Today’s New York Times has an op-ed about India reminding us that our intuition isn’t always right about what’s going to help poor people. This important fact merits rehearsal.
The article is, of course, imperfect: to fit into a newspaper column the article oversimplifies, and it too often suggests without evidence that top politicians could change something or other if they were sufficiently commited to doing so.
That said, the article gets two big things right. First, it highlights the link between bad behavior and bad incentives, both for government bureaucrats and for poor citizens: “there’s neither an incentive to take responsibility nor repercussions for not doing so. People don’t do the right thing because it’s easy not to, and there’s no reward for doing it.” Second, it reminds us that the important forms of “corruption” or government failure might not be theft or bribes; they might be simply doing nothing.