The point is not about a PhD but deception about it

Not having a PhD in Economics is hardly a big thing. John Maynard Keynes did not have one. Nor did his disciples Nicholas Kaldor and Joan Robinson. Nor did Kaldor’s fellow-Hungarian critic, Peter Bauer. Yet all of them did path-breaking work in economics in their own time. There are a lot of ridiculous PhD theses being done around the world while a lot of demonstrably good economists have never had a PhD.

Not having a PhD is not the point. Lying about having one most definitely is.

The point is about mendacity and deception about one’s credentials and achievements. I feel nothing personal whatsoever against Suman Bery, have never met him, have exchanged a couple of cordial emails in years gone by, have heard his claim on TV that he considered himself a “liberal economist” and, since I am a liberal economist, found that to be of interest.

But any hint of deception in the public domain by public intellectuals is a bad thing.

India’s capital city, like perhaps many capital cities,  is full of mendacity and self-delusion of all sorts and this is a case that involves the name of a major American university. I find it all highly unpleasant. Suman Bery has no PhD in economics from Princeton University. This implies he has no earned postgraduate degree in economics since his masters degree is in a different field. Under rules of the Union and State Governments of India,  someone with such qualifications may teach economics at secondary school-level but  might well be disallowed from teaching economics courses at college-level let aside be allowed to supervise research or doctoral students. Yet since 2000-2001 he has been “Director General” of the most venerable of public research institutions in applied economics in New Delhi. He has over years allowed the impression to spread that he has an economics PhD from Princeton and deserves to be called Dr Bery. Perhaps he even began to believe this — Hannah Arendt once diagnosed self-deception in her eminent essay “Truth and Politics”. Here are a few examples from the Internet if you look for “Dr Suman Bery”. Judge for yourself.

Example 1:  Press-reports of the appointment in September 2000 “Suman Bery to head NCAER Business Line Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications Sunday, September 10, 2000 Our Bureau NEW DELHI, Sept. 9 DR Suman K. Bery, the World Bank Lead Economist for Brazil, will be the new Director-General of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), an independent think tank on macro and micro economic policies. A statement from the Council said Dr Bery, who is succeeding Dr Rakesh Mohan, is likely to assume charge as the Director-General in December. Before joining the World Bank, Dr. Bery was Special Consultant to the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India between 1992 and 1994. Dr Bery’s publications include papers on Indian financial sector reform, reform of public sector banks, banking crises in Latin America and the political economy of economic reform in developing countries.”

QUESTION 1: As this was a mistaken report nine years ago about him in the Indian press prior to him taking up his appointment, did he seek to correct it or any similar press-reports e.g. by letters to the editor, or a public press communiqué on the NCAER website? Or, to the contrary, was the press and the appointing authority itself led to believe by him that he was in fact Dr Bery with a PhD from Princeton?

Example 2:  NCAER Golden Jubilee celebrations reported on the NCAER’s own website: “NCAER celebrated Golden Jubilee on Sunday December 17, 2006 at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, delivered the keynote address. The Prime Minister also released India Rural Infrastructure Report, a NCAER publication, on the occasion. The highlight of the celebration was an International Conference on Applied Economic Research in Independent India : Lessons for the Future….The Prime Minister released a copy of India’s Rural Infrastructure Report on the occasion. Dr. Bimal Jalan, Dr. Suman Bery, Dr. M.S. Verma, members of Governing body of NCAER and eminent economists participated in the function.” QUESTION 2: The Director-General of the NCAER is its Chief Executive Officer: did he promote the impression within the NCAER over the years that he was Dr Bery?

Example 3 Indian Banking Conference, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, June 13 2008: “Suman Bery Dr Suman Bery is the current Director General of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi, a position he has held since 2001. Earlier he was Lead Economist for Brazil at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., USA. Between 1992 and 1994, Dr Bery served as a Special Consultant to the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India during which he was actively involved in developing proposals for reform of the government debt markets, linkages between general financial sector deregulation and the development of the bond market, as well as issues of market structure, drawing upon the experience of other developing countries. Dr Bery’s publications include papers on Indian Financial Sector reforms; Reforms of Public Sector Banks; Banking Crises in Latin America and the Political Economy of Economic reforms in developing countries. He serves on the Central Board of the State Bank of India, India’s largest bank. He has been a member of several government committees and task forces. Dr Bery graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford and holds degrees from Princeton University – Master of Public and International Affairs and PhD in monetary policy instruments of the Reserve Bank of India.”

QUESTION 3: Why did he promote himself as Dr Bery with a Princeton PhD in this forum?

Example 4: Mumbai conference 17 November 2008 DRAFT PROGRAM Financial Sector Reforms and Economic Integration in Asia Venue: Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Gen. Vaidya Marg, Goregaon East, Mumbai.400065 17th November 2008 9:00 – 9.30 : Registration 9:30 – 10:00 : Welcome and Workshop Objectives Presenters: Prof Nachane (Director, IGIDR) and Prof. Drysdale (Emeritus Professor & Head, EABER) 10:00 – 11.00 : Special Lecture Chair: Prof. R. Radhakrishna (Honorary Professor, CESS and former Director, IGIDR) Dr. K. Kanagasabapathy, (Senior Consultant, Reserve Bank of India, Monetary Policy Department) Inflation and macroeconomic management in India 11.00 – 11.15 : Coffee Break 11.15 – 12.15 : Panel Session 1: Financial sector reforms in India Chair: Prof. Peter Drysdale (Emeritus Professor & Head, EABER) Lead Panelist: Dr. Suman Bery (Director-General, NCAER) Panelists: Prof U Sankar (Madras School of Economics), Dr. Prabhakar Patil (Director, Forward Markets Commission), Prof. Kaliappa Kalirajan (ANU) 12:15 – 13:45 : Lunch break 13:45-15:00 : Panel Session 2: Financial Sector Reforms in South Asia Chair : Dr. R. Barman (Former Executive Director, RBI) Lead Panelist: Dr Khondaker Moazzem (CPD, Bangladesh) Panelists: Dr. Selim Raihan (SANEM, Bangladesh), Dr Dushni Weerakoon (IPS, Sri Lanka), Mr Huw McKay (Australian Treasury) 15.00 – 16:15 : Panel Session 3: Inflation and Macroeconomic Management in South Asia Chair: Dr. Suman Bery Lead Panelist: Mrs. T M J Y P Fernando, Addl. Director, Supervision Department of Central Bank of Sri Lanka. Panelists: Dr Ashima Goyal (IGIDR), Mr Chris Ryan (Reserve Bank of Australia) 16:15 – 16: 30 : Coffee break 16:30 – 17:45 : Panel Session 4:Managing Capital Flows in India and South Asia Dr. R.H. Patil, Chairman, The Clearing Corporation of India Ltd. Lead Panelist: Dr. D. Nachane (Director, IGIDR) Panelists: Dr Ajit Ranade (Chief Economist, Aditya Birla Group) Mr. M.L. Soneji (CEO, Bombay Stock Exchange), Dr. B.K. Bhoi (RBI). 17:45-18:00 : Concluding Remarks Dr. Peter Drysdale and Dr. Dilip Nachane 8.00 p.m. : Dinner at Hotel Hyatt Regency QUESTION 4 Why did he promote himself as Dr Bery at this conference? Examples 5,6 etc: 2009 Yale School of Management South Asian Business Forum, Asian Development Bank 39th Meeting, etc “Suman K. Bery, Director-General, National Council for Applied Economic Research Mr.Bery is the current Director General of the National Council of Applied Economic Research, New Delhi. He assumed this position on January 1, 2001.After schooling in India and the U.K., Mr. Bery graduated from Magdalen College, Oxford with a first class degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE). His graduate work was at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, from which he holds the degree of Master of Public and International Affairs. His Ph.D. dissertation research (also at Princeton) was on the monetary policy instruments of the Reserve Bank of India. Prior to this assignment, he was working at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., USA as the Lead Economist for Brazil. Other experience on Latin America included work on Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Ecuador and Peru. Between 1992 and 1994 Mr. Bery held the position of Special Consultant to the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, based in Mumbai. While at the RBI, he was actively involved in developing proposals for reform of the government debt markets, linkages between general financial sector deregulation and the development of the bond market, as well as issues of market structure, drawing upon the experience of other developing countries. Mr. Bery’s publications include papers on Indian Financial Sector reforms; Reforms of Public Sector Banks; Banking Crises in Latin America and the Political Economy of Economic reforms in developing countries. Mr. Bery serves on the Central Board of the State Bank of India, India’s largest bank. He has been a member of several government committees and task forces.” QUESTION 5: This description, the same as that on the NCAER website that he and I discussed, gives a clear impression he had done doctoral research at Princeton on the RBI’s policies – why leave it unsaid  that the quest for a doctoral degree was in fact unsuccessful?   And where if anywhere is this research available now? If an economist has been deceptive about his own credentials and achievements as an economist, the statements he makes about the economy or public policy lose credibility commensurately. Now that Mr Bery has become, as of today,  an adviser on economic policy to Dr Manmohan Singh himself, the Prime Minister may end up having to explain this too.

Subroto Roy August 2009

 

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