The Amartya Sen Fallacy All Over Again

Long, long ago, my good friend Aftab wrote about the Amartya Sen Fallacy, which he illustrated with the following chain of reasoning:

1. We need government-run schools because private schools aren’t up to the task
2. But government schools aren’t doing a great job either, the reason is that competition from the private tuitions are taking resources away from them.
3. Hence we should ban private tuitions.

So what reminds me of the Amartya Sen Fallacy today? This post by Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch:

In August I wrote about a carpooling startup called PickupPal. The idea is that people can gather on the site to find others traveling to the same places, and carpool there to save gas.

Great idea, right? Wrong. The bus companies freaked and sued under an Ontario law that limits carpoolers to traveling only from home to work and back, riding with the same driver every day and paying only by the week, among other restrictions. […]

Anyway, the court case was decided and PickupPal lost.

For Indians, especially, this kind of thinking will surely seem familiar. I asked some friends on an email group for examples. Mohit Satyanand wrote, “The most egregious parallel is in education, where anyone seeking to set up a school has to obtain an ‘Essentiality Certificate’ from the local Education officials which is issued after they ascertain that the proposed venture will not have any impact on the schools already operating in the vicinity.” (More on this from me.)

And Devangshu Datta said: “FM channels and foreign-owned magazines cannot disseminate news. Technically the FM guys are in violation when they warn you that there’s a traffic jam.”

And then there’s our Department of Posts:

Most people prefer to have a courier collect mail for delivery instead of standing in line at the local post office. Hence it is not surprising that India’s Department of Posts has been feeling threatened by the courier industry, which is now worth US$800 million in India.

The result of the department’s insecurity is a proposal to amend the Indian Post Office Act, 1898 to ban private courier companies from carrying packages that weigh less than 500 grams and to make carriage of this category of parcels the exclusive domain of the Indian Post Office. The proposed amendment also seeks to raise the registration fees for courier companies to about US$2,272, with renewal fees of about US$1,136 a year.


(Tech Crunch link via email from Visu.)