Bring Me the Medicine Man

This Wired piece manages to combine 4 of my favorite topics into a single article –

  • Who You Gonna Call? The Medicine Man – Lokesh “Mulama”

    Law and Economics
  • Indian Governance & Modernization
  • The Tech Boom
  • Goondas

The story? The crazy things Bangaloreans have to do to establish title to a piece of property.

Let’s say that you or your company wants to build a tech office building on a piece of land currently occupied by a house in Bangalore. Normally, you’d just pay the homeowner for the property and tear down the house to start constructing your office building.

The problem is that actual legal title to land is a pretty murky problem in India (as well as many other parts of the 3rd world). In other words, the guy you bought the land from might not have owned it in a legally clear manner to begin with. His father may have simply squatted on it, and later his eldest son decided to build a nicer house on his boyhood plot of land. Or perhaps his backyard garden – the one you planned on turning into a Nano parking lot for employees – actually belongs to his neighbor?

In India, this messy problem is made even worse by a couple of factors -

  • Lokesh’s Medicine Cabinet: Lawyers aren’t the only way to cut through red tape

    The tech boom now means that land is suddenly worth 100x more than before. So lotsa neighbors, distant relatives, and the like are far more incented to lay claim to the land than before
  • The famously clogged court system can literally take a decade to resolve disputes like this. So even a knowingly false claim – if it can stall progress – can be wielded as a negotiating tactic.
  • Title transactions, like many other government functions, are subject to a notoriously corrupt Indian bureaucracy

So given this morass, who you gonna call? Your local goonda

City officials–at least those who aren’t taking bribes–struggle to reconcile the gleaming promise of the information economy with the gritty reality of systemic corruption, a Byzantine justice system, and a criminal underworld more than willing to maim and murder its way into control of the city’s real estate market. As tech companies gobble up acreage, demand has pushed prices into the stratosphere. In 2001, office space near the center of town sold for $1 a square foot. Now it can go for $400 a square foot.

Some 85 percent of citizens occupy land illegally, according to Solomon Benjamin, a University of Toronto urban studies professor who specializes in Bangalore’s real estate market. Most land in the city, as in the rest of India, is bound by ancestral ties that go back hundreds of years. Little undisputed documentation exists.

…With the courts tied up in knots, gangsters offer to secure deeds in days rather than years. “Businesspeople like to do their business, but many times the system does not permit them to do it,” says Gopal Hosur, the city’s joint police commissioner. “Because of escalating land values, unscrupulous elements get involved. They use muscle power to take control of the land.” Some 40 percent of land transactions occur on the black market…Often the local authorities facilitate these deals. A World Bank report rated the Bangalore Development Authority, which oversees urban planning, as one of the most corrupt and inefficient institutions in India.

And there are some mighty interesting characters in this particular black market including Lokesh “Mulama” (pictured above) -

On the ground, violence is meted out by local toughs like “Mulama” Lokesh, whose first name means “medicine”–as in, if you have a problem, Lokesh has the cure. He’s an old-school gangster who happily shows off a bag full of curved swords called longs and cruel Chinese-made knives that he keeps in the trunk of his car.

Another, supposedly reformed, OG is now a billionaire –

[Police Inspector] Umesh points to a face on his screen: Muthappa Rai. Owing to a successful career as a mob don, Rai has a net worth measured in billions of dollars. Once he was among the most wanted men in India. Today he professes to have reformed, renouncing violence and founding a charitable organization. But he’s also in real estate.

“In a way, Rai is just like any other goonda in Bangalore,” Umesh says. Still, the mobster has made his mark on the city’s underworld. In the 1980s, land disputes were settled with fists, knives, swords, and bamboo canes. But after Rai’s arrival in the mid-’80s, guns became the weapon of preference.

<

p>Muthappa Rai gained his fortune by becoming a King Solomon of sorts for property — he finds ways to split the difference between potential claimants and the purchaser while keeping a cut for himself. And if anyone disagrees with the solution or if new claimants try to pop up, he’s got an army of Mulama’s to dispense, uh, medicine.

<

p>The story also highlights another example of the bottoms-up nature of capitalism and regulatory arbitrage. In lieu of reliable governmental property rights enforcement, the private sector has unfortuately been forced to come up with a solution to adjudicate and enforce property rights themselves. IBM, Cisco, and Wipro don’t necessarily want to deal with Muthappa Rai per se but he’s the best/only solution that’s sprung up from the ground beneath them.

<

p>The result in this case is a type of thuggery many in the West can hardly imagine because we’ve lived within a stable & liquid land property rights regime for generations. Clean titling is one of those behind the curtain things that silently secures the whole dang system. And we take it for granted that it’s efficiently maintained by an army of humble civil service title clerks around the country.

<

p>There are interesting fringe cases, of course – for ex., NYC mobsters supposedly offer their services to landlords who want to “encourage” tenants to leave rent controlled apartments (rent control is arguably a sort of legalized “de-titling / squatting” and thus encourages this extralegal tactic). In expansion-era America, by contrast, the problem was often the reverse – too much land and not enough claimants… hence homesteading.

However, we don’t have to look too far into Western history to find a similar “modernizing” transition where communal, pastoral land was titled and divvied up into private parcels. Britain’s well documented Enclosure riots were a similar transition which started in Medieval times. The result then as now was violence & mayhem as the first set of legally enforced land property rights were established. Once clear rights were in place (and in the Brit case, a relatively efficient court system was available to enforce transactions), Coasian bargaining had room to take place and a good chunk of the modern property world was born.

33 thoughts on “Bring Me the Medicine Man

  1. Your premise about the lack of title is accurate, but the way you describe it seems off. I don’t understand why you don’t fully describe this as a process of primitive accumulation (which you do at points).

    1)

    The story also highlights another example of the bottoms-up nature of capitalism and regulatory arbitrage. In lieu of reliable governmental property rights enforcement, the private sector has unfortuately been forced to come up with a solution to adjudicate and enforce property rights themselves.

    2)

    However, we don’t have to look too far into Western history to find a similar “modernizing” transition where communal, pastoral land was titled and divvied up into private parcels and the resulting violence / mayhem as the first set of legally enforced rights were established. Britain’s well documented Enclosure riots give us a taste of a quite similar transition which took place in that country starting in Medieval times. Once clear rights were in place (and in the Brit case, a relatively efficient court system was available to enforce transactions), Coasian bargaining had room to take place and a good chunk of the modern property world was born.

    Note use of passive voice. “been forced” “was titled” “was divvied up” What is the subject in these sentences? My argument is that the state and non-state actors (e.g. businesses, middle men, etc.) collude in the process of ‘land reform.’ I know firsthand that that happens in India (e.g. SEZs) and it’s hard to imagine it didn’t happen elsewhere (hence “political economy” for me, rather than “economics”).

    The questions from there for those interested in industrialization are about whether the state is adopting the RIGHT policies, lending support where it should, disciplining business where it should, etc. and if it’s not adopting the right industrial policies, what’s causing that (global factors, state-society relations, form of social organization(s), ideology, combinations of these, etc. are all explanations that have been offered for India and other South Asian countries).

    For those interested in “the people” (or less powerful segments thereof) the questions are about the amount of violence that comes with the process of national industrialization. This is probably more worth focusing upon, from my vantage point at least, because it’s probably ineradicable from the process – at least in this form of market / state creation – but it generally goes ununremarked upon by people who are interested in promoting industrialization (regardless of strategy). Consideration of what alternatives might exist has basically been absent – and it’s hard to imagine those alternatives and prioritizing costs benefits strategies classes groups in India.

  2. So, say a certain person of desi origins lived in a state in, say, the US, and say that, just hypothetically, this certain person wanted to sell their home at pre-housing bubble burst prices, could said person also benefit from the services of a Bangolorean goonda? I’m willing to pay airfare. I mean, “they”…they are willing to pay airfare.

  3. 1 · Dr Amonymous said

    Your premise about the lack of title is accurate, but the way you describe it seems off. I don’t understand why you don’t fully describe this as a process of primitive accumulation (which you do at points).

    Depends on what “this” is. The status quo (mobster-enforced property rights) is somewhat Marxist “primitive accumulation” in that property accrues to the ruthless more than anyone else. Even mobster-enforced rights, however, aren’t quite Marxist b/c it isn’t a linear path towards mobsters controlling all property.

    Once property has transitioned from being “owned” by a mobster to being sold & thus “owned” by IBM, it’s nearly impossible to imagine it reverting back to the primitive, untitled state. IBM, in the future, would generally rather sell it to Wipro than to another mobster. Mobsters would rather sell it to IBM than to each other (in part because IBM can draw upon global capital and thus pay more).

    And so, there is a clear transition point – once property rights are clear, this limited type of “primitive accumulation” breaks quickly. The world becomes dominated by nonviolent, voluntary transactions from that point on. (assuming the courts & cops uphold their end of property rights enforcement… a big IF in the Desh)

    Where the Marxist narrative especially breaks is that this latter world of clear property + voluntary transactions really does help the little guy become a capital holder (e.g. he can far more easily buy a house / apt in “clear title world” than he could in “mobster world”.)

    My argument is that the state and non-state actors (e.g. businesses, middle men, etc.) collude in the process of ‘land reform.’

    I agree wholeheartedly. If not for the hunger of fat salary tech jobs, property in Bangalore wouldn’t be straightened out as quickly as is happening now.

  4. What’s the problem here? Clearly, the party who values the property most highly will win the competition for the Medicine Man’s services–thus, the underlying property entitlement will go to the user who values it most highly–good outcome–net aggregate wealth will be maximized. ;-) (NB–I am being tongue in cheek here, although I doubt that Dr. Anonymous has the correct response (no disrespect, sir!)).

  5. That’s a pretty bad ass story–thanks Vinod. You had me at goondas.

    Vinod said:

    In expansion-era America, by contrast, the problem was often the reverse – too much land and not enough claimants… hence homesteading.

    I have some Native American friends who might take issue with that statement. They’d probably argue that the legitimate claimants had different ideas about “ownership,” but who really cares what they think? Might make for an interesting “thought experiment” to imagine yourself in their moccasins for a minute, though.

    1 · Dr Amonymous said

    Note use of passive voice. “been forced” “was titled” “was divvied up”

    Nice catch. I think it’s Coetzee who wrote this dope essay on the rhetorical strategy of using the passive voice to obscure agency. So we have Bush saying that “mistakes were made” to acknowledge dumb decisions while denying that he’s the one responsible. Likewise, Vinod’s statements imply an external inevitability–the action of indifferent “fate” or “god,” some outside force, in any case–to the “forcing,” “titling,” and “divvying” when we know that it is the oligarchs (gangsters, monarchs, politicians, whomever) who made and benefited from those decisions.

    3 · vinod said

    The world becomes dominated by nonviolent, voluntary transactions from that point on.

    I understand that you’re talking hypothetically about some yet-unrealized Capitalist Utopia, but let’s not obscure the fact that as it is practiced today, there are coercive and violent aspects of global capitalism. Structural adjustment is coercive, not voluntary. Murdering trade unionists is violent. Polluting people’s water and forcing them off their land to mine coal might as well be violent.

  6. 2 · Faiqa said

    I’m willing to pay airfare.

    Airfare? Try airfare + 25% of the sale price + miscellaneous expenses, sister. You think these goondas are volunteering their time?

  7. Dr.A, Harbeer,

    since you seem to be pulling once again from the “Save Poor People by Bringing Down Neoliberalism” chest, here’s a hypothetical: how would you choose to divvy up prime arable land in the desh? Would you hand IOUs to the poor farmers in the area or perhaps distribute some milk-sweets with the farmers’ names pressed into them? Just as we cannot, with any confidence, go into the past and equitably apportion property due to clan/caste/tribal considerations, we also cannot trust the land to be used by all the farmers concerned without the disputes and the (dogwhistle!) inequalities that inevitably arise from the limbo of no titling.

    my family still ‘has’ property in SL (on which there exists both private sector squatters and gov’t squatters) and under the British we also had enumerated rights associated with the use of that land…fast forward to post-83 lanka and those titles are gone, we have no way of reclaiming anything. The govt’s rationale is really the same as with any other piece of private property–if it exists, and the owners have no pull, we’ll take it.

    And on a lighter note, Weisberg was foolish for thinking he had even the rhetorical guns to make a convincing case and I wouldn’t (if I were concerned with strawmen like “capitalist utopia”) attempt to follow suit.

  8. 7 · Nayagan said

    how would you choose to divvy up prime arable land in the desh?

    I’d start by asking the farmers and people working the land–you know, like democracy.

  9. vinod, thanks for the heads up. very interesting. my brother is in the process of setting up a reit in bangalore, ouch.

  10. 5 · Harbeer said

    I understand that you’re talking hypothetically about some yet-unrealized Capitalist Utopia, but let’s not obscure the fact that as it is practiced today, there are coercive and violent aspects of global capitalism.

    The simple claim here is that property transactions in the US, W. Europe, Japan, etc. – places where title is reliably established – are predominantly non-violent. And similarly those in India are marked by far higher levels of violence. The evidence, if anything, is the exact opposite of your statement – less state corruption, more capitalism = less property transaction violence.

  11. I think Vinod is making a valid point about how things work today in the West vs. India. The historical underpinnings about how they got that way and who was screwed over in the past (tribal groups, English commoners, native americans, lowest-caste people) etc. is a whole different argument. The fact remains that in India it is hard dealing in real estate (buying, selling, renting, etc) due to exactly these factors that Vinod discusses. Admittedly, what complicates matters in the Indian context is that people with legitimate land-claims are being screwed over today too, it’s still a pretty active and ongoing process over there. But the corruption and mafia tactics certainly don’t help, and can not be seen as some kind of organic, street-level, instinctive Marxism at play.

  12. 8 · Harbeer said

    I’d start by asking the farmers and people working the land–you know, like democracy.

    wow, you get a smartie (the good british kind, not the tart amrikan trash).

    India is, theoretically at least, a democracy. As the wired article seems to indicate, goonda conglomerates have arisen to enforce disputes over property and have utilized violence or the threat of violence (battery vs. assault) to achieve an outcome determined by a closed bidding process. Surely, you are not arguing that the farmers in question having a legally enforceable and accessible avenue of enforcing their “worked-on” property rights is a bad thing?

  13. 12 · Nayagan said

    wow, you get a smartie (the good british kind, not the tart amrikan trash).

    Condescension does not prove your point. Don’t belittle me for asking questions, or at least be funny about it.

    India is, theoretically at least, a democracy.

    We’re using different definitions of democracy. I’m talking about the kind of democracy where every voice is heard. Even Turkmenistan holds “elections.”

  14. 10 • vinod said

    The simple claim here is that property transactions in the US, W. Europe, Japan, etc. – places where title is reliably established – are predominantly non-violent. And similarly those in India are marked by far higher levels of violence. The evidence, if anything, is the exact opposite of your statement – less state corruption, more capitalism = less property transaction violence.

    I disagree.

  15. Harbeer,

    There’s violence and there’s violence.

    A thug being hired by the corrupt to vacate by force honest landowners without state-supported documentation is the violence that Vinod is talking about.

    You’re talking about cases where there are proper documents, and the banker is using proper legal methods to evict home-owners who refuse to live up their end of the agreement. That’s not violence. That’s justice. Those home owners agreed to all this, with the assumption that house prices would go up forever, and they would get something for nothing. Now that the tide has turned, they want to change the rules in the middle of the game. The suicidal home-owners are the thugs in this case.

    M. Nam

  16. 15 · MoorNam said

    A thug being hired by the corrupt to vacate by force honest landowners without state-supported documentation is the violence that Vinod is talking about. You’re talking about cases where there are proper documents, and the banker is using proper legal methods to evict home-owners who refuse to live up their end of the agreement. That’s not violence. That’s justice.

    You’re implying that state-sponsored brutality is beyond reproach, as if they state is an indifferent agent of ideal, blind justice. I believe the state acts on behalf of the powerful. Whether you call it “justice” or “injustice” depends on which side of the baton you’re on.

    Now that the tide has turned, they want to change the rules in the middle of the game.

    You mean like all those guys on Wall Street who’ve been raving against “government handouts” until about a month ago? Those predatory lenders seeking bailouts because they’re too big to fail?

  17. You’re implying that state-sponsored brutality is beyond reproach..I believe the state acts on behalf of the powerful. Whether you call it “justice” or “injustice” depends on which side of the baton you’re on.

    In the example you provided, the state acts on behalf of the documentation that was signed by both parties. The state is simply enforcing a contract that was signed by all parties without any force involved. That’s the basic function of the state.

    Indeed, what Vinod is pointing to in India could happen here if populist politicians and activist mayors/judges misuse their power to prevent the enforcement of contracts (by extending foreclosures). Bankers will be forced to find local medicine men in Ohio, Florida etc to vacate homeowners. Is that what you want?

    You’re blaming the rain on wet streets.

    M. Nam

  18. I clicked on this because I thought the pic was a still from one of Rajnikanth’s movies! Am I the only one?

  19. 17 · MoorNam said

    The state is simply enforcing a contract that was signed by all parties without any force involved.

    Quite possibly deception was involved.

    what Vinod is pointing to in India could happen here

    What Vinod is pointing to in India could happen here if the gap between the rich and poor grows larger. Not to get all tin-foil hat on your or anything, but libertarians should be concerned about the Army preparing for martial law.

    Bankers will be forced to find local medicine men in Ohio, Florida etc to vacate homeowners.

    The police already serves that purpose by selectively enforcing laws. How many people are in jail for petty drug possession charges while the worst white-collar criminals walk away with their bonuses and official pardons (assuming that charges are ever levied against them) despite their walking away with so many people’s retirement funds?

    You’re equating “legal” with “moral” and not considering who makes, interprets, and enforces “the law.”

    That said, this guy Mutthapa Rai sounds like he’s just filling a vacuum where the legal system is failing.

  20. harbeer,

    no condescension intended (should’ve provided a link to the smarties I know and love) and I did not realize you were asking a question.

    Should ask, though, why is the ‘legal system failing’ ? (perhaps, just maybe, it’s because there’s no robust titling system in place and those who could enable rightful holders to win property rights are instead proclaiming bad-faith on the part of those propose such a titling system)

    As far as martial law in the states go, Libertarians are generally more concerned with every local PD assuming that they will always have to contend with such a state of affairs (and buying tanks, creating SWAT programs).

    To compare the distance between our middle-class, and their breaking points, and the current situation affecting all classes in India, and their relative breaking points, is ludicrous. India is already contending with the goonda titlists and the crowding out of poorer property holders–describing equivalence between a state which mostly does enforce contracts and a state in which it still remains a fairy-tale demeans the poor Indians’ struggle.

    And another thing, I don’t want to see a single person declare themselves an ally or uplifter or friend of the poor (as opposed to policy analyst) and not have actually experienced true poverty , especially desis in the US.

  21. After an extended break – am baccck.

    The pic is of a 1990′s movie star. Forget his name. he often acted as a fellow from the slums. It would be funny if it were not sad. Other Tamil movie buffs could probably pitch in.

  22. 3 · vinod said

    Once property has transitioned from being “owned” by a mobster to being sold & thus “owned” by IBM, it’s nearly impossible to imagine it reverting back to the primitive, untitled state. IBM, in the future, would generally rather sell it to Wipro than to another mobster. Mobsters would rather sell it to IBM than to each other (in part because IBM can draw upon global capital and thus pay more).

    Ah. Here is the thing. You’re actually describing the process of Marxist process of primitive accumulation. I don’t know what IBM does, but in the hotel industry in India, usually there’s a JV or another form of partnership formed. The foreign company provides branding expertise (e.g. Hilton) while the Indian company (in this case DLF) will do the dirty work. In fact, the problem of title and the absence of a title insurance market (which was starting to form when I was in India) was one of the reasons they probably did this. The question is whether the mobsters turn into capitalists (cue Ambani) rather than simply wealth luxury consumers, how the property rights norms are legally changed, etc., ONCE the facts on the ground are established.

    And so, there is a clear transition point – once property rights are clear, this limited type of “primitive accumulation” breaks quickly. The world becomes dominated by nonviolent, voluntary transactions from that point on. (assuming the courts & cops uphold their end of property rights enforcement… a big IF in the Desh)

    I disagree with the process you describe. ‘Development’ is a political (state building) and economic (formal market building) process that operates in fits and starts, and in India on a continuous basis. There isn’t a “And God created the Market…” moment – it happens gradually, and over time (at least in India, and I would venture in other places as well). But I do agree that over time more and more land (or other assets) get brought into the realm of “the market” and legitimized thereby as ownership (at which point people will appeal to ‘fair’ legal norms).

    Where the Marxist narrative especially breaks is that this latter world of clear property + voluntary transactions really does help the little guy become a capital holder (e.g. he can far more easily buy a house / apt in “clear title world” than he could in “mobster world”.)

    The fundamental place where the Marxist narrative does not break is that it recognizes that behind laws are social forces – so who is going to guarantee titling for the poor? Why will they do so? It seems contradictory that a state that would assist big companies like Reliance in gaining land (and creating “clean title” for them, which it frequently does – look into notification) – would simulteansouly support widespread property titles for the poor. It, in fact, would run counter to goals like agricultural mechanization and other aims. Though, like reservations, it would probably give sops and more where it’s necessary for legitimacy or political stability. But the point is – formal markets and legal market norms are backed up by social and political power, or else they cease to exist.

    My argument is that the state and non-state actors (e.g. businesses, middle men, etc.) collude in the process of ‘land reform.’

    I agree wholeheartedly. If not for the hunger of fat salary tech jobs, property in Bangalore wouldn’t be straightened out as quickly as is happening now.

  23. 2 · Faiqa said

    So, say a certain person of desi origins lived in a state in, say, the US, and say that, just hypothetically, this certain person wanted to sell their home at pre-housing bubble burst prices, could said person also benefit from the services of a Bangolorean goonda? I’m willing to pay airfare. I mean, “they”…they are willing to pay airfare.

    I know you’re joking :) , but it’s ripe for a good analogy actually. ultimately, this is how the state currently works in the U.S. right now. hence, massive bailout for bankers, shoot yourself for poor people. Substitute “police” and “military” and “indoctrination” and “government” for goonda and you’ve got your answer.

    What will really get you in a tizzy though, is when you realize that even many of the peopel who WILL give you benefits because you can make political claims on them (or others like you can alongside you) are actually doing it in the itnerests of maintaining this system which benefits them first and foremost. So they give us bread and ipods and we truly do enjoy these things and are happy about them – but it allows them to invest us in a system that exploits the f@#k out of us and much much much more out of poor people in South Asia and elsewhere.

  24. 7 · Nayagan said

    Dr.A, Harbeer, since you seem to be pulling once again from the “Save Poor People by Bringing Down Neoliberalism” chest, here’s a hypothetical: how would you choose to divvy up prime arable land in the desh? Would you hand IOUs to the poor farmers in the area or perhaps distribute some milk-sweets with the farmers’ names pressed into them? Just as we cannot, with any confidence, go into the past and equitably apportion property due to clan/caste/tribal considerations, we also cannot trust the land to be used by all the farmers concerned without the disputes and the (dogwhistle!) inequalities that inevitably arise from the limbo of no titling.

    Neoliberal ideology has done a fairly good job of bringing itself down and doesn’t need much of my help – largely because for countries like India it gives you a poor understanding of both how to go about industrialization and how to go about helping the poor. If you look at my original comment (#1), I laid out two separate questions – effective industrialization and effective solutions for the poor. I don’t have an answer for the second question – other than harbeers – to promote social organizing by the poor – substantive democracy. I think people should be able to choose with full knowledge before they support ideas like “industrialization” or “development” that are foisted upon them (Especially when the strategies for pursuing them don’t actually accomplish anything).

    But if you’re asking what my preferred solution is – either consultative industrialization if that’s possible – if it’s not, then turn the whole thing over to the creation of radical and fair democracy. The major pitfall is that you can capture political power at one level, but that leaves you economically, politically, and militarily vulnerable at another (say lke the left in west bengal and andhra and kerala were vulnerable to the centre or the way that the indian government could decide to be a radical democracy but this would still leave it in a global system). So this leads to things like reading wallerstein and understanding that hte appropriate unit of analysis is the global system – and in that sense, an increase in global democracy would be quite useful – starting with growing global governance AND redistribution (not aid). As a starter, we might start with noncitizen voting in the U.S. and the establishment of a global nonintereference regime on the part of more powerful countries (though i fail to see hwo this would work without substantive politica and economic and military equality among countries).

  25. Bengaluru is getting Mumbaized! :)

    We cheered the coming of the MNCs to transform nammuru into the silicon valley of India, but never showed much concern on the transformation of a laid back city into a highly polluted, overcrowded city with alternate justice systems.

    The laws and the law enforcement agencies in India are due for an overhaul.

  26. 15 · MoorNam said

    Now that the tide has turned, they want to change the rules in the middle of the game.

    By the way, it’s only a “game” to the bankers and traders. To all those people whose homes are being foreclosed it’s their whole life.

  27. 20 · Nayagan said

    no condescension intended (should’ve provided a link to the smarties I know and love) and I did not realize you were asking a question. Should ask, though, why is the ‘legal system failing’ ?

    That particular comment may not have asked a question in and of itself, but I mean that I’m asking questions in a broader sense. I’m asking you to question the assumptions you’re making, the assumptions this system is built upon, and I’m asking if there are other alternatives you may not be considering. I’m also questioning “magic bullet” solutions that are assumed to work across the board in very different situations.

    I don’t want to answer your question from #7. I refer that question back to the stakeholders, as I said in #8 because I agree with your assertion (last line of #20) that the rest of us are just armchair quarterbacks.

  28. 22 · Dr Amonymous said

    The fundamental place where the Marxist narrative does not break is that it recognizes that behind laws are social forces – so who is going to guarantee titling for the poor? Why will they do so?

    There are at least 3 schools of thought on the causality here -

    1) it’s reverse causality — e.g. titling / property rights for the poor are maintained by the rich in order to prevent the poor from agitating for Marxism and/or other types of unrest. This is a sort of Rawlsian argument and you can see it in some of the Tudor response to enclosure riots. Many assert that the GOP’s interest in overly cheap mortgages was rooted in the maxim that “no homeowner is a communist.”

    2) natural rights — one variant of this arg is that because people own themselves, and because a primary determinant of the value of property is the time / energy invested by people (for ex., Bangalore’s $1 –> $400/sqft climb in 10 yrs)… a natural extension of my claim to self is my claim to stuff I’ve created.

    3) economic efficiency — like #1, this is an “effects”/”consequences” style argument rather than an “intrinsic” one (natural rights are one such example of an “intrinsic” arg). Basically, the entire economy works better if people know what they own and are reasonably certain that they can continue to own it into the future.

    Consequently, all people who currently own something today or aspire to own something tomorrow need some belief that property titles are durable and not entirely at the whim of the polity. If they can take one guy’s house, they can take mine and thus I shouldn’t work so hard to maintain it. BUT, Economic efficiency is dependent upon everyone feeling an incentive to work hard and so property rights on houses (in this case) are in everyone’s incentive to maintain.

  29. I should add… personally, I’m mostly in bucket #3 (property rights stem from the desire for economic efficiency). They’re mostly evolved ground up rather than imposed / “intelligently designed” top down. Although there are a lot of benefits from them being recognized in a top down manner, that recognition isn’t necessary for there to be some notion of property.

    The Wired article here is a great example of both the bottoms up emergence as well as the gains to be had if there were more top down recognition.

  30. 27 · Harbeer said

    20 · Nayagan said
    no condescension intended (should’ve provided a link to the smarties I know and love) and I did not realize you were asking a question.
    Should ask, though, why is the ‘legal system failing’ ? That particular comment may not have asked a question in and of itself, but I mean that I’m asking questions in a broader sense. I’m asking you to question the assumptions you’re making, the assumptions this system is built upon, and I’m asking if there are other alternatives you may not be considering. I’m also questioning “magic bullet” solutions that are assumed to work across the board in very different situations. I don’t want to answer your question from #7. I refer that question back to the stakeholders, as I said in #8 because I agree with your assertion (last line of #20) that the rest of us are just armchair quarterbacks.

    I’ve never thought of a ‘magic bullet’ when this topic comes up–too many assume that because one favors many market-based solutions that one must therefore think an abstract concept is an all-purpose curative. If you’re looking for smack-downs of economists trying to develop their own single models of ‘why all of this happened’ do you know that they have been roundly scolded in an informative and ad-hominem-free way by Arnold Kling (not Naomi Klein, Weisberg or any of the others who profess to know all unlearned knowledge), http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/10/economists_pretending_to_have_knowledge.html

    as for armchair quarterbacks, i agree that it applies to me in the context of Indian poverty, but as far as American poverty goes…i was on the field for 15 years and didn’t have so much as single desi in the stadium with me, so watch the inferences carefully.

  31. 28 · vinod said

    3) economic efficiency — like #1, this is an “effects”/”consequences” style argument rather than an “intrinsic” one (natural rights are one such example of an “intrinsic” arg). Basically, the entire economy works better if people know what they own and are reasonably certain that they can continue to own it into the future. Consequently, all people who currently own something today or *aspire* to own something tomorrow need some belief that property titles are durable and not entirely at the whim of the polity. If they can take one guy’s house, they can take mine and thus I shouldn’t work so hard to maintain it. BUT, Economic efficiency is dependent upon everyone feeling an incentive to work hard and so property rights on houses (in this case) are in everyone’s incentive to maintain.

    The process you describe here, imo, represents a false picture of “the polity” in India (or for that matter Pakistan and Bangladesh). The state is much weaker than you allow for in that it cannot actually strip property rights from anyone and everyone. In both the natural law argument and the efficiency argument, there’s an underlying conception of universalism. And while I do agree that there are universal characteristics that people share, the capitalist mindset towards property in the form that you envision is not necessarily one of them, particularly given that for all the influence of British colonial ideologies over the social world’s shape today, the colonial and postindependence tradition of state direction/control of the economy is very different from what liberal ideology would have us think about the state “showering its blessings upon all alike” or whatever it was that Andrew Jackson said. And unlike in South Korea, where Japanese colonialism basically “wiped” society out in terms of resistance to their agenda, in South Asia, the British always felt a bit precarious and balanced different forces against each other, and the state never was as directly authoritarian in method.As a result, because of the different histories and the different types of political economy arrangements you can have, “the market” will look different and consequently the ways in which people secure their rents will look different as well.

    Further, your argument doesn’t work because if what you were saying were a good description of the macro, then the informal market would generate the legal norms that the formal market does. But intuitively, it doesn’t make sense to me, anyway, that people would all of a sudden develop a sense of collective order and self-interest that was based on stable capitalist property arrangemetns rather than some other form of stable arrangements of power. In other words, whether you think people are naturally capitalist or naturally communist or naturally anything, the fact doesn’t change that no one has solved the class action problem in India and therefore India is not a social democracy.

    I think you won’t see capitalist land rights in India of the kind you envision unless you have a radical land reform movement that will actually break the agricultural power base (whihc will probbaly be framed in terms of Maoist or some such thing…e.g. the China/South Korea path). But people have postulated different ways this might happen, and incrementalism seems the way of the Indian polity, rather than statism, for the reasons mentioned above or others. Regardless, I think this is what development is – at least in India – it’s a constant state of ‘becoming’ not a state of being. (though one might argue that that’s what all capitalism is, just less visibly so in hegemonic places like Europe, and unlike Marx, we should note that there isn’t a teleologic end, if we can help ourselves :) .

  32. Interesting post and discussion.

    “There are interesting fringe cases, of course”… ” “modernizing” transition where communal, pastoral land was titled and divvied up into private parcels.”

    I think things have gone to the fringe a little too conveniently in many narratives… And it is not always communal pastoral land that was brought into the wonderful titling system run by the humble title clerks. Some links (I only have actual weblinks for the first one) that might be interest —

    Banished (adverse possession etc) — http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/banished/index.html

    The discovery doctrine — I had also listened a few months back to an interview on radio with a law professor from either UT Austin or University of Houston that had some discussion about the Discovery Doctrine established in Johnson v. M’Intosh case and its implications. There was also some some discussion in that interview about the book “Conquest by Law”

    And, any thoughts if the treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand might also not fit into modernizing transition storyline?