Professor Asher’s insights into Aspirational and Data-Driven Policy

Session Report
Rehmat Arora

Introduction

Professor Mukul Asher delivered a compelling concluding address for the course
Fundamentals of Public Policy” hosted by the Impact and Policy Research Institute. He
emphasized the critical importance of sound judgment in public policy, citing Elon Musk’s insight on the destructive potential of teaching people to hate themselves and their history, making them susceptible to manipulation. This underlined the need for a strong civilizational
understanding, particularly in India, where history spans thousands of years. Professor Asher
stressed that preserving and appreciating this rich history is vital for informed public policy.

Poverty and economic development


Referencing Sanjeev Sanyal, Professor Asher highlighted the aspirational poverty among Indian youth, recounting his experiences in Haryana where government jobs were highly coveted despite higher earning potentials elsewhere. This, he argued, points to a need for shifting aspirations and emphasizing skill acquisition over mere job security. The discourse then shifted to the political economy, where he pointed out that nothing is truly free, and overpromising in public policy often leads to fiscal imprudence. He mentioned Kiran Kumar’s tweet to illustrate the dangers of populist policies that offer amenities without considering long-term fiscal sustainability.


Professor Asher recounted a conversation involving JRD Tata and Jawaharlal Nehru to critique India’s historical skepticism towards business and profit. He argued that well-run businesses do more to alleviate inequality than any amount of activism or academic discourse. This led to a broader discussion on the need to celebrate entrepreneurship and the wealth creators, while also ensuring that these entities maintain a social consciousness. Breaking mental and colonial complexes was highlighted as essential for fostering a productive investment climate and technological advancement.

Financial literacy was underscored as crucial for young people, linking it to better financial
outcomes in middle and old age. Professor Asher warned against the dangers of poor judgment
in financial matters, which can lead to significant personal and societal consequences. He also
stressed the importance of the scientific method in public policy, advocating for data-driven
decision-making over opinions formed without factual basis. The role of social media in shaping public discourse was also mentioned, with a call for more responsible use of these platforms.


The emergence of startups across India’s districts was celebrated as a social revolution. These
startups are seen as platforms for innovative ideas, connecting entrepreneurs with funding
sources, and fostering an environment of creativity and growth. However, Professor Asher also
warned about the complexities of international trade agreements, using China’s use of Mexico
as a transshipment hub as a cautionary tale. He highlighted the need for hardnosed
negotiations and implementation integrity in trade deals.

Data in Public Policy


A significant portion of the address was dedicated to the importance of data in public policy.
Anecdotal evidence and small biased samples, he argued, lead to poor analysis and pointless
debates. Instead, comprehensive and rigorous data collection and analysis are essential for
effective policy-making. Professor Asher drew from various sources, emphasizing that good
public policy research requires consulting a wide array of information.

The discussion also covered gender balance and the subtle ways to achieve it, such as the
example of drone operation in rural areas given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This,
Professor Asher noted, is a method of changing societal perceptions and increasing respect for
women. He also touched on the necessity of reforms in both public and private sectors, arguing
against a rigid ideological stance on ownership. Instead, he called for a focus on organizational
efficiency and the ability to adapt to changing global dynamics.


In terms of economic goals, Professor Asher pointed to the ambition of increasing India’s stock
market capitalization to rival that of Japan, which requires both domestic and international
investor confidence. This ties back to financial literacy and the effective use of financial
instruments. Urban management issues were also addressed, with a critique of India’s prescriptive building codes that stifle efficient resource use. The role of economic advisors like Sanjeev Sanyal in nurturing young talent and fostering a research-oriented mindset was highlighted as crucial for the future of public policy. Professor Asher encouraged participants to leverage their learning for internships and practical experience in public policy.

Conclusion


In conclusion, Professor Asher’s address encapsulated the diverse and complex elements of
public policy. He emphasized the importance of historical understanding, aspirational change,
financial literacy, data-driven decision-making, entrepreneurial spirit, gender balance, and
comprehensive reforms. These insights, drawn from a wide range of sources, provided a robust
framework for participants to understand and engage with public policy effectively.

Acknowledgment: Written by Rehmat Arora, Visiting Researcher and assistant editor at IMPRI.

Posted by Reetwika Mallick, intern at IMPRI.

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