William E (Ted) James, Dec 21 1951- May 19 2010, friend & collaborator: How we made a little bit of history together

“Professor Roy?”, a smooth baritone asked me on the phone, within a week or so of my entering my Manoa office in the Fall of 1986. “Yes?”, I said, “My name is Ted James, and I was wondering if we could have lunch; I wanted to talk to you about working together on India”. “I thought I’d met everyone in the Department”, said I. “We at the East West Center are a bit of a mysterious bunch”, he joked. Oh so this is the US Govt calling, I said to myself, better watch out. “Well, I’ve published on India already”, I said referring to my IEA monograph which had attracted the leader of the London Times a year and a half earlier, and trying to indicate that I felt I had done my bit for India and did not see myself doing much more. “I know you have, your reputation precedes you, that’s why I thought we should meet”, he said.

 

So we met at a nondescript campus café for some stir-fry. Ted was an excessively handsome Southern Californian straight out of Hollywood central casting, and the most unlikely-looking American economist I have ever met. I am 6’ and I think he was perhaps 5’9” but slimmer and more muscular with long blond hair, bright blue eyes, a fabulous magnetic smile, someone who might easily have been a hero in a TV serial or an afternoon soap-opera.

 

He wasn’t a film-star though but an economist, though not a nerdy one like myself at the time, and he had a tremendous almost evangelical keenness to not merely comprehend the economic policy-making process of so-called developing countries, especially in Asia, but also change them for the better.

 

I was 31, Ted must have been about 34 when we first met for that stir-fry lunch. He did indeed know my 1984 work which was enough to win me over as London and Cambridge, or for that matter Blacksburg and Provo from where I had come, seemed very far away from Manoa at the time. Not only did he know my work, he had already referred to it in the references and index and perhaps the notes of a new book he had co-edited on Asian Development, which was remarkable as lags in publication and research were long.

 

Ted proposed at the lunch that he and I work together on “South Asia”, and that he would get funding from the East West Center. I suggested there was no such place, that “South Asia” was a State Department abstraction, but there were individual and complex countries, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh – and Afghanistan and Nepal too…. He agreed. We would start with working together on the theory of economic policy reform as applied to India and Pakistan first…

 

And so it began…

 

Legally speaking the funding came from the State of Hawaii and not the United States Government, from funds owed to the former by the latter.  Of the total budget of some $100,000 I was very miserly and returned 25% of it unspent, an unheard of thing.  Milton Friedman commanded a speaking fee at the time of $10,000, and agreed to our nominal $1,000 for a two-day visit on condition we told no one.:)  A Pakistani author was among several Pakistani scholars who thanked me for putting the volume together, as the first time Pakistan had been taken seriously in American academia; he asked me how much it cost, when I said $35,000 for the Pakistan book, he said the IMF would spend that over a  weekend at Bretton Woods and get nothing ….

 

As described elsewhere, the manuscript of the India-volume contributed to the origins of India’s 1991 economic reform during my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi in his last months; the Pakistan-volume came to contribute to the origins of the Pakistan-India peace process. (“In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission stating that it was possible that had the vicious illegalities against me not occurred at Manoa starting in 1989, we may have gone on after India and Pakistan to study Afghanistan, and come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis a decade before September 11 2001.”)

 

friedman-et-al-at-uh-india-conf-19891

 

 

I came to know from Ted’s wife Tess in June that Ted had died of cancer in Manila on May 19 2010 aged 58.

 

I said to her and her family  that I do not weep for many but do weep for Ted.

(More to come… this will be a technology-consistent ongoing obituary for my friend and collaborator, which he would have found amusing for sure…)…

see also

See also https://independentindian.com/2013/08/23/did-jagdish-bhagwati-originate-pioneer-intellectually-father-indias-1991-economic-reform-did-manmohan-singh-or-did-i-through-my-encounter-with-rajiv-gandhi-just-as-siddhartha-shan/

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Memo to the PM

From Facebook May 29 2011:

Subroto Roy hears Dr Manmohan Singh said yesterday (to journalists “on board Air India One” returning with him from Africa) “I think industrialisation is essential for the country to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty”. Nonsense Prime Minister! That is obsolescent or, at the very least, rather quaint Stalinist chatter. Try to provide public goods properly, which means getting the judiciary etc to work well. Try to get the public finances & public decision-making processes right, which means getting govt accounting & audit right and legislatures to work across the country. Try to drastically raise the productivity of public investments and expenditures. And try not to debauch India’s money any further than you have done. All that may make a good start. (And only when you have done all that do you really need to travel abroad again on “Air India One”; that thing the telephone really is a great invention…)

 Subroto Roy is scolded by Ms Siddiqui: “Out of all the corrupt money grabbing racist ministers and governors and politicians you could find only Manmohan Singh to attack? Truly discerning arent you?”,

to which I have to say Hello Ms Siddiqi, Thank you for your comment. It is I am afraid ill-informed. There is nothing personal in my critical assessment of Dr Singh’s economics and politics. To the contrary, he has been in decades past a friend or at least a colleague of my father’s, and in the autumn of 1973 visited our then-home in Paris at the request of my father to advise me, then aged 18, before I embarked on my undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics. My assessments in recent years like “The Politics of Dr Singh” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=177565501125“Assessing Manmohan”https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=177600651125, “The Dream Team: A Critique” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=184178641125 “Mistaken Macroeconomics” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=179676656125 etc need to be seen along with my “Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False”, “The Hypocrisy of the CPI-M”, “Against Quackery”, “Our Dismal Politics”, “Political Paralysis” etc.

Nothing personal is intended in any of these; the purpose at hand has been to contribute to a full and vigorous discussion of the public interest in India.

Silver Jubilee of “Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India”

May 29 2009:

It is a quarter century precisely today since my monograph Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India was first published in London by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

ppp1984

Its text is now available (in slightly rough form) at this site here.

Now in May 1984, Indira Gandhi ruled in Delhi, and the ghost of Brezhnev was still fresh in Moscow.   The era of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Ronald Reagan in America was at its height.   Pricing, Planning & Politics emerged from my 1976-1982 doctoral thesis at Cambridge though it came to be written in Blacksburg and Ithaca in 1982-1983.   It was the first critique after BR Shenoy of India’s Sovietesque economics since Jawaharlal Nehru’s time.

The Times, London’s most eminent paper at the time, wrote its lead editorial comment about it on the day it was published, May 29 1984.

londonti

It used to take several days for the library at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to receive its copy of The Times of London and other British newspapers.    I had not been told of the date of publication and did not know of what had happened in London on May 29 until perhaps June 2 — when a friend, Vasant Dave of a children’s charity, who was on campus, phoned me and congratulated me for being featured in The Times which he had just read in the University Library.  “You mean they’ve reviewed it?”  I asked him, “No, it’s the lead editorial.” “What?” I exclaimed.  There was worse.  Vasant was very soft-spoken and said “Yes, it’s titled ‘India’s Bad Example'” — which I misheard on the phone as “India’s Mad Example”  😀

Drat! I thought (or words to that effect), they must have lambasted me, as I rushed down to the Library to take a look.

The Times had said

“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India.   If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is.   A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World.   As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence.  But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy.  We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence.  How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong?  Dr Roy has the answers for them.   He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats.  The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.”  Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches.   No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector.  He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift.  It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi.  Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West.  The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.”  All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..

I felt this may have been intended to be laudatory but it was also inaccurate and had to be corrected.  I replied dated June 4 which The Times published in their edition of  June 16 1984:

timesletter-11

I was 29 when Pricing, Planning and Politics was published, I am 54 now. I do not agree with everything I said in it and find the tone a little puffed up as young men tend to be; it was also five years before my main “theoretical” work Philosophy of Economics would be published. My experience of life in the years since has also made me far less sanguine both about human nature and about America than I was then. But I am glad to find I am not embarrassed by what I said then, indeed I am pleased I said what I did in favour of classical liberalism and against statism and totalitarianism well before it became popular to do so after the Berlin Wall fell. (In India as elsewhere, former communist apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became pseudo-liberals overnight.)

The editorial itself may have been due to a conversation between Peter Bauer and William Rees-Mogg, so I later heard. The work sold 700 copies in its first month, a record for the publisher. The wife of one prominent Indian bureaucrat told me in Delhi in December 1988 it had affected her husband’s thinking drastically. A senior public finance economist told me he had been deputed at the Finance Ministry when the editorial appeared, and the Indian High Commission in London had urgently sent a copy of the editorial to the Ministry where it caused a stir. An IMF official told me years later that he saw the editorial on board a flight to India from the USA on the same day, and stopped in London to make a trip to the LSE’s bookshop to purchase a copy. Professor Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University had been a critic of aspects of Indian policy; he received a copy  in draft just before it was published and was kind enough to write I had “done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!”

Siddhartha Shankar Ray told me when  we first met that he had been in London when the editorial appeared and had seen it there; it affected his decision to introduce me to Rajiv Gandhi as warmly as he came to do a half dozen years later.

Within a few months though, by the Fall of 1984, I was under attack by the “gang of inert game theorists”  who had come to  Blacksburg following the departure of James Buchanan.  By mid 1985 I had moved to Provo, Utah, really rather wishing, as I recall,  to have left my India-work behind me.  But by late 1986, I was at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, where the perestroika-for-India and Pakistan projects that I and WE James led, had come to be sponsored by the University and the East West Center.

The unpublished results of the India-project reached Rajiv Gandhi by my hand on September 18 1990 as has been told elsewhere.  A week later, on September 25 1990,  Rajiv appointed a small group that included myself, to advise him.  It was that encounter with Rajiv Gandhi that sparked the origins of the 1991 economic reform.  Yet in 2007 one member of the group, declaring himself close to Sonia Gandhi, brazenly lied in public saying it was Manmohan Singh and not I who had been part of the group — a group of which I had been in fact the first member!  Manmohan Singh himself has never claimed to have been present and in fact was not even in India at the time it was formed.

I have explained elsewhere here why I believe this specific  lie  came to be told by this specific liar who shared membership with me in the group that Rajiv had formed:  because I had also pleaded with  many and especially within this group that Rajiv had seemed, to my layman’s eyes, very vulnerable to assassination, and none of them had lifted a finger to  do anything about it!  Such is how duplicity, envy and greed for power make people mendacious and venal in politics!

As for Pricing, Planning and Politics, Dr Manmohan Singh received a personal copy from my father whom he had long known through the Kaul brothers, Brahma and Madan, both of whom were dear friends of my father since the War and Independence.   From a letter Dr Singh wrote to my father,  he would have received his copy in late 1986 when he was heading the Planning Commission in his penultimate appointment before retirement from the bureaucracy.

Readers of Pricing, Planning and Politics today, 25 years after it was published, may judge for themselves what if any  part of it may be still relevant to the new government that Dr Singh is now prime minister of.   The work was mostly one of applied microeconomics or the theory of value; in recent years I have written much also of applied macroeconomics or the theory of money as it relates to India.  My great professor at Cambridge, Frank Hahn, was kind enough to say in 1985 that he thought my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds”; that to me has been a special source of delight.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Twenty Years Ago Today: March 23 1991 (An Excerpt)

From Facebook May 21, 2011

Rajiv Gandhi, assassinated this day 20 years ago, May 21 1991, an irreparable loss for India.

“On March 23, our group was to meet Rajiv at noon. There was to be an event in the inner lawns of Rajiv’s residence in the morning, where he would launch Krishna Rao’s book on India’s security. Krishna Rao had expressly asked me to come but I had to wait outside the building patiently, not knowing if it was a mistake or if it was deliberate. This was politics after all, and I had ruffled feathers during my short time there. While I waited, Rajiv was speaking to a farmers’ rally being held at grounds adjoining his residence, and there appeared to be thousands of country folk who had gathered to hear him. When it was over, Rajiv, smiling nervously and looking extremely uncomfortable, was hoisted atop people’s shoulders and carried back to the residence by his audience. As I watched, my spine ran cold at the thought that any killer could have assassinated him with ease in that boisterous crowd, right there in the middle of Delhi outside his own residence. It was as if plans for his security had been drawn up without any strategic thinking underlying them.

Krishna Rao arrived and graciously took me inside for his book launch. The event was attended by the Congress’s top brass, including Narasimha Rao whom I met for the first time, as well as foreign military attaches and officers of the Indian armed forces. The attaché of one great power went about shaking hands and handing out his business card to everyone. I stood aside and watched. Delhi felt to me that day like a sieve, as if little could be done without knowledge of the embassies. One side wanted to sell arms, aircraft or ships, while the other wanted trips abroad or jobs or green cards or whatever for their children. And I thought Islamabad would be worse — could India and Pakistan make peace in this fetid ether?

Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin.

I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi. Eleven years later, on 25 May 2002, press reports said “P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.” Rajiv’s years in Government, like those of Indira Gandhi, were in fact marked by profligacy and the resource cost of poor macroeconomic policy since bank-nationalisation may be as high as Rs. 125 trillion measured in 1994 rupees. Certainly though it was Rajiv Gandhi as Leader of the Opposition in his last months who was the principal architect of the economic reform that came to begin after his passing….”

An Excerpt from

Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform\

Bengal Government Finances 2003/4 data (from my 2007 article)

Govt. of W. Bengal’s Finances 2003-2004

Rs Billion (Hundred Crore)

EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES:

government & local government                           8.68            1.68%

judiciary                                                                            1.27            0.25%

police (including home guard etc.)                       13.47            2.61%

prisons                                                                               0.62             0.12%

bureaucracy                                                                     5.69            1.10%

collecting land revenue & taxes                                4.32            0.84%

government employee pensions                              26.11           5.05%

schools, colleges, universities, institutes            45.06            8.72%

health, nutrition & family welfare                              14.70           2.84%

water supply & sanitation                                               3.53           0.68%

roads, bridges, transport, etc.                                      8.29           1.60%

electricity (mostly loans to power sector)             31.18           6.03%

irrigation, flood control, environment, ecology 10.78           2.09%

agricultural subsidies, rural development, etc.    7.97            1.54%

industrial subsidies                                                            2.56            0.50%

capital city development                                                 7.29            1.41%

social security, SC, ST, OBC, labour welfare              9.87           1.91%

tourism                                                                                    0.09            0.02%

arts, archaeology, libraries, museums                        0.16            0.03%

miscellaneous                                                                         0.52            0.10%

debt amortization & debt servicing                          314.77          60.89%

total expenditure                                                              516.92

INCOME SOURCES:

tax revenue                                                     141.10

operational income                                          6.06

grants from Union                                            18.93

loans recovered                                                   0.91

total income                                                      167.00

GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT

(total expenditure minus total income )               349.93

financed by:

new public debt issued                                                 339.48

use of Trust Funds etc                                                      10.45

349.93

https://independentindian.com/2007/02/25/bengals-finances/

From the author’s research 2007 and based on latest available data published by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India