Day 8: Reconsidering narratives

1/04/2020

Day 8

There is a vehicle that goes around the neighbourhood playing a coronavirus message on loudspeakers. It is probably deployed on this public interest messaging by the municipal corporation. That is the loudest it gets here these days. A major time sink is to read and watch all that is around on Covid-19 response by countries. These are interesting times for those interested in political science, governance, economics and public policy. We are witnessing the consequences of the choices that countries have made over the past. I am re-visiting all the conversations I have had in the last couple of years which have been anti-private sector. Greed and exploitation by the private sector was all that meetings of activists and researchers could talk about. I hope the field of view for them has expanded. For me, it certainly has! A scenario as pandemic that seemed beyond the fringe of their imagination now makes a live demonstration.

The state is riding on private sector capabilities across the board, in most countries. This will be hard to refute. At the same time, it is also true that we also see an expansion of the welfare state. This is also useful for the politics of social policy. Every country affected by the pandemic has had its government stepping in with welfare packages, each according to the fiscal space that national income and economy’s size affords them. If anything, these times should lead to a less emotional and more balanced analysis of the role of state and the role of the private sector. A blanket treatment – ‘private is evil’ has no room anymore. It needs to be much more nuanced than that. 

I began on this thought today because of Matt Blumberg’s daily notes ) from leading a Covid19 Innovation Response Team for the State of Colorado. He writes, ‘Colorado Governor Jared Polis (who I’d met a briefly couple times over the years), had an idea of starting and rapidly scaling up a task force in the state government and wanted to tap a private sector entrepreneur to lead the effort.’ This  is another instance of transfer of skills that the private sector has built over long term for state’s benefit. The way our understanding about configuration of our economies should change is that it  should not be a discussion about the state or private sector. Instead, we need to sharply focus on the relationships between them which is based on the recognition that both are an essential part of a system and are often complementary in their roles. 

Here are some of Matt’s observations – 

In India, many states have drawn on private sector expertise and advisory for their emergency response from finance industry to IT. Closer home, in Bengaluru, the city police deployed a mobile-based pass issuing system for key workers with the help of a private company. One would have thought that such a basic capability would have been built in the government system.

Unclear sometimes what the actual role of the state is – sometimes procuring, sometimes getting private sector to procure with some coordination, etc.

Getting out in front of the parade – the private sector is swarming all over this, how can we help coordinate and channel the energy?

State gov seems incredibly nimble here – seconding people from departments all over to the crisis, etc.  Bureaucracy is real, but it can melt away in an emergency, or when the governor wants it to. Really impressive

I would be interested in the body of literature that will emerge in the years after the pandemic. Will this crisis lead to a revision of our understanding or we will continue to propagate ideas of state is benevolent and private sector is evil. 

On a different track, I read an English translation of a short story ‘In a Forest, A Dear’ written by Ambai and translated from Tamil by C T Indra. To write a story as this from the point of view of a child is remarkable. This was my first story from Ambai and I am sure to read more from her. 

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