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Of Untold Tales


T.C.A. Srinivasa Raghavan

AN ECONOMIST IN THE REAL WORLD
A Project of Kaushik Barua
Penguin Viking, New Delhi, 2016, Pg 256, Rs. 599


By Vijay Joshi
Penguin Allen Lane, 2016, Pg 421, Rs. 699

VOLUME XLI NUMBER 2 February 2017

Kaushik Basu is a friend of 40 years but Vijay Joshi I do not know at all. Neither factor prevents me from saying, at the very outset, that these are not the best that these two very highly regarded economists can offer. Basu’s book disappoints not because what he has written is not up to the mark but because it does not live up to the title. Even if he was bound by the Official Secrets Act, some vignettes would have added to the insights that he provides. Not that there aren’t any. For example, speaking of the Finance Ministry’s top officials he says how, on one occasion, they were all insisting loudly that energy subsidies be cut, forgetting that they themselves were getting government cars with full tanks and paid almost nothing for transport. And Joshi’s book disappoints because, alas, it is no more than a long ramble into what needs to be done if India is to become a reasonably prosperous country. It reads a bit like the chapter in the Economic Survey which allows Chief Economic Advisers to take wing about what all they think needs to be done. Problem is, nobody pays the blindest bit of attention. I was doubly disappointed because his earlier book on India’s economy between 1951–1991 (IMD Little) is an absolute masterpiece. If that was a masterly clinical analysis of India’s utterly counter-productive economic policies, this is more an emotional mumble. Or so I think. At the core of both books lies a fundamental disability: they are both by NRIs. Joshi has been living in the UK, mostly in Oxford, for around 45 years; Basu has been living in the US, mostly at Cornell University, for almost 25 years. That is a problem because they don’t have a feel for things. They are like a chef who does not enter the kitchen. Basu did enter it for briefly for three years between 2010 and 2013 as the Chief Economic Adviser but this book, at least, doesn’t reflect the heat he might have felt there. His minister was Pranab Mukherjee, who was a major power in the UPA. Basu steers clear of commenting on this remarkable man and his style of functioning. He is also silent about his senior colleagues from the IAS who tend to view the Chief Economic Adviser as the person who writes the Economic Survey. The best ...


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