One axis politics

Historically, political leanings have ben described on two dimensions – economic freedom and social freedom. In the American scenario, the Republican Party has historically been supportive of economic freedom and restrictive of social freedom. The Democratic Party has been liberal on social freedom but illiberal on the economic freedom front.

While other major Western democracies occupying these two opposite quadrants, the other two quadrants have been largely empty. The libertarians occupy the “free on both fronts” quadrant, but nowhere is there a party to represent them – giving people freedom on all fronts means lesser power for the government and no politician wants that. And being restrictive of both kinds of freedom means people won’t vote for you – at least this was the way historically.

Of course things have been different in India. While we did have a series of governments between 1991 and 2004 that were reasonably economically liberal (“liberalisation” happened in this time period), all Indian political parties are required to swear by socialism, and they swear by it in spirit as well. So the difference on the economic freedom front between different Indian parties is marginal (in 2014, many of us thought the BJP might be supportive of economic freedom, given its record in the 1999-2004 period. Instead, it gave us demonetisation).

So in effect, in India we have a one-axis democracy, where parties try to differentiate themselves on one axis, which is the kind of social freedom they allow. Even there, it is not so much of an axis, but different ways in which they control social freedoms.

The BJP doesn’t want you to eat beef. The AAP doesn’t want recorded music in restaurants. The Congress and JDS don’t want live music in restaurants. The BJP puts cow welfare over human welfare. The Congress enacts and supports laws that allow suppression of Muslim women (by Muslim men). Many parties want to ban liquor, despite it having been repeatedly shown that such bans don’t work. No party wants to legalise marijuana, despite our rich tradition in the substance (heck, its scientific name is Cannabis indica). And we all seem to vote based on which of these social freedoms are more precious to us than others – economic freedom is a battle already lost.

In any case, it seems like other countries are also moving towards one axis democracy.  A chart posted on Twitter today describes results from a survey in the US on voters’ attitudes towards social and economic freedoms, and how they voted in the 2016 presidential elections (which Donald Trump famously won).

Source: https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publications/2016-elections/political-divisions-in-2016-and-beyond

A large part of America seems to lie in the left half of the economic freedom spectrum. Yes, the republican voters are still more towards the centre than the democratic voter, but the bigger separation here is on the social rather than the economic dimension. And the Trump administration has been pursuing several policies cutting economic freedoms, such as tearing up trade deals and imposing tariffs.

So it seems like the world is following India in terms of enacting one axis politics – where voters vote more on the social dimension rather than the economic dimension. Then again, I don’t expect this to last – with parties moving left economically, soon you can expect economic freedoms to be crushed to the extent that it becomes advantageous for a party to signal economically right and still get votes.

PS: We don’t need to limit ourselves to two dimensions.  A few years back, Nitin Pai had proposed the Niti Mandala which has three dimensions.

Source: http://acorn.nationalinterest.in/2012/03/03/nitimandala-the-indian-political-spectrum/

Centralised and decentralised parties

In the spirit of the just-concluded Assembly Elections in Bihar, here is my attempt at political theorising, which Nitin Pai classifies as “political gossip”.

During the ten years of UPA rule at the Union government, the opposition BJP lacked a strong centre. The central leadership was bereft of ideas following defeat in the 2004 General Elections, and this was badly shown up in the 2009 General Elections when the BJP put in an even worse performance.

All was not lost, however. The lack of strong political leadership at the centre had meant that BJP units in different states managed to thrive. Narendra Modi became Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002 (albeit following a directive by the BJP central leadership), and won three consecutive elections there. His track record as Gujarat CM was pivotal to him getting elected as Prime Minister in 2014.

Around the same time, Shivraj Singh Chouhan emerged as a strong leader in Madhya Pradesh, and Vasundhara Raje, who had once before been chief minister in Rajasthan, came back with renewed strength. Manohar Parrikar was a strong Chief Minister in Goa. The period also saw the BJP forming its first state government in South India under BS Yeddyurappa.

This state-level buildup of strength was key in driving the BJP (and Modi, who had managed to appoint himself leader) to success in the 2014 parliamentary elections. Modi brought on his trusted aide from Gujarat Amit Shah as the president of the party.

While the objective of capturing the Union Government had been met, this created a new problem for the party – it had a strong centre once again. And the strong centre has meant that regional leaders now have less chances to thrive. After Modi and Parrikar moved to the Union government, relative lightweights have been installed as chief ministers of Gujarat and Goa, respectively.

Chouhan and Raje have been implicated in scandals (related to the Vyapam recruitment and Lalit Modi, respectively). Yeddyurappa has been kicked upstairs as National Vice President of the party. Elections are being fought in the name of Modi and Shah rather than projecting a strong state leader. No chief ministerial candidate was projected in the recent Bihar poll debacle. The Haryana chief minister was a nobody when he was installed. Lightweight Kiran Bedi was projected in the Delhi polls, which ended in a massacre for the party.

 

In other words, ever since Modi and Shah came to power a year ago, the  BJP has been showing promise towards becoming a “high command driven” party, like the Congress before it. The Congress, which has looked rather clueless since the last days of its 2nd UPA government, should serve as a good example to the BJP in terms of what might happen to an over-centralised party.

The BJP has its own template on how strong state level leadership can lead to success, yet it looks like it’s in danger of discarding its own successful formula and following the Congress path to failure.

Modi and Advani

Here’s how I think the BJP should’ve reacted to the fact that LK Advani wasn’t too happy about Narendra Modi being announced as their candidate for Prime Minister in next year’s elections.

Yes, Mr. Advani is still not on board yet. However, we are a democratic party and there was strong demand from an overwhelming majority of our party workers that Mr. Modi’s name be announced as the Prime Ministerial candidate. As in any democratic process, there will be the minority who will not be happy, but we are sure that they (including Mr. Advani) will respect the democratic process and extend their support to Mr. Modi.

 

Randomizing advertisements

This 7.5 minute break in the middle of an IPL innings is a bad idea. The biggest problem is that everyone knows the exact length of the break, and can use it to do stuff – like cook, or clean, or crap, or fag, or maybe watch the Everton-Man U shootout. 7.5 minutes is a lot of ad time, but the problem is that absolutely no one will be watching them. So if you were a smart advertiser, you wouldn’t want to put your ad in that slot – you are better off taking an over break slot.

Now what I propose here is not applicable to cricket – at least I hope it’s not since conventionally you can’t slot ads whenever you want to (Lalit Modi thinks he can change that, though). I don’t know if this concept has already been implemented, and I’d be rather surprised if it hasn’t been. The basic idea is to randomize the length of advertising slots.

So you are watching your favourite soap and there’s a commercial break. And you go off into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. But you don’t really want to miss even a minute of the action, so you’ll go only if you know that the advertisements will go on for two minutes. Historical data tells you that the ads will last for two and a half minutes, and off you go. Now what if suddenly tomorrow there is only twenty seconds of advertisements and you end up missing a bit of the action? You curse yourself, and the soap, and the TV channel, and the TV, and Tata Sky, but you make a mental note not to go make tea during this break the next day.

Now, by randomizing the length of advertising breaks, channels can ensure that people actually watch the ads. If you don’t know if the break will last twenty seconds or two minutes, you are likely to sit glued to the TV, watching the same channel dishing out the ads. You are unlikely to go off to make tea, or to crap, or to channel surf, if you don’t know when programming might start next. You occasionally get pained – when the breaks are too long – but on the whole you end up watching most of the ads.

Yes, there is the chance that the viewer gets pained when the random length for ads that gets picked turns out to be really large. Also, if we shorten a few ad breaks, we should also lengthen a few others? Or increase the number of ad slots? Not really – is my argument.

The clincher here is that by randomizing length of ad breaks, you are increasing the TRPs for the ads! Yes your program may have high TRP but does that normally translate to ads? With this randomization procedure it does. And when this gets established, you can start charging higher for these slots. And if on an average you can charge a higher rate per second of advertisement, you can sure continue to run the program with a smaller number of ads?

It’s win all around. Customer wins because he gets more programming time than ad time. Advertiser wins because he gets more eyeballs for his ad. TV channel doesn’t lose since the loss of revenue from lesser number of ads is more than made up by the higher rate charged on the ads. In fact, by “holding” the customer, the channel ensures he continues watching this program rather than go off on a tangent while channel surfing.

Normally, I try to show situations where everyone can win by reducing the randomness in the system. This case is opposite. By introducing randomness in the system, everyone wins! I wonder if there is a fallacy here. Or maybe what I’ve written here is so obvious that everyone is implementing it and I’ve failed to notice since the only TV I see is sport (not american sport) which has fixed ad breaks.