Delhi can never be improved — until the rest of India improves!

As a general rule, capital cities are economically unproductive places. They neither grow food nor create industry. What they produce, or are supposed to produce, are public discussion, debate, decisions, as well as data and information for governance of the country as a whole.  People who come to capital cities — whether politicians or foreign diplomats or businessmen or students or even bureaucrats and journalists — should come there only for  temporary purposes, and then, once their work or business is done,  leave for their own “native places”… 

Of course only one city is a capital city.  Other cities and towns develop naturally in response to economies of scale in commerce and industry. My second piece of academic research at Cambridge back in 1976-77, which I talked about at the Delhi School of Economics in 1977-78 as a  Visiting Assistant Professor, had to do with India and other developing countries markedly being “Dual Economies”, where city and countryside, towns and metros and hinterland, are linked continuously by that wonderful two-way mass movement known as internal migration….

There is obviously seasonal migration of agricultural workers in search of urban employment during the time a crop is growing in the ground, returning home for the harvest and other festivals.  Beyond such seasonal flows, we may expect  rural-urban migration to continue depending on individual family calculations of expected employment, income, benefits etc, until as it were, the last person who has been thinking about migrating from village to town or from town to city decides not to move but to remain where he/she is.  Families typically maximise their well-being by having some members here, other members there or there etc, meeting up again during seasonal festivals when they can.  Besides, with modern commuter railways, large numbers of day-workers and vendors travel in and out of cities from the towns and villages every day.

The academic literature is vast and excellent, starting with Dale Jorgensen “The development of a dual economy”, 1961 EJ, Harris-Todaro, 1970, AER, and easily available, Jerome Rothenberg’s 1975 MIT discussion paper “On the economics of internal migration” http://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/63948/onmicroeconomics00roth.pdf?sequence=1… See too e.g. from 2010 http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/conferences/2010-edia/papers/275-eberhardt.pdf

In case of Delhi, despite its lack of water and its inhospitable climatic conditions on the edge of the Rajasthan desert, the British stamped it to become their Imperial child in India for ever more…  Yet even the British routinely fled to Simla or England every summer — as the current Delhi elite flees abroad to their exported children in America, Europe, Australia etc…  

Since British times, Delhi has been pampered with India’s public resources.  Not making its own food or clothing, it must import everything from the rest of India. After 1947,  millions of Hindu & Sikh refugees from the new Pakistan set up shop… then came migrants from all over, Bengal, the South, North East, UP, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Kashmir — everywhere.  Now Delhi’s problems can never be solved until the endless migration slows down. Delhi is India’s capital and the more it is pampered, the better it seems to become and hence the more attractive it seems to India’s many millions of free people.  It is not hard to see that Delhi can never do enough for its residents because, since, qua capital city, it does not grow food or create industry (and is supposed to produce only public debate, decisions etc as a service industry), whatever it spends on public services comes from India’s exchequer, which in turn creates incentives for mass migration to continue from everywhere with no equilibrium being ever reached. 

The fascist solution that was, as I recall, suggested momentarily by a former Congress CM of Delhi, would be to forcibly prevent people from coming in from the outside.   Apparently the PRC as a totalitarian regime has some kind of system of internal passports which restricts citizens from travelling into metros on their own free will.  That cannot work in free India, where the Constitution would forbit it. Hence the correct long-term way to help Delhi solve its problems probably involves trying to improve the rest of the country!  It is something for the AAP Government to think about when it talks to Narendra Modi: seek to help the aam admi *outside* Delhi if you want to really help the aam admi inside Delhi!  In the meantime, try to improve efficiency in the local public goods the local government is supposed to produce, and do not ask for more resources from India.

This has been a 15 minute analysis…More to come…   

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