New York: Oklahoma’s Republican Senator Tom Coburn released his annual Wastebook this week and singled out an esoteric economics study on Indian politicians as an example of government waste and profligacy.
In September this year, the National Science Foundation, funded by the US government, awarded $425,642 towards a study provisionally titled Information and Governance: Experimental Evidence from India. The grant will help MIT economics professor Abhijit Banerjee, who is the author of Poor Economics and Rohini Pande, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, study the role of information in improving the governance of a low-income democracy like India.
To generate empirical evidence, the researchers will follow citizens and officials for two years in Delhi, and examine the impact of information on local government performance.
Some of the other projects listed as wasteful in Coburn’s book are $113,227 for a video game preservation centre in New York, $10 million for a remake of “Sesame Street” for Pakistan, $765,828 to subsidise a “pancakes for yuppies” program in Washington, DC, and $764,825 to study how college students use mobile devices for social networking.
Coburn didn’t believe it was a federal government priority to fund the India study or any of the projects he had listed in Wastebook when America was running a $15 trillion debt and its entitlement programs were on the brink of insolvency.
“It is unclear why India, one of largest nations in the world, would be interested in taking instructions from the US on how to improve its political culture,” Coburn wrote in Wastebook 2011: A Guide to Some of the Most Wasteful and Low Priority Government Spending of 2011.
“With record-low approval ratings for US lawmakers, it is unclear why taxpayers are paying for this type of project in another country,” Coburn added.
Coburn did have a point about US politicians being as deeply unloved as their Indian counterparts, but Washington City Paper commented snidely that Coburn, whose nickname is “Dr No,” generally doesn’t want to spend any money on anything — no matter how “underserved” it really is.
Not surprisingly then, Coburn was also mad that American tax dollars were used to subsidise a popular reality television show in India called Let’s Design where aspiring designers create fashionable outfits using cotton. The winners get a trip to Paris to meet international designers. And the American taxpayer helps foot the bill.
The show, now in its third season, is the creation of the Cotton Council International, a trade association representing the US cotton industry. The council received $20.3 million in matching funds last year under a United States Agriculture Department program to promote and advertise products abroad.
Honestly, why spend dollars promoting cotton in India where cotton production consistently outpaces domestic demand?
Allen A Terhaar, executive director of the Cotton Council told The New York Times one reason was to help “keep the price of cotton high and to promote cotton over synthetic materials.” The second reason was to create a “future market” for American exports.
“Right now, India produces enough cotton for its domestic consumption,” Terhaar told The New York Times. “But as the textile industry there grows and as the middle class expands, there’s going to be a demand for more cotton, and it will be more than they are able to produce. We want to keep cotton in front of the India consumers, and the Market Access Program helps us do that.”