Berkley Forum

The Need for Policy Makers with a Sense of Justice

Responding to Human Behavior, Catholic Social Thought, and Global Development

"In developing countries where the fight for development is the most stark, our emotions get the better of our reason." 

This statement was my greatest takeaway from Dr. Basu’s lecture. Having grown up in India, graduated with a political science degree,  and closely followed domestic news, it is clear that the Indian government’s stand on various issues often reveals the ideology and the emotions of the ruling party. With clear polarization of political ideas exhibited by the multiple political parties in India, it is true that policy changes are reflected in the changes of political parties. This has become a cause for concern as it has led to a deeper disparity in sociocultural aspects as well as economic relations.

India's domestic politics have been changing. The ruling party has switched after a decade, and India is becoming more favorable towards corporate and industrial interests, as seen through the dismantling of the Planning Commission to form the Niti Aayog, reform of labor laws, dilution of the Land Acquisition legislation much to the dismay of farmers and activists, and atrocities committed against religious minorities.

Rationality, as Dr. Basu rightly clarified, is not just everything one does. Rather, it is decision-making based on alternatives, adding that it consists of the alternatives that the decision maker chooses to consider which are evaluated based on various criteria. Here a point needs to be made on "bounded rationality" wherein the resources - physical, intellectual, temporal, economic etc., limit the decision maker's alternatives. While it is not difficult for a clever pessimist to portray that the options are limited, it becomes dangerous when an optimist speaks against a mighty radical government.

Many nations have their own assumptions underlying their theory of rationality. As seen in examples from India, decisions emanating from rational decisions built on political agendas continue to hurt the vulnerable. Similarly, many other countries show economic growth, but development of the poor has been marginal. There is a need for a paradigm shift in policymakers’ focus, from acting within institutional and self-created constraints, to exploring possibilities of solving national and global problems by first understanding human nature and then making decisions that challenge perverted or selfish human nature, which necessitates strong political will. Also, unless one views the common good as the uplifting of minorities, all personal biases must be kept aside.

The following excerpts from Gaudium et Spes express similar thoughts to those of Dr. Basu’s- “The political community and public authority are founded on human nature and hence belong to the order designed by God, even though the choice of a political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free will of citizens.” And: “There is no better way to establish political life on a truly human basis than by fostering an inward sense of justice and kindliness, and of service to the common good, and by strengthening basic convictions as to the true nature of the political community and the aim, right exercise, and sphere of action of public authority.”

Therefore the call to reflection even from Catholic social teaching urges one's policy choices regarding socioeconomic and cultural issues to be based on "human nature." At the same time we also need to avoid treading the path of an oppressive or anthropocentric nature of development if human nature is perverse. This also helps us recall Dr. Jim Kim’s lecture on "Climate Change and the Global Future of Development," thus turning our attention to the need for nations and institutions to come up with ways to balance these paradoxical ideas and redefine rationality.
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