(More) Unintended Lessons from Pakistan: Water, Theocracy, and Planning

This is a brilliant piece on the Ramadan-related deaths in Karachi, now numbering around 1,000.

Karachi is known for killing its residents, but weather had never been its weapon of choice.

Besides illuminating the politics of water, Hanif manages to clarify two further issues: the lethal irrationality of the idea of an Islamic State empowered to dictate what people can eat and drink and when, and the unintended consequences of the absence of centralized urban planning in a rapidly-developing “Third World” city.

The first point ought to be an object lesson to those who think that an Islamic State was or is needed on the Indian subcontinent to keep the Muslims of the subcontinent safe from a “Hindu Raj”: there’s no Hindu Raj in Pakistan and yet Muslims are dying by the droves in Karachi, but not in Delhi, Agra, or Lucknow. Faisal Devji’s discussion of the logic of Pakistani nationalism (and the comparison back to Zionism) is brilliant:

The second point ought to be an object lesson to those under Hayek’s spell and in the grips of the belief that centralized government planning is a discredited socialist idea that “we” can easily dispense with:

The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.

How does Hayek know that? The claim is an instance of the very knowledge whose existence he denies: it’s a generalization involving a series of integrated claims, offered about rational economic orders and their epistemic determinants as such, not a series of dispersed bits of “frequently contradictory” claims possessed by separate individuals. In any case, Hayek never considers the possibility that there are times when an agent or entity needs to integrate the dispersed bits of knowledge that others possess, since knowledge in its integrated form sometimes has greater practical value than knowledge in dispersed and disintegrated form. What if riparian law is one of them?

Without government protection of the water supply, there’s not a natural drop of water to drink, and without government “planning,” there’s no government protection of the water supply. Even if you wanted to privatize all the water in Pakistan, you’d need to do it under the rule of law, ensuring at a minimum that the privatized water was safe to drink. And that would require reliance on the dreaded activity, “planning.” In addition, Pakistan has water disputes with India, disputes that require bilateral negotiations for their resolution–which requires yet more government planning.

I suppose you could wish this all away by invoking the hopes and dreams of “ideal theory,” but ideal theory has to make some contact with actually-existing reality in order to make a claim on our credence. As it stands, a great deal of it does neither.

6 thoughts on “(More) Unintended Lessons from Pakistan: Water, Theocracy, and Planning

    • I think you need government planning across the board. It just seems more obvious (to me) that you need it when it comes to urban design and water law than you do elsewhere (mostly because the particular example I’m discussing happens to drive it home), but you need it everywhere.

      Here is the rationale: Property rights need protection across the board in an economy. In other words, wherever there are property rights, they need protection. The protection they need requires the rule of law, but the rule of law requires government planning. You can’t protect rights without plans for the protection of rights. That’s what the interaction of law and public policy is. So you need government planning of the economy.

      That only sounds paradoxical to contemporary libertarian ears because contemporary libertarians have been brainwashed by Hayek into thinking that “government planning” is an inherently evil socialist idea, and that “spontaneous orders” can be an effective substitute for planning. They’ve also been convinced by Rothbardian anarchists into thinking that we don’t need government to enforce the rule of law. Put those two claims aside, and the need for government planning becomes an obvious, common-sensical observation.

      Most non-Hayekian non-Rothbardian people would agree that we need police departments. Should the criminal code not be planned? Should the criminal courts not plan to adjudicate cases? Should police departments not have plans to enforce the law? I think the answers are obvious. Planning is required there. But if government planning is required for the effectuation of the criminal code, it’s also required for tort and contract law. The more complicated the category of law, the more planning it requires.

      Unlike a lot of libertarians, I’m not using “government planning” as shorthand for “government forcibly dictating what actions people should perform in violation of those people’s rights.” That’s a tendentious, counter-intuitive idea of a “plan.” In ordinary speech, we don’t assume that every plan is rights violative. Neither is every government plan.

      Liked by 1 person

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