- Sometime back I had posed this question, what is the optimal amount of risk that you should decide to fly by a plane? Turns out that you can take your age and other health factors into account and compare it to your risk of dying; or you could contrast it to your probability of dying while traveling by train. Mathematically, one in a thousand is a good thumb-rule.
- "Per-capita income in India is $x and is rising. It looks like a growing market." The next thing to ask is which income profile of the population is experiencing this rise in income. The top 10%, the middle 50%, or the lowest 20%? We don't always think in terms of distributions, but our understanding of social science issues can be remarkeably enhanced with it. Often said that "liberalization has not helped the poor, and only the rich have got richer." The question to ask is what in the liberalization process made the richer end of the distribution get richer and not the poor. Liberalisation is a term like motherhood and apple-pie. The question to ask is which Acts/ sectors have been liberalised and did the deregulation of these sectors allow greater participation from the poor.
- A response to this post ...and cheat as much as you can! On the surface, the ability to gather information about a number-plate may not seem much related to public policy. However micro-knowledge of the working of the policy machinery in India is hidden under layers of files or in the knowhow of the people managing it. Negotiating access to these resources calls for a skill-set which is beyond that of the usual academic student. You need the edge of a journalist to find facts and a rigorous thought structure to interpret them. Hence the design of the interview to recruit interns who have promise of both. Asking people, finding out rules and authorities, contrasting rules and practice, in short researching reality is not a joke. Given data, you can do a lot of analytics as it happens in US. But finding the data to answer uncomfortable questions is the biggest hurdle in India.
- A reader asked "How does one start thinking about public policy? Especially in the Indian context!" Public policy is still an emerging field in India and is often confused with public administration. So books are still not geared to offer the content in the Indian market. One book that would be good to start is Thomas Sowell's Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One. I am not sure whether it is available in Indian bookstores. Another book that has a context similar to India is Hernando de Soto' s The Mystery of Capital and The Other Path. Both the authors have a liberal bent, but their take on public policy issues is very illuminating. You can then move onto more analytical texts. A caveat before you get drawn into the government vs market debate. While it might be popular and seem "wise" to talk about public-private partnerships and a middle path, it helps to know critically about the nature of each institution, and the time horizon of their activities. Know more about the role of institutions in public policy and the fact that we are in a world faced with imperfect alternatives. One personal take on it, public policy without a regulatory or a legislative context could be way off-target. Every Act in the government stable is waiting for an analysis in the public policy context and perhaps a market design! So immense opportunities are out there for sophisticated public policy thought in governments, businesses and civil society.