The second secession
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Even India's poor now feel their rights as consumers are higher than as citizens. India is now banging against the limits of a flailing state
My parents retired to live in Kanpur, where people joke that a phone call can get you delicious boondi ladoos in 15 minutes, and a hot pizza in 30 minutes, but an ambulance takes an hour, and the police, two hours. Kanpur's fastest growing industries are bottled water, private security guards, diesel generators and low-cost private schools. The rich and middle class had "seceded" from India's public goods many years ago; the poor are now joining them in paying something to avoid something that is free. Why?
I make the case that this is because even India's poor now feel that their rights as consumers are higher than their rights
as citizens. So, a mediocre private school is better than a free government school, because parents can demand teacher attendance. A private security guard may be poorly trained and dressed, but he has a whistle, waistline below 40 inches, and can be fired. Cheap power is a nice promise, but no power is the most expensive power. And drinking bottled water avoids lost workdays and expensive private healthcare. But these low expectations from the state are silly, dysfunctional and unsustainable. In fact, many of us in the private sector need to apologise for believing that "the grass grows at night while the government sleeps", because the notion that the best state for job creation and poverty reduction is an invisible state is wrong; Waziristan in Pakistan and SWAT valley in Afghanistan have no state and they are not exactly hotbeds of entrepreneurship and prosperity. India is now banging against the limits of a flailing state. Lant Pritchett of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard calls the malfunctioning Indian state "one of the world's top 10 biggest problems — of the order of AIDS and climate change".