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.