I have often noticed how many individuals who were unconventional in their thinking about Indian economic policy in the 1970s and 1980s, and got influential out of being correct then, are apologists for or defenders of the status quo today. This seems to happen often enough that it can't be mere accident; there must be a mechanism which generates reversion to the mean.
Today, Tyler Cowen takes a stab at this (in a broader setting) on his blog:
- People "sell out" to become more influential.
- As people become more influential, they are less interested in offending their new status quo-oriented friends.
- As people become more influential, their opinion of the status quo rises, because they see it rewarding them and thus meritorious.
- The status quo is good at spotting interesting, unusual people who will evolve (sell out?) and elevating them to positions of influence.
- Oddballs who are influential arrive first at where the status quo is later headed, and eventually they end up looking conventional.
- Influential people are asked to write increasingly on general interest topics ("How to Be Nice to Dogs") and thus they find it harder to be truly unconventional. They cultivate skills of conventionality because that is what they are paid for or allowed to express.
Larry Summers is one person who's done well in not losing his intellectual edge as he has gained influence, and he made treasury secretary (the equivalent of finance minister) at the tender age of 45. It's hard to think of the Indian political process recruiting such a person as finance minister (at any age). Another example of a personality type that Indian politics is not friendly to is Ed Balls, who had a huge influential on the macroeconomic policy framework of the UK.