Decentralization reduces opportunity cost of pursuing electoral politics

Why do many educated and knowledgeable people don’t pursue politics? The intuitive and a partly true answer is that internal party politics are murky, one needs a lot of black money, full time politics doesn’t put bread on your table & pay your bills and so on. But there is more to this complex problem.

What if there’s a party which is ready to give tickets to contest and if one can win without using money? Would that be sufficient for the knowledgeable people to pursue politics? By knowledgeable, I mean, section of people who are well-read, typically have a domain expertise on a specific issue — agriculture, health, education, workers’ rights etc. The answer is NO because of the opportunity costs involved.

Consider the following math:

Politics is a binary game. One needs to at least become a minister with good blessings of the leader to do anything meaningful and significant. Even legislators have a limited role confined majorly to helping people resolve their daily irritants. It’s not a bad thing but it’s can’t be definitely counted as meaningful change.

So, the time required to reach a point where one can create meaningful change is the time from now till the person becomes the minister. This is usually long. Also, there is no certainty on one becoming a minister. If one becomes a minister, well and good but if not, it’s almost completely zero.

In this context, consider a knowledgeable person (KP) . Everyone thinks of their value addition. If KPs pursue politics, they would be sacrificing the incremental change that they would have otherwise brought. Given the uncertainty on becoming a minister, the opportunity cost of pursuing politics is thus high. One might as well be outside the system and pursue incremental change. It is one of the reasons many prefer to pursue civil services because one can bring about incremental changes throughout the career. It also bugs many KPs who attempted to venture into politics — may be I add more value by being outside.

How does it affect the nature of people pursuing politics?

The opportunity costs of pursuing politics as discussed above are low only for people who don’t have a domain expertise and otherwise wouldn’t have brought change. In a usual case, these are the people with businesses to take care of their daily life and are not the typical professional person that you might idealize as a politician. This crowd turns out to be the cliched netas.

How to lower the cost of pursuing electoral politics?

The zeroth step is to reduce the necessity of money power in politics by making “no money-no liquor” as strict policy of the party, coupled with assurance that there is reasonableness in the process of distributing tickets to the candidates. Even these two aren’t sufficient, as the experience of some new parties which incorporated both the above two principles shows.

The next important step is to create more venues for elected representatives to bring change without waiting to become a minister to do anything meaningful. This can be achieved by decentralization. With decentralization, you are essentially creating more avenues at local level like mayor of a city, for people to take ownership and bring about a change. What’s not appealing about being the visionary of your own city! Having proven their leadership, interested candidates can progress upwards from here. Decentralization thus act as active breeding grounds of budding politicians.

Of course, there are other equally important rationale for decentralization but decentralization as a tool to reduce entry barriers for KPs and creating breeding grounds for budding politicians is an often missed argument.

Decentralization. Decentralization. Decentralization.