Just the other day (the 15th of September, if we want to be exact), a student from GIPE sent across a video that I found to be very interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I scheduled it for this coming Sunday’s post. It is about housing in Singapore, and I’ll leave it at that for the moment.
And then, just yesterday, I finally got around to reading some of Shruti Rajagopalan’s interviews of doctoral candidates and postdoctoral researchers for her excellent podcast: Ideas of India. The third interview in the series is of Tanu Kumar, a postdoctoral fellow at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute.
That’s where the serendipity bit in the title of today’s post comes in – the interview is in some ways closely related to the video. (Interesting aside about the etymology of the word serendipity. Got nothing to do with anything, but hey, it’s Friday)
Tanu Kumar’s paper is about housing subsidy programs, and how they might affect political behavior. The paper is about the effects of a housing subsidy program in Mumbai, and local political participation, it would seem, went up among the beneficiaries of the program.
Just a broad overview of this paper is that the Indian government—and actually, governments everywhere—they invest a lot in making housing affordable and accessible to lower-income residents. So, I wanted to understand how these programs actually affect beneficiaries and shape their behavior and their decision-making.https://www.discoursemagazine.com/politics/2020/12/24/ideas-of-india-how-does-subsidizing-housing-prices-shape-political-behavior/
Because these programs are such a large scale—maybe even 5 percent or more of the Indian population benefits from them—any effects on political behavior would have implications for the broader political landscape. What I find is really in line with what you just said—benefiting from a subsidized housing program in Mumbai makes people more politically active at the local level. They’re more likely to complain about local services, attend meetings about local public issues, and they also know more about local politics.
What’s particularly interesting is that they actually care more about local-level community issues like water, electricity, and sanitation. This is different from what we’ve seen in the past, where we find the people who benefit from different programs might participate less in politics. And the difference here is the outcomes that I focus on. I’m focusing more on, really, everyday politics, everyday making of complaints and stuff in cities to make services better as opposed to voting and turnout.
Read the whole thing, but the reason I found the discussion so interesting is because my intuitive guess would have been that political engagement will go down, not up after getting the benefits of a subsidy such as this. Tanu Kumar thinks that one reason political engagement at the local level is going up is because people have more capacity (time) to spend on these issues.
RAJAGOPALAN: What do you think is driving this? Is it because now people have succeeded once through winning the lottery for subsidized housing that it changes their perception of what is possible in terms of the interaction with the state? Is it that now the need for housing has been satisfied, they push their clientelist efforts towards getting other things?https://www.discoursemagazine.com/politics/2020/12/24/ideas-of-india-how-does-subsidizing-housing-prices-shape-political-behavior/
Is it a locational thing? Now that the housing problem has been solved, they are geographically fixed, but they’re also fixed electorally. Now they know that they are constituents of a certain group of people, and maybe now they want to push more, given the geographical elements. Maybe some of these things wouldn’t transfer if it were a different kind of subsidy which wasn’t so geographically rooted. What do you think is driving this push for greater participation?
KUMAR: There could be many different things going on. It would probably vary across the whole population. But what I think is actually going on is two things. First of all, people have greater political capacity. They’re wealthier. They have more time.
I don’t really see more political participation across the board, but I actually see it targeted in a very specific way, like targeted around local, very community-level services. There is probably some element of having better expectations or changed expectations of what the government might provide, but it’s also action that’s very motivated by protecting the value of these homes, is what I argue.
I have two questions. First, it is interesting that the beneficiaries choose to spend their greater capacity (time or money) on local political issues rather than elsewhere. Why might this be?
Tanu Kumar in a way answers this question, for she says that folks are motivated to protect the value of these homes. What I find fascinating is that if this is true, then the beneficiaries truly believe that the best way of protecting the value of these homes is through greater involvement in local politics – which is a Very Very Good Thing Indeed.
And my second question: if it really is skin in the game that is at play – and that is the simplest way to think about this, correct? – then how should we think about doing more about it at the local grassroots level? And not just for housing, but other goods?
Which brings me to the last part of the title of today’s post…
Do any of you know where I might get to read more about whether involvement in local politics goes up given public housing subsidies? Did this happen in Singapore? In Hong Kong? In other parts of the world?
If yes, it would make the argument for subsidies in public housing (among other things) even stronger, and that is a topic worth thinking about, no?