Looking for a deregulated free market paradise? It already exists.

Back in November 2015, I was being dragged off to India for a wedding. Well, if I had to go back, I was going to see at least one new city. And luckily, my cousin’s husband had just gotten a job in Chennai, so we decided to fly there.

The thing I didn’t know, having only ever been as far south as Hyderabad before, was that November and December are the South Indian monsoon season.

And Chennai was predicted to see its worst rains in 40 years.

Thankfully, we landed in between rainstorms. The first day was pretty nice:

Bay of Bengal, another notch on my stick-my-feet-in-every-sea bedpost

But then it started raining. And raining.

Sorry the picture’s a bit shit. I took it out a car that was rumbling and making funny noises because, the day before we landed, my brother-in-law had driven a child to the hospital in rain that was so high it got into the car and knocked something loose. Ambulances? Try survival of the fittest.

By itself, there’s nothing shocking about this. India gets monsoons, it’s a fact of life. And yeah, sometimes the infrastructure gets knocked out — nothing doing, it even happens in areas that have kept up; where I live right now has good drainage and even so we’ve had standing water on roads. Tattered remains of the Great Plains and whatnot.

And yet, Chennai was disabled to the point where they had to shut down the airport, and they had weeks without school because the students and teachers literally could not get there. At least 20 days of forced vacation that I recall.

You can read the article I linked above for the real postmortem, but here’s the anecdotal stuff.

  • Tons of illegal drains. (I didn’t understand this one at the time, but later, when I read ‘Water in Plain Sight’, it made sense. Turns out that anytime you adjust the flow of water, you have to think about where it’s going to end up, and in what volume.)
  • Goodbye Internet. I’ve had my power/Internet barely fizzle out in torrential downpours in the US. Now, torrential downpours here aren’t that impressive compared to a monsoon, but it should go without saying that you build to local conditions. And yet my relatives struggled with Internet access for several days because it was fixed once and then went right back out again.
  • Shoddy road-building. It was interesting — I spent a day with my cousin and husband in the more middle-class part of town. Nice colony (apartment complex for us Americans) with a backup generator for when the power went out, but the area itself wasn’t that ritzy.

So, yeah — in this middle class area, the roads had been constructed by a bunch of contractors who were held to no standards and as a result picked materials that were immediately washed away by the flooding. Tragically I didn’t take any pictures of said potholes, but then again we were all rolling through those with our hearts in our mouths hoping the car would make it okay. I don’t even remember how long it took us to travel a few miles. Indian urban planning is already a shitshow, and it’s not helped by Indian drivers making up their own lanes anywhere there’s space. Before the rains started, when the roads were dry and as good as they get, we ended up needing something like 2 hours just to get from home to my brother-in-law’s workplace (and this is in the subsidized economic zone — specially designed to attract tech companies).

These are people taking pictures because they had literally never seen the water that high in the drainage canal before.

We also drove up to Tirupati Balaji, the home of the ‘rich god’. Major tourist destination. We had to reroute several times and the drive took at least one extra hour because the roads were washed out.

Now, contrast this with the situation in the Chief Minister’s neighborhood (turns out my mom’s second cousin also lives in Chennai, and they were well-established). Where the roads were perfect and, when I had to get to the airport, I insisted they leave something like 4 hours early. Thirty minute drive.

If they weren’t driving on the wrong side of the road, this would fit right into an American city that still funds its infrastructure.

Does India have regulations? Technically, yeah. Are those regulations enforced?


This is what it looks like when you’re working pretty much entirely off the free market, guys. Someone in construction has literally zero incentive to build something that’s going to last — how else will they keep getting business? (And from what I hear, the corruption in India actually extends to them budgeting for nice materials and then selling said materials off. Who’s gonna check and make sure they were used, anyway?)

Also, government employees are chronically underpaid. Which leaves them way more open to bribery than in, say, a country where the salaries are kept up to date. I heard a few horror stories about the situation for police there — they’re practically working out of shacks. No wonder there’s so many Bollywood movies about the maverick who goes out on his own time to violate the Geneva Convention all over a gunda’s face.

And that’s just in terms of infrastructure. When it comes to air and water quality…. Well, if you drink the tap water, you’ll be lucky if the explosive diarrhea goes away within a few days. And if you see five different doctors for a treatment, you’ll walk out with five different lists of medication, including antibiotics that you can obtain in single doses from any pharmacy on the street. India is the new capital of drug resistance.

Picture taken in November 2012 — northern India’s winter. That is solid haze. Because we weren’t near a major city, I believe it’s primarily dust from the dry season…exacerbated by poor water management that has led to severe crop difficulties and a rise in farmer suicides.

The one bright note in all this comes from a journey we made from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. The roads were fantastic. I asked why this was. My other brother-in-law explained to me that, at some point, the Indian government had been approached by a man who said he’d get the job done as long as they provided him with the resources he needed, and he did.

Except it’s not really a bright note, is it? Instead of being guaranteed consistent and systematic improvements, Indian residents have to wait for good, driven people to enter the existing structure and get things done. Otherwise, the gap between rich and poor — and even middle class — is as stark as looking at those pictures of basically any one of Trump’s cabinet nominees’ lifestyles, and the average American home.

Nice, yeah? Well, air pollution is turning it yellow, and you don’t even want to see the Yamuna.

The lack of regulations means that the water isn’t drinkable, the air is so bad there’s a respiratory illness crisis — and on top of this, it’s not like there’s fantastic infrastructure or production or anything. Well-off people in India buy things made by foreign companies because the quality’s more reliable. I’ve never heard anyone brag about ‘made in India,’ even though the national ego is plenty healthy: no one’s surprised white people have taken up yoga and Indian food, because they’re clearly superior to whatever swill you had before.

Yes, regulations can use streamlining. Yes, it’s good to have an expert outsider come in and examine the structure of an agency — Deloitte, effectively — but when you start talking about how much regulations are stifling America and how we need to let the free market do its thing, you are deluding yourself.

Like what you read? Give PD a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.