People in authority have to tolerate criticism and suppressing criticism is a sure-fire recipe for policy mistakes, former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan said Monday. In an essay on LinkedIn, Rajan said governments that suppress public criticism do themselves a gross disservice.
“People in authority have to tolerate criticism. Undoubtedly, some of the criticism, including in the press, is ill-informed, motivated, and descends into ad-hominem personal attacks. I have certainly had my share of those in past jobs. However, suppressing criticism is a sure-fire recipe for policy mistakes. If every critic gets a phone call from a government functionary asking them to back off, or gets targeted by the ruling party’s troll army, many will tone down their criticism. The government will then live in a pleasant make-believe environment, until the harsh truth can no longer be denied,” Rajan wrote in his essay.
He added that constant criticism allows periodic course corrections to policy, and public criticism indeed gives government bureaucrats the room to speak truth to their political masters. “Conversely, fulsome public praise crowds out the possibility that the government can be self-critical – even a whisper of dissent stands out. Governments that suppress public criticism do themselves a gross disservice.”
He said understanding history is good but using history to thump our own chest reflects great insecurity. “Understanding our history is, obviously, a good thing, but using history to thump our own chest reflects great insecurity and can even be counterproductive. It does nothing for enhancing our current capabilities. It was our poverty in the past and continuing shortcomings in our still-developing academic, corporate, and government research systems that keep us from the frontier.”
In his introductory note for the essay, Rajan — currently teaching at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business — referred to the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, as well as recalled jurist Nani Palkhivala, whose birth centenary is approaching. “At times like the present ones, we must remember that what makes India strong is its diversity, debate, and tolerance. What makes it weak is narrow mindedness, obscurantism, and divisiveness,” he wrote.
Rajan also mentioned the suspicion for foreign ideas and foreigners as one of the concerns. “In the “not invented here” syndrome lies stagnation. We cannot be so insecure that we believe allowing foreign competition will demolish our culture, our ideas, and our firms. Indeed, it is by erecting protective walls that we have always fallen behind, making us susceptible to total colonisation. There is no need for us to be slaves to anything foreign, but it is best that we examine everything, domestic or foreign, dispassionately, and see what is worth keeping. It is only then that we will have a dynamic society, adapting to the needs of the times,” he said.