India Uncut

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Saturday, August 20, 2005

On armchair arguments

Sumeet Kulkarni writes:
Whenever I speak of free markets, empowerment and liberalization to be the best solution to India's poverty problems, I am almost always told that it is easy for me make armchair arguments. Have I ever experienced life in a village, the hunger, the desperation? How can someone who has been an urbanite all his life ever know what is good for the rural poor? There are some basic flaws in this argument. The first one, I think it is somewhat presumptuous to merely go by my present attire and speech and lifestyle, and make conclusions about my economic history, especially for people who have known me for a few minutes, maybe a few months, or at the most a couple of years. The more important flaw in the argument is that these very people suggest that some wise, know-all bureaucrat and regulator who has exactly as much or less knowledge or experience of hunger or poverty or the rural struggle for survival should sit in Delhi, and decide on which district gets how much of the centrally planned monetary allocation for that year to spend on "his" subjects. The whole argument reeks of hypocrisy. In my armchair "solutions", at least I don't presume that I am more intelligent than the poor farmer. I don't underestimate his ingenuity to use his empowered mind to alleviate himself from his impoverished state.
Quite. Read his full post, "Freedom from Bleeding Hearts". (Link via email from Gaurav Sabnis.)

And if I may add to that, I'd say that the very worst way to counter an argument is by questioning the credentials of the person making it. What does it matter whether an argument comes from a village or an armchair in a posh elite household, or even from a cow? Any argument must be examined on its own merits. Those who focus on the person instead of the argument are implicitly acknowledging their own inability to engage in a constructive discussion.

Also read this.

Cross-posted on The Indian Economy.
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