Thus, this is no reason alone to shun them and to deny ourselves of what might be valuable experiences and stories from around the world, just as their hyped pedigree is no reason alone to pick them automatically. Also, it matters very little if the process is informal, formal or somewhere in-between. If the Planning Commission wants to become relevant, much more than a parking slot for out-of-favour bureaucrats or waiting-to-join-IMF economists, then the trick is to tap a wide range of people and institutions for thoughts and perspectives. And in not taking them too seriously in the first place.
It is rather amazing how in India we still treat so-called experts with veneration, despite the lessons we should have learnt from the Enron fiasco (consulting and auditing firms like Mckinsey and Arthur Anderson provided the credibility and gushing press reviews to what was clearly such a huge scam). Just in case some readers are not aware, here are some notable instances where experts have been proven wrong:
The Institute for Public Accuracy, a Washington-based think-tank, has put out an interesting research article called Harvards Best and Brightest Aided Russias Economic Ruin. This article shows how the Harvard Institute for International Developments Russia project (HIID), which played a major role in Russian reforms and advised the Russian government on privatisation, unwittingly facilitated wealth confiscation rather than wealth creation. Russian privatisation, which had substantial input from HIID economists, has fostered the concentration of property in a few and very dubious Russian hands. More than that, many HIID economists were subsequently found to have used their positions and inside knowledge to profit from investments in Russia.
If the Commission wants to be relevant, it should tap a wider range of people
Its amazing how we still treat so-called experts with veneration
For those who think that global consulting firms know best, here is an interesting query: What is common between Southland Corporation (the ex-owner of 7-11 stores), Swissair and Sears One, these were highly successful businesses once that later filed for bankruptcy. Second, their demise was brought on by radical changes suggested by Mckinsey.
And of course, this gem from the head of Decca Recording Company when they rejected the Beatles in 1962...We dont like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. That was one costly misjudgement.
These are just a few of the thousands of examples out there, both in India and abroad. The clear lesson here is that experts are often wrong, and sometimes big time, even though they go around pretending otherwise. Yes, by all means India should have a genuinely dynamic and wide policy debate and this debate should include many voices, but the country also needs to develop a healthy disrespect for either public claims or the printed word or sophisticated mannerisms.
The author is editor of India Focus