Reality Check India

Works of Prof Russell Hardin

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on December 10, 2007

I finished reading this excellent paper, “The Free Rider problem” by Russell Hardin.  He builds upon the ideas of the logic of collective action by the economist Mancur Olsen.

I found more great reading material at his homepage at NYU. Check it out.


Tragedy of the commons in midst of power crisis

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on March 14, 2012

Found a wonderful real life example of the tragedy of commons I want to share.

I visited a relative who lives in an apartment complex in the southern outskirts of Chennai.  His complex is subject to two hours of power cut between 4PM and 6PM everyday – as bad as that is, he was happy that just 5Km further south of him the city limits ended and power cuts were up to 6-8 hrs a day.  The bigger problem with the apartment residents was the voltage. The fluctuations were really bad from the time the power came back on at 6PM to about 11PM.  This was traced to the use of air conditioners. To overcome the voltage hurdle some of them had installed “double boosters” – two back to back step-up transformers. This caused even more voltage fluctuations leading my relative to claim that he suspected some flats were using “triple boosters” now. I dont know if such a thing even exists.  The end result was this competitiveness helped no one as the voltage fluctuated to such a level that no booster helped and even normal household appliances like microwaves and refrigerators and computers struggled.

Now the apartment complex has a active association filled with retired busybodies like my relative who have drafted complex by-laws that rivals the Indian constitution.  The voltage problem was crying for their help and they turned their attention to it. The path was clear – all people had to do was to shun the use of air conditioners till about 11PM – when the incoming voltage improved on its own.  Everyone would be better off and be able to use all their appliances. So a diktat was passed down to that effect. No air conditioners from 6-11PM.  How did this pan out ?

It worked for a first few days.  The voltage situation improved dramatically and the resulted in a net improvement in living conditions for all. But soon some realized that the voltage now was good enough turn their airconditioners on.  A few did and it had no noticeable impact on overall voltage.  They were ignored by the association perhaps because turning on one or two airconditioners probably didnt impact voltage much- not sure what happened.  So now just a couple were enjoying the fruits of a collective effort.  Slowly others too started turning their air conditioners on until the magical point was reached where the overall voltage situation was back to miserable.


This was the best example I have seen of the tragedy of the commons.  It actually quantifies the fruits of co-operation and its subsequent destruction.  If anyone is interested you can check out the videos of Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom who is the current leading expert on this issue. Also check out these links I blogged about earlier.


What are the ways the apartment complex could have dealt with it ?

  1. Socially ostracize free riders ? What if they dont care about socalizing ?
  2. Have a police wing ? What are the checks against abuse by them  ? Who would join this force ?

Food for thought.



Youth bulge and India

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on January 29, 2008

This blog propelled me to write this post. 

You have heard about the great “age advantage” that awaits India. We are told how we are about to reap the benefits of a young population, while the aging west pays the price for not reproducing.  India, today has a remarkable 51 percent of its population under 25 and 67% under 35.  By 2020, the average Indian will be 29, the average Chinese 27, and the average Japanese 48.  Wow !

The natural counter question is : Well, does the youth bulge guarantee economic success ? The answer is a resounding NO. In fact, it would be a miracle if violence can be avoided and conditions created for economic transformation. This is the essence of the popular youth bulge theory. The Law and Other Things blog makes a great attempt to put it in an Indian context. The theory is very compelling partly due to its plain speaking German author – Prof Heinsohn.  After all, it simply says that violence needs young unattached male fighers. Duh! I think there is much more in this simple theory than meets the eye.

First this theory in a nutshell.

Gunnar Heinsohn, a social scientist and genocide researcher at the University of Bremen, has an explanation for why this might be so. Since its publication in 2003, his eccentric and eye-opening Sons and World Power* (not available in English) has become something of a cult book. In Mr Heinsohn’s view, when 15 to 29-year-olds make up more than 30 per cent of the population, violence tends to happen; when large percentages are under 15, violence is often imminent.


I will not bore you more with explaining this theory further. There are plenty of resources on the web. I want to focus on what this theory has for India.

A common misconception :

The population growth could “transform into a demographic dividend if every child was born healthy and was educated,” said Health Minister Ambumani Ramadoss.

Really, is it that simple ? According to the youth-bulge theory, education and health has little bearing on the proclivity to violence. In fact, well fed and educated youth are even more dangerous.  The north-east, Kashmir, Punjab have lower poverty and higher education. Sri Lankans, both Tamils and Sinhalese have high literacy levels.  So, obviously the excellent & free education system in Sri Lanka did not help them.  The less said about our public primary education the better.

What bulge

I pulled stats for India from the US Census bureau. Our population in 2020 looks is shown in the graphic below. This is when the youth bulge (15 – 35 ) appears to be most pronounced.


Fast forward into the future, in 2050 the population for India would be


You can see that in 2050, the youth bulge has passed.

If the youth bulge indeed correlates with violence, then

  • the worst years would be between 2020 to 2030.
  • the chance to formulate pre-emptive strategies is before 2015

The overall bulge means nothing

I explored further on this by reading many articles on the internet and also thinking a bit about the unique Indian socio-political scenario. For a country like India, the national bulge is not significant. Any statistic will drown in the sheer volume and complexity of India. 

Based on my own rather simplistic analysis, the two important take-aways for India are :

  • The youth bulge in the number of males who cant find partners (linked to the widening sex gap) .
  • The youth bulge in the groups which have grievances against the state (linked to how closely knit these groups are and what their expectations are from the state).

In street level talk, groups would measure their expectations with respect to what other groups have received from the state.There is no absolute measure of how much of the social pie is legitimate. This is an uncomfortable truth that no Indian would like to accept, no Indian columnist to write about, or media to call.  Yet this forms the core of new ideas in behaviour theory. See our earlier posts on Prof Russell Hardin and Mancur Olsen.

Security strategies based on the youth bulge theory

This is probably one of the most interesting applications of the bulge theory. Faced with an insurgent situation, the state can adapt its responses based on the bulge. Some strategies might be (State vs Insurgent-A) :

  • Wait for Insurgent-A’s bulge to pass. In the meantime, engage in offensive options that hasten the process. Sri Lanka might be following this method. Notice the remarkable levels of immigration to the west and the natural passing of the bulge.
  • Compromise the youth bulge of Insurgent-A. This happens by diluting the identity of the group itself.  See the example of Assam and its rising Bangladeshi muslim population as mentioned in this post.

India’s primary bulge problem

We are at a fork in the road, as this blog has mentioned several times in the past. As boring and bitter as it sounds, concrete and exclusive benefits linked simply to people being in a group is the recipe for disaster. The effects are :

  • Now youth bulges have to be monitored for a hundred new groups. Each one with a deadly potential for violence.
  • The total absence of data and the non-insistence (so far) of the judicial system of it, makes violence even more attractive. Sometimes it is the only legitimate route left (see the faith reposed in violence by Assamese tribals, the Gujjars, and the remarkable success of the violent route by the Vanniyars, the Christian-Hindu violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district and so forth)
  • As population explodes and a severe crunch on natural resources like fresh water and clean air is felt – these violent groups can also stake territorial claims such as control over water bodies, hill resorts etc. Islands of pleasure, such as luxury residences in SEZs will be the first to be targeted.

What can be done

We have a short time window before the problem explodes in our face.  A possible strategy is.

  • Primary education. I know, this will only worsen the potential for violence, but it has a good counterbalancing effect. It will make people aware of the need of data and check the political forces and co-operative media. This further leads to weakening of group identity. The end result is the non-effectiveness of a youth bulge in any group. The group itself is irrelevant as competing claims to benefits have to pass the data test.
  • Trim bulges in dominant extremist groups.  India is going to have a youth bulge in 2020, this need not mean that naxals also get to enjoy a proportional share of this bulge.  However, if unmonitored benefits accrue to groups at the exclusion of the really deprived (atleast in their own view), then the ranks of established extremists will swell. The naxal bulge will become much more pronounced than the overall Indian bulge. 

Sorry to bore you again, but the central culprit is the entrenchment in India of adhoc and unmonitored benefits to groups favoured by the state. This might lead to more pronounced youth bulges in the extremist ranks compared to the already big Indian youth bulge.

When that happens, the following would suddenly make a lot of sense.

“LOOK AT IT THIS WAY,” Gunnar Heinsohn said. “Your family is in a shooting war with a family across the street. Your forces consist of a father, mother and one child, perhaps two. The other family has a father, mother and seven children, perhaps eight or nine. For your family, the loss of one person would be devastating. The larger family can take casualties and continue fighting.”

Internet resource on Prof Heinsohn

More on this later.

Real political news

Posted in Uncategorized by realitycheck on November 20, 2007

What is happening on 22nd November ?

On November 22, the first week of the winter session of the legislative assembly, BJP leader 50-year-old Syeed Pasha Patel Pasha will hold a rally with the support of one lakh Muslims demanding the implementation of Sachar recomendations in Nagpur. He is the only Muslim MLC from Maharashtra BJP.

Source : HT

How this plays out will have a major socio-political impact ?

Issues like farmers suicides, effectiveness of NREGA, woes of the Mumbai city, Sri Krishna report on the Bombay riots,  lack of progress in the Mumbai trains blast case, corruption, bankruptcy of co-operatives, multi-hour daily power outages – all put together pale in comparison to this seeming non-descript gathering by Mr Pasha of the BJP. Mr Pasha Patel (BJP) is the political entrepreneur of the season.

Why is this so ? Why do seemingly small but exclusive benefits appeal more than giant public good projects ? For example : The Muslim and Christian quota in TN would just create about 70-80 doctors from each community. Yet, this is a landmark event compared to multi thousand crore rural schemes. This could mean the difference between survival and death of entire political movements.

I am a great fan of the American economist  Mancur Olsen (via these two books  Logic of Collective Action  , Rise and Decline of Nations ) I have mentioned his works many times in this blog.

Recently, I came across the works of Russell Hardin. I am fascinated by his writings – which mostly address this issue. Read his take on the “Free riders problem“.  In a sense, Indians of all kinds suffer from this problem. 

Coming back to Olsen, he notes that : Only a separate and ‘selective’ incentive will stimulate a rational individual in a latent group to act in a group-oriented way. He also conceived of political entrepreneurs for large groups as engaged entirely in the enterprise of producing selective incentives.

Could anything explain the Indian situation better ?


Mr Patel Pasha, we applaud your efforts to implement Sachar in your state of Maharashtra.  Could you also explain the Muslim literacy rate figures in the same Sachar report. Muslims in Maharashtra have a literacy rate of 78.1% compared to SC/ST 64.3% and the Average 76.9%

You would probably shoot back : If TN, KA, KE, and AP (Sachar reports Muslim TN literacy of 82.9% vs 62% SC/ST and 72% Hindus) can have a muslim quota why not MH?)

You would be absolutely correct of course. No one can respond to that one.