Women’s Reservation and Roving Bandits

There are two kinds of bandits – stationary and roving. Roving bandits (eg. Mahmud of Ghazni) attack an area, plunder it to the fullest and then abandon it and move on to another area to rape and pillage. They seldom attack the same area twice, at least not in quick succession, because of which they don’t really care about the medium-term consequences of their actions. Similarly you have shifting agriculture.

Stationary bandits, on the other hand are interested in plundering an area over a longer time period (eg. British in India). They too pillage, but given that they know that they will stick on for a reasonable amount of time, they make sure that they don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg. And it is a possibility that they will feed the goose well, take steps to increase production of eggs and so on. In other words, they do contribute to general development of the area (though they tend to take away a large portion of the benefits), build institutions, etc. This is more like settled agriculture.

Now, it is clear that given a choice, it is in the interest of the region for it to be attacked by stationary bandits rather than by roving bandits. Yeah, the stationary bandits do stick on for longer and pain you for longer periods of time, but the damage inflicted by roving bandits is usually so severe that it will take a longer time to recover from this.

In democracies like the UK or India, what keeps the legislators honest is the possibility of re-election. It is the possibility of re-election which incentivizes the incumbent to do good for his constituents, rather than just plundering away the region’s funds (in whatever ways possible). In other words, legislators do try to act like stationary bandits, because of which some good does happen for the region.

Now, with the new women’s reservation law in the process of coming into force, what will happen is that once in three elections, constituencies will get reserved for women by rotation. The implications of this are severe. In two out of every three parliaments, the incumbent knows that there is zero chance of him/her retaining the seat in the following election (yeah, women can still continue to get elected from their constituencies when it becomes general by rotation but I’m sure parties won’t allow that). With the possibility of re-election being taken away, this will play havoc with the incentives.

There will be more incentve now for legislators to maximize their benefits in the one term they get rather than to try and put gaaji on the constituency and take benefits off it for the rest of their lifetime. This, I think will lead to overall poorer performance by legislators, irrespective of gender of the legislator and whether the constituency is reserved or not.

This is unfortunate.

8 thoughts on “Women’s Reservation and Roving Bandits”

  1. It may have made more sense to just make 30% of constituencies “women’s constituencies” where only women can stand for election

    1. Spouse/daughter formula has been already used successfully by Lalus and Kodas of the political world .. and Stationary Bandits will continue..

  2. 1. MLAs are not supposed to be plunderers
    2. Your argument is that, since they are plundering – leave them with the option that results in less plundering.
    3. The way forward should be no plundering

  3. Interesting analogy of stationary and roving bandits… The issue discussed in this article is very much possible… its interesting no matter what is done, there’s always a loophole or a breach left to be exploited! ๐Ÿ™

  4. I do not fully understand the rules of this reservation. But, what about the effect of installing your wife/daughter as a proxy? We will see more legislatures have their wife stand in for them either for that term or permananently. This has worked before in India and outside. Electorate understands this proxy deal well. If the scenario i suggest plays out, then the incentives remain the same but you see more women in legislature (for the wrong reasons)

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