With the dawn of Barack Obama’s presidency, more than a few pundits, academics, and, yes, journalists, are sounding off on policy prescriptions for his administration. In that chorus, the Asia Society, a leading think tank on Asia-US relations, released a report on strengthening India-US ties last week. There’s reason to believe that this document will resonate through the chatter.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The report was released under the chairmanship of former US ambassador to the United Nations Richard C. Holbrooke. Holbrooke, formerly a top adviser to Hillary Clinton, was a serious contender for the post of US secretary of state. While Obama nominated Clinton for the spot, Holbrooke is likely to wield influence on Clinton, and subsequently, US foreign policy.
There is speculation that Obama will select Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. No doubt, “alarmed” American eyes find his background in conflict resolution appealing, as he brokered the Dayton Accords on Bosnia. Yet Jammu and Kashmir is not the former Yugoslavia, and such a template would be deeply resented in India.
But the report may be revealing of a different type of policy—delivering public goods.
The Asia Society advocates public-private partnerships to tackle, bilaterally, “global challenges” such as climate change, HIV/AIDS and the livelihood of India’s rural poor.
As the document notes, the “greatest imperative” to future economic growth in India is “bringing those living at subsistence levels to more productive livelihoods”. Not increased infrastructure spending. Not greater trade liberalization.
These public goods are instrumentally beneficial for economic growth. Partnerships can address costly externalities as well as unleash the Indian people’s productive capacity more fully.
There has been much buzz lately about social entrepreneurship, but the private sector is indeed an essential ally to deliver public goods nimbly and efficiently. Government schools in rural India, for example, have notoriously terrible attainment rates. A glacial public sector cannot deliver alone where a voucher system can.
Public-private partnerships are imperative also for global problems such as climate change, which can be aided by technical expertise and research. No public sector can compete with the green-energy ventures coming out of Silicon Valley.
The Asia Society report rightly urges Obama “to leverage the creativity and resourcefulness that exist outside both governments”. This is certainly a step in the right direction.
Asia Society report: realistic or optimistic? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org