In 1958, Chairman Mao ordered that that all sparrows over China should be put to death. It was hailed as a necessary step by a strong leader.Farmers were suffering because sparrows tended to eat their grain seeds. Thus began The Great Sparrow Campaign. A countless number of sparrows were indeed wiped out -but there were unintended consequences. Sparrows ate locusts, and once the balance in the ecosystem changed, locusts proliferated and destroyed China’s crops. There was famine, hunger, starvation: no less than 45 million people died in the three years following Mao’s orders.At the start, Mao exhorted them to bear with the inconvenience. But then the pain piled up.
Mao’s infamous Great Leap Forward included plenty of edicts besides the death warrant to sparrows.They all stemmed from the delusion that the leader of a country could redesign an entire society to conform to a master plan. The 20th century is full of cautionary tales that warn against such delusion, such as the communism of Mao and Stalin, and the fascism of Hitler.Yet, we do not learn.
Narendra Modi’s demonetisation of old 1000 and 500 rupee notes is one such folly, a blunder in every imaginable way. It doesn’t achieve its intended purpose. And its unintended consequences could devastate the lives of the poor, and cripple our economy
Corruption and black money are a consequence of big government, of one set of individuals having discretionary powers over the actions of others. If Modi was serious about tackling black money, he’d bring about institutional changes that would take us towards the minimum government he had promised in his 2014 campaign. Instead, government keeps getting bigger, controlling more and more of our lives. More government = more corruption.