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Excessive political correctness stifles progress, says Rajan

Raghuram Rajan  speaks during a seminar

New Delhi : Amid a ragging debate over intolerance, Reserve Bank Chief Raghuram Rajan today said excessive political correctness stifles progress and called for an improved environment for tolerance and mutual respect.

Rajan also said protection of right to question and challenge was essential for India to grow.

Speaking at the convocation of IIT Delhi, the RBI Governor said actions that physically harm anyone or show verbal contempt for a particular group, so that they damage the group’s participation in the marketplace for ideas, should certainly not be allowed.

“Sexual harassment, whether physical or verbal, has no place in society. At the same time, groups should not be looking for slights any and everywhere, so that too much is seen as offensive; the theory of confirmation bias in psychology suggests that once one starts looking for insults, one can find them everywhere, even in the most innocuous statements,” he said.

On whether ideas or behaviour that hurt a particular intellectual position or group be banned, he said: “Possibly, but a quick resort to bans will chill all debate as everyone will be anguished by ideas they dislike. It is far better to improve the environment for ideas through tolerance and mutual respect.”

Rajan said for India to grow, it is essential to protect the right to question and challenge, the right to behave differently, so long as it does not hurt others seriously.

“In this protection lies societal self-interest, for it is by encouraging the challenge of innovative rebels that society develops… Fortunately, India has always protected debate and the right to have different views,” he said.

India’s tradition of debate and an open spirit of enquiry is critical for economic progress, he said, adding, tolerance can take the offence out of debate and instil respect.

“Of course, a poor country like ours can grow for some time by putting more people to work, by moving them from low productivity agriculture to higher value added industry or services and by giving them better tools to do their jobs.

“As many of you who have taken economics will recognise, we in India are usually far from the production possibility frontier, so we can grow for a long while just by catching up with the methods of industrial countries,” he said.

But more intelligent ways of working will enable people to leapfrog old methods and come more quickly to the production possibility frontier, he said.

On tolerance Rajan said, “it does mean being so insecure about one’s ideas that one cannot subject them to challenge –- it implies a degree of detachment that is absolutely necessary for mature debate. Finally, respect requires that in the rare case when an idea is tightly associated with a group’s core personality, we are extra careful about challenging it.”

Observing that while the thuggish mischief makers are abound in every group, he said “tolerance and respect then lead to a good equilibrium where they reinforce each other.”

Asking the students passing out to remember the tradition of debate, respect and tolerance, Rajan said: “By upholding it, by fighting for it, you will be repaying your teachers in this great institution, and your parents who worked so hard to send you here. And you will be doing our country a great patriotic service.”

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