Sabhas: Powering the Indian Revolution (Part 5)

Political Entrepreneurs

Before we get to the details of the what (Sabhas), we need to understand the who. Change does not just happen automatically, it has to be brought about by people. Who are these change agents? The answer: political entrepreneurs.

Write Wayne A. Leighton and Edward J. López in their book, “Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers: The Economic Engine of Political Change”:

By definition, the status quo is all around us, and inertia is tremendously powerful. When it does happen, when the right elements come together at the right time and place and overwhelm the status quo, it is because special people make it happen. We call them political entrepreneurs.

…In the Schumpeterian vision, the entrepreneur is someone who disequilibrates, who disrupts, who destroys. These are not concepts we normally associate with value creation, but on net that’s ultimately what happens. In the seeds of destruction something new and more valuable emerges. Schumpeter calls this process “creative destruction.”

Entrepreneurship is what gives life to a market economy. It plays just as important a role in political change…Like entrepreneurs in markets, political entrepreneurs also must decide where to invest time, talent, and treasure to effectuate the kind of political change they believe will create the most value. Both economic and political entrepreneurs can create value through peaceful, cooperative behavior…Political entrepreneurship focuses on what are rather abstract concepts—the ideas, institutions, and incentives in a society that must be changed to create value for others. Whereas an entrepreneur in the market may offer the world the next iPhone, a value-creating political entrepreneur offers new ideas, or new institutions that implement those ideas.

Ideas become powerful not simply because they are conceived by academic scribblers and then filtered into society by intellectuals but because political entrepreneurs discover ways to implement those ideas into society’s shared institutions and ultimately change the incentives that drive human behavior.

The challenge, then, is for political entrepreneurs to look for and act on loose spots in the nexus of ideas, institutions, and incentives. Just as entrepreneurs in the market improve the human condition by seeing and acting on opportunities to meet the needs of consumers, so political entrepreneurs improve the human condition by seeing and acting on opportunities to promote ideas, institutions, and incentives that improve the rules of politics toward better outcomes in society: a society with justice; a society that produces wealth that enhances the lives of its members; a society that allows its members to live as they choose to live.

We all have the potential to be political entrepreneurs: perhaps as the academic who conceives a better idea; perhaps as secondhand dealers who relay ideas to the world through brilliant prose, powerful speech, or some other media; perhaps as a political reformer—yes, working among the madmen—creating or reforming institutions that improve millions of lives.

Whatever path we take as political entrepreneurs, each of us is more likely to succeed if we recognize not only the revolutionary but also the evolutionary nature of political change. In short, improving the human condition should start with recognizing that people respond to incentives, that incentives are part of institutions that neither rise nor fall overnight, and that the slow emergence of both good and bad ideas can change these institutions and thus have an enduring impact on the human condition. Tyranny or freedom. Poverty or wealth. War or peace. Ideas, indeed, can have consequences.

What the Indian political revolution needs are ideas and solutions that can facilitate the rise of political entrepreneurs. One such example is Sabhas. A related question to ask is: what are the incentives that will drive political entrepreneurs? A short answer: the opportunity to be part of a future government that transforms the lives of a billion Indians, an opportunity to shape the future rather than be a bystander and watch government after government inflict misery, an opportunity to lead rather than be led.

Tomorrow: Part 6

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.