Why Delhi Reminds Me of Washington

If getting good people in the right jobs counts for something, the outlook for India has improved in the past several days. It certainly needs to. The new finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, is a forceful economic liberalizer of long standing. And the prime minister's new adviser, Raghuram Rajan--formerly a chief economist at the IMF, well known in America thanks to a couple of outstanding books--is one of the most insightful economic-policy scholars I can think of. Chidambaram's first statement after being reinstalled in the finance job was well received by investors and business leaders. They've been getting very gloomy about India's prospects--a mood that the recent blackouts (which left 650m people without power) seemed to justify, and then some.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh is a celebrated economic reformer in his own right, of course: a main designer of the reforms of the early 1990s which first put India on the convergence track. He's been struggling lately and people have been saying he's past it, but the problem wasn't lack of drive, still less lack of economics expertise. It was politics--and the new appointments don't make that go away.

The parallel may seem outlandish but these days watching Delhi reminds me of Washington. A political class devoted not to results but to grubbing for money and quarreling for its own sake. A system run through with corruption, especially of the intellectual kind. An endless self-indulgent cacophony of dispute, signifying nothing and yielding nothing. It's a certain kind of politics, taken to its logical conclusion. I don't know if Singh, Chidambaram and Rajan really belong in the thick of all that, but for India's sake I wish them well.

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