerstone of an ideal society


The recognition that social responsibility need not just be the outcome of simple welfare considerations but rather can be a key instrument in the process of development, which can work in association with economic policy as part of a broader strategy, is an important step towards working out mechanisms for its greater spread and effectiveness. However in order to ground social responsibility more firmly with a larger development strategy and work out the links between it and straightforward social policies, it is necessary to be aware of the political economy contexts within which both sets of policy are developed and evolve.

An attempt is therefore been made to analyze the scope of social responsibility in the recent Indian development experience, ask how it can supplement development policy, and probe how social responsibility can be transformed into a more effective instrument for equitable and sustainable development.

In essence, social responsibility-or rather, the complex web of related policies, schemes and institutions that are concerned with the social conditions of economic activity-reflects the broad social contract between capital and labour. In developing economies this refers to social contract especially for the management of the development project. The latter in turn has been defined for much of the past half century, as the project of increasing material welfare for most of the citizenry through economic development using the agency of the nation state. For many developing countries including India, this project remains partially or largely unfulfilled-although this state of incompletion still has not prevented it form being nearly abandoned in several instances.

It is increasingly evident that social responsibility has a significance that goes beyond the welfare considerations about basic equity and minimal living standards, which form part of the social and economic rights of citizens. In fact it can play a major role in the capitalist development project, at several levels. At the most basic level, social responsibility of different types are crucial to the state’s capacity to “manage” modernization, and along with it the huge economic and social shocks that are necessarily generated. Thus for example, social policies of affirmative action in parts of Southeast Asia (as in Malaysia) have been essential to maintaining ethnic harmony over periods when existing income inequalities and social imbalances across groups within the aggregate population would be otherwise accentuated by economic growth patterns.

Similarly when overenthusiastic and possibly insensitive developmental projects overturn existing local communities or destroy material cultures without satisfactory replacement, social responsibility driven action can become the basic instrument for rehabilitation and renewed social integration. The massive human shifts (geographic, economic, social) that most development projects entail are potentially sources of much conflict or at least keeping it within levels that do not destabilize society or derail the development project itself.

In so far as the growth process also generates or entails cyclical volatility in growth or incomes or has a tendency towards periodic crises of whatever sort, social responsibility can also serve as a cushion for dampening the worst social effects of crisis, which in turn can contribute to the feasibility and sustainability of the entire process.

It is now widely recognized that the universal provision of good education and basic health services is an important condition for raising aggregate labour productivity levels and in this context the potential scope for social responsibility driven civil society actions cannot be undermined at all. In addition to being an integral part of the economic growth process, social responsibility which affects policy decision also evolves with this process. In other words both the economic policy and the social responsibility patterns, even when they appear to be unchanging in a statutory sense, are actually quite dynamic and intertwined with political economy considerations which constantly evolve.

It thus emerges that while increased social responsibility is both a desirable and a necessary concomitant of the development process; its existence and form in each social context cannot be taken for granted, but rather depends on the political economy configurations which influence both its extent and its evolution. This is clearly evident from the Indian experience which shows both the clear need for effective translation of social responsibility and the relative inadequacy of what has been provided by the state in terms of the basic objective of the nationalist developmental project.

I am thus arguing the relative absence of social responsibility, institutional or otherwise in India over the post-independence period is one important reason why the development project itself has remained incomplete and unsatisfactory in terms of fulfilling the basic requirements of the majority of citizens. There can indeed be greater scope for such a discussion but I have been tempted towards brevity faced with time constraints and for the need of greater clarity in communication.