Barbarous Legislation, Dysfunctional Governments and What to Do

Truck Driver’s Insurance in Nepal explains why a Nepali truck driver who injures someone goes on to kill them.  Sasi Kala commented: “This is one of the most barbaric insurances I’ve ever known” and asked: “Can we do something to change this madness?”  That led me to answer a bigger question; why should Americans be interested?

In 2006 when the civil war ended, the monarchy fell and several long visits had given me a sense of Nepal’s economic situation, I thought: “I have decades of experience in enterprise strategy as a consultant and executive, I studied it at Harvard Business School, I should be able to see a strategy for Nepal”.   I wasn’t expecting it to be helpful but if I came up with something compelling I’d presumably have tried to get it heard.  What happened is, I realized I was trying to answer the wrong question.  It’s not just that there’s so little to build on in Nepal, it now has neither government nor leader.

Distressingly little has changed in the months since I last posted about Nepal’s political situation, or even in the seven years since 2006.  The “movers and shakers who never move and rarely shake” continue only to fulminate.  The Constituent Assembly elected to draft a new Constitution within two years that failed to finish in four still has not been replaced so there is still no progress on the Constitution, and no government or leader.

An alliance of 33 parties is protesting against a proposed election to be held in November.  They say they will not participate.  Party leaders who say they will participate are resisting setting an election date until they have their alliances nailed down.  The caretaker government headed by the Chief Justice is not empowered to do anything, which suits the politicians all too well.  Meanwhile, daily life gets steadily worse for most everyone else.

The truck driver’s insurance is just one manifestation of a much greater madness.  There’s little we can do until that’s healed.  We can’t expedite the election to complete the Constitution, or its drafting, or the eventual election of a government.  All we can do in the meantime is, if we have contacts there, help them understand what should be in the new Constitution and what legislation the new government should establish.  That’s worth doing.

The existing truck driver insurance seems normal to Nepalis because it’s always been that way.   Justice always has been subordinate to the Executive in Nepal so its government officials always have been above the law and that, too, seems normal.  We’ve lived over two centuries with the Constitution of a secular republic and a democratically elected government, so we can more easily see some things Nepalis should change.

But what if we have no contacts in Nepal?  Why should we be interested in Nepalis’ situation, anyway?  Because it illustrates where we’re heading.

Nepal has dramatically inadequate infrastructure of every kind because it has no government.  That’s a fundamental problem.  If there’s no electricity 14 hours a day, there can be no wealth-producing enterprises with jobs for educated people.  Fully a quarter of Nepal’s GDP is money sent home by Nepalis doing manual work overseas.  “What’s the point of educating our children if there are no jobs for them?” one of my Nepali friends asks: “They’ll either leave us behind or make another war.”

Because the US government used to be effective, we have electricity, road and rail networks, school systems and the other services necessary for a strong society.  It’s easy to start a business here and grow it quickly to any size.  But our infrastructure that makes such things possible is now, day by day and year by year growing weaker.  Why?  Because our government no longer invests effectively for the future of our economy and society.

Why do we behave as if that’s OK?  Because the results are accumulating at a pace we don’t notice.  It’s like not changing the oil in a truck.  The wise trucker does that and other maintenance and at the appropriate time gets a new and better truck.  He doesn’t just drive the one he inherited into the ground.  Like Nepalis, we’re accustomed to what our government is failing to do.

We say government should get out of the way of business.  Nepal shows business is impossible without government.  It’s not just that you can’t operate a business without electricity and you can’t access markets if there’s no railroad or highways.  It’s not even worth trying if there’s no legal protection.  Over the last few years I’ve explored with Nepali friends half a dozen business ideas that could have produced worthwhile products, profits and employment.  They’d all be easy to do here.  Not one is viable there.  There’s so much missing and what is present is undependable.

I like business.  I had fun and satisfaction doing it for forty years.  But I have no experience in government and little understanding of how it works.  That’s a problem.  We all have biases about how much of what kinds of things government should do.  Bias is unavoidable but ignorance is not.  We all should form not just opinions but educated and actionable ideas about government, test them against ones that don’t match our biases, think them through, then work to get them established.

The goal of my original blog and this one was at first just to help me identify and define what would be better and worse.  That is necessary but it no longer feels sufficient.  We must stop our government and future from getting worse, and have our government do what it must for a better future.

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