Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why Government Awards??

By, Rahul V Kumar*

Awards and alternatives

The entire episode in which artists returned awards to the State to protest against state negligence of atrocities committed against individuals needs to be further debated. At the onset, the question should be whether the State should give out awards. For services rendered directly to the State, individuals do receive awards. But what about giving awards for initiatives pursued in their own capacities as free individuals?
As a corollary, what do such awards really indicate? It could be two things. One, that the state is considering awarding the individual for his work to foster feelings of national pride. On the other hand, it could be that the state is recognizing talents and promoting them with awards and accolades. The first is a contentious issue, the question of national pride. The state has its own ways of attracting citizens and rewarding them for specific services; well and good. It depends on the individual whether they should receive these rewards or not. However, the second question on recognizing talents could have alternative ways. The market is a specific mechanism, which recognizes and rewards art producers, writers or the entire set of individuals engaged in all forms of production. This recognition is more valuable than state awards in terms of the acceptance across the world or in terms of actual rewards. The point is that the state could abstain from spending the taxpayer’s money at organizing and establishing committees to reward producers of artwork. Leave that to the market.

Does not the Market Fail?

Having said this, the state would always defend giving awards using the same old ploy of promoting writers/artists who would find it difficult to bring their produce to the market. The question here is what prevents these writers from exploring market opportunities. If we remove restrictions to the access of technology, and laws and regulations preventing specific forms of literature that the state considers taboo, the market would finds the producers on its own. Nevertheless, this does not end the criticism on the market. Questions still exists. Are there not any social compulsions for these writers or producers of art? They produced works not solely for the market. No issues here; individuals have their rights considering that they respect the equal rights of others. However, the question that needs further exploration is ‘was it not market failure that generated many of these social compulsions?’ We can put these questions in perspective. People concerned with market failures need to go beyond and think about why such failures become a norm. At most instance the story ends with pointing towards an imposing state or any similar authority.

Then what about ‘awards’?

Should there be no awards then? No one is against awards. The question is who should be giving it and at what cost. There are voluntary organizations, social groups, charities, individuals or private associations that award and honour other individuals. There are several prestigious awards falling under these categories. These groups could be spontaneous and evolutionary, sustained through voluntary contributions. Awards in such a context will not be limited but rather competitive and spread across several genres of all forms of art production. When such possibilities exist, do we really want the State to spend its valuable time in giving awards?

 * The Author is Research Consultant at CPPR. Views are personal and does not present that of CPPR



Sibin Sabu said...

I don't fully agree with some of the points raised here.

You have categorically stated that the recognition /awards instituted by market) "is more valuable than state awards in terms of the acceptance across the world or in terms of actual rewards." I don't think you could generalize it in such simple terms. The value one attaches on the award depends on the individual receiving it. Some people might place greater value on awards instituted by the state.

Sibin Sabu said...

Could you cite specific examples of awards which, in your opinion, can be done away with? This could bring more clarity to your argument. Or, could you cite specific examples of awards which in your opinion can be justified. I think doing the former would be easier.

I think, apart from recognising individuals, fostering pride in the nation, nurturing a sense of belonging towards a community, awards can also be used as 'incentives' for implementing public policy as well.

There are awards such as Bharat Ratna (civilian honours), industry specific awards (sports, arts etc) and other miscelleneous awards (awards for defense forces) giving recognition for service to the nation. .There would also be awards which the state has instituted in its capacity as an employer.

Most of the awards carry little or no monetary perks. Even the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour, comes without any direct monetary grant. There is a strong likelihood that the benefits could far outweigh the cost involved in this exercise. But, I don't think it can be established. While the costs incurred in giving away these awards might be quantifiable, the benefits cannot be quantified. So, I don't think you can do a cost benefit analysis in this case.