February 18, 2020
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Stilted Dialogue

Random reflections of an eclectic selection of Indian economists

Stilted Dialogue
Conversations With Indian Economists
By V. Balasubramanyam
Macmillan India Pages: 422; Rs 248
India has a surfeit of good economists and bad economic policies. Perhaps the two go together. The best-performing economies of the post-war period have not all produced the best economists. Conversely India produced a Nobel Prize winner!

This collection, put together by a shishya of Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, strings together random reflections of an eclectic selection of Indian economists. Some of the names included here will figure in anyone’s list of top 10 Indian economists. Certainly Bhagwati, T.N. Srinivasan, Manmohan Singh, C. Rangarajan, I.G. Patel and P.R. Brahmananda. One would have expected to see Amartya Sen here, but he may have been excluded on the grounds that he was not much of a policy wonk. But an unpardonable omission, for which the author offers no explanation at all, is that of K.N. Raj, who at the age of 26 helped Jawaharlal Nehru draft the First Five-Year Plan. From the present generation, one would have expected to see Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Bimal Jalan.

Economics has been dubbed a dismal science and number-crunching economists tend to be dull conversationalists. But the excitement and drama of economic policymaking in India can lend itself to a lively dialogue, if the right questions are asked. Balasubramanyam has been too polite to extract a lively response from his interlocutors, some of whom have more exciting tales to tell than recorded here.

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