Hooray for the Indian Press!

Since childhood, during visits to India, I had observed that bribes must be paid to get things done there. Indians frequently and casually discussed the costs (generally higher) and benefits (availability, timely delivery, and even quality) of black market goods and services in comparison to their government-sanctioned counterparts.

My sympathies for these parallel economies went back and forth as I grew and learned more. Initially, I was mortified that illegal bribery was rampant. Then, seeing that the black market was free and was successfully allowing entrepreneurs to provide goods and services to those who needed them, I developed contempt for price controls and government monopolies, remnants of Nehru’s Socialist “permit raj.” (In an act of defiance against an incompetent, inefficient, and corrupt government, I went as far as to buy movie tickets from a scalper.) Finally, I realized that without a modicum of transparent regulation, the black market would inevitably be taken over by organized crime, meaning my money was not helping the enterprising scalper, but the gang who likely shook him down.

I concluded that India needed journalists in the tradition of the muckrakers, who at the dawn of the 20th century exposed corruption and fraud in US government and business. Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle , was the most famous one. Popular response to their writings did much to eliminate and inhibit corruption.

So, I was happy to hear a story on Marketplace exposing police corruption and thrilled to hear the follow-up on Morning Edition about Indian news organizations competing to expose corruption. (The latter report does a good job balancing the benefits of this phenomenon against the potential for abuses like entrapment and invasion of privacy.)

This certainly seems to be an effective way to prevent and punish injustice, especially injustice against the poor and powerless. Three cheers: for limited government, for freedom of the press, and for free enterprise!

Tags: Business, Philosophy, Politics

Updated at: 15 December 2005 12:12 AM

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