A news agency reported earlier this week that a man named Shyam Valmiki was arrested for being the mastermind of an unusual scam—he ran a parallel government in the town of Jhansi.
This parallel government was not of the type run by mafia dons in the badlands of Uttar Pradesh. Valmiki set up a faux government office and provided services such as sweeping streets. He also collected fees (or taxes) and employed some 20 people.
Now, this raises some very interesting issues. First, the fact that Valmiki actually took the trouble to run his little operation means that providing municipal services, or at least some of them, can be a profitable activity. You wouldn’t guess by looking at the budget statements of our city administrations.
Second, people seemed to have had no qualms about paying for the services that Valmiki offered. How does that square up with the tired argument against user fees—that citizens will not pay for public goods such as clean streets?
Sometimes even a crook can tell us a lot.