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

 

Protected: Why the Governing Body of India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) Must Resign In Toto And A Fresh Board Constituted: A Letter to Shri Bimal Jalan, MP, Rajya Sabha, et al

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Protected: The Case of the Missing Princeton PhD Thesis

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Just how much intellectual fraud can Delhi produce?

Today’s English-language newspapers report a front-page story that suggests the extent of intellectual fraud emanating from our capital-city’s English-speaking elite may be unending and limitless and uncontrollable (and this  Delhi-based elite has spread itself to other places in the country too).

Such  may be a source of our ridiculous politics, paralleled by the corruption in organized business in both public and private sectors.  Delhi was perhaps the wrong place to which to move India’s capital  one hundred years ago; the geography was such that it made ordinary survival hard or at least highly stressful, and when you have a capital-city in which the elite have to work so hard all the time merely to remain within the city-limits, it was inevitable perhaps that truthfulness and honesty would become  major casualties.

Subroto Roy

Can President Obama resist the financial zombies (let alone slay them)? His economists need to consult Dr Anna J Schwartz

The wonders of the Internet continue to surprise (and yes Virginia, there was a world before SMS and before the Internet too).  In early January, in context of India’s Satyam fraud (of a size of perhaps 1 or perhaps 2 billion dollars),  I referred here  to what seemed to me the likelihood of Satyam becoming a zombie company and I said “we in India have many such zombies walking around in the organised business sector”.    I drew attention to Andrew Beattie’s astute  definition of zombies and other such ghoulish phenomena in the financial world, and also referred to John Stepek’s excellent if brief November 2008 analysis “How zombie companies suck the life from an economy”.  Today I find Ms Arianna Huffington has made reference to Mr Martin Wolf’s reference a couple of days ago to zombie companies and to his statement that President Obama needs to “Admit reality, restructure banks and, above all, slay zombie institutions at once.”  Ms Huffington has agreed, though of course all this slaying may be easier said than done.  (It is better that zombies not be created in the first place.)

Mr Wolf has pointedly asked a question that many around the world may have half-thought about but not articulated: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?”   It would be  a grave and appalling  state of affairs if it has, within less than a month of entering office.   I am grateful to find in Ms Huffington’s article a reference to an October 2008  Wall Stret Journal interview of Dr Anna Jacobson Schwartz, perhaps the most respected voice in monetary economics today.  There have been numerous people claiming to have predicted America’s financial crisis but none may have as much credibility as Dr Schwartz.   Six years ago, in a National Bureau of Economic Research study dated November 2002, “Asset Price Inflation and Monetary Policy”,Working Paper 9321 she had said with utmost clarity: “It is crucial that central banks and regulatory authorities be aware of effects of asset price inflation on the stability of the financial system. Lending activity based on asset collateral during the boom is hazardous to the health of lenders when the boom collapses. One way that authorities can curb the distortion of lenders’ portfolios during asset price booms is to have in place capital requirements that increase with the growth of credit extensions collateralized by assets whose prices have escalated. If financial institutions avoid this pitfall, their soundness will not be impaired when assets backing loans fall in value. Rather than trying to gauge the effects of asset prices on core inflation, central banks may be better advised to be alert to the weakening of financial balance sheets in the aftermath of a fall in value of asset collateral backing loans….”

Most poignantly too, Dr Schwartz was present when Ben Bernanke said  in  a 2002 speech honouring the late Milton Friedman “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”   Dr Schwartz told the Wall Street Journal ‘”This was [his] claim to be worthy of running the Fed”.  “He was ‘familiar with history. He knew what had been done.’ But perhaps this is actually Mr. Bernanke’s biggest problem. Today’s crisis isn’t a replay of the problem in the 1930s, but our central bankers have responded by using the tools they should have used then. They are fighting the last war. The result, she argues, has been failure. ‘I don’t see that they’ve achieved what they should have been trying to achieve. So my verdict on this present Fed leadership is that they have not really done their job.'”

President Obama’s economists need to urgently consult Anna J Schwartz.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Postscript:  My own brief views on the subject are at “October 1929? Not!” dated September 18 2008, and “America’s divided economists” dated October 26 2008.  The latter article suggested that playing the demographic card and inducing a wave of immigration into the United States may be the surest way to move the housing demand-curve firmly upwards.

Satyam and IT-firms in general may be good candidates to become “Labour-Managed” firms

Satyam may be able to summarily solve the problems caused by its high-level corporate fraud by transforming itself into a “Labour-Managed Firm”.

One of the new Government-appointed board members has stated publicly today that the company has little or no debt.  If this is true it would be interesting because not only were the vast cash-assets non-existent, the liabilities-side of the balance-sheet also may be small, which could mean the company was simply far smaller in terms of value than it had made itself out to be.  In a bankrupt firm, the remaining assets normally come to belong to the creditors but what if the main creditors happen to be the work-force?  If that is in fact the situation in this case, Satyam may be a prime candidate to be transformed into a “Labour-Managed Firm” of the sort discussed by Jaroslav Vanek (The General Theory of Labour Managed Firms and Market Economies, 1970) and James Meade (The theory of the labour-managed firm and profit-sharing, Economic Journal 1972), and surveyed by e.g. Louis Putterman in the New Palgrave Dictionary and by Martin Ricketts in The Economics of Business Enterprise 2003.

As I had briefly mentioned earlier here, the transition could be made by Satyam’s existing  technical and other staff being allowed to participate (with their personal savings and claims to future income) in any auction of the “works-in-progress” that constitute the client contracts the company presently has around the world and which constitute its major intangible asset.   This may be the single best way to preserve the firm’s value as well as the income-streams of its staff.

The staff would have to make a transition from being employees to becoming self-managers which may not be easy in practice, although in theory the information-technology industry may be well-suited to labour-managed firms given the peculiarly intangible nature of their products.  The marginal cost of production of (true) information is typically very high but the marginal cost of dissemination of information  is near- zero.

If this happened and a corrupt bankrupt Satyam-I transformed itself into a viable Labour-Managed Satyam-II, the newly appointed board would become redundant even more quickly than it would have done otherwise — though this board may be even less likely to know of Vanek and Meade than to be familiar with modern corporate finance.  Time perhaps to hit the textbooks, gentlemen, and burn that midnight candle!  Is that something we can expect from some of the key lobbyists of India’s organized business sector?

Subroto Roy

Postscript  1 :  Of course if the asset-side has been fraudulently exaggerated while the liabilities-side has been small, the fraud has been directly perpetrated on equity-holders who held stock that was overvalued  by the market as a direct result of the fraud.

Postscript 2:  I find (grotesquely) amusing the new found emphasis on “Independent Directors” in view of the obvious fraud in the advertised biographies of some rather notorious Independent Directors in the IT-business and other sectors of corporate India and the higher bureaucracy!   There seems in fact to have been a wild hyperinflation of reputations generally, especially in Delhi,  Mumbai,  Bangalore, Pune and other such hip with-it places  — people claiming to have earned PhDs when they have none,  people calling themselves “Dr” on the basis of some defunct Soviet management institute  having once paid them off, people claiming to be Harvard postgraduates on the basis of  some outsourced executive development programme of a few weeks’ duration, people claiming academic publications and academic affiliations which are non-existent, etc etc.   All that for another day!  (But any former students of mine who may find the above pertinent to themselves may please know their old prof is cross with them! Tsk tsk!)  (And then there was the one of the senior government economic planner who told his astrologer on the  telephone his correct date  of birth but had lied to the Government of India by a couple of years…. clearly he did not want to get his own Ptolomaic horoscope wrong even if his plans for India in the Copernican world went awry!)

Become a US Supreme Court Justice! (Explorations in the Rule of Law in America)

 

For almost two decades, Since the summer of 1988 when *Philosophy of Economics* got accepted for publication, I have found myself in a saga exploring the Rule of Law, the nature of justice and freedom, and the nature of racial animosity and xenophobia in the United States. Judge it here for yourself. Files 1 and 2 marked SCOTUS are the front-matter and Petition for Writ of Mandamus as received by Circuit Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States in February 1996. Files 3 to 10 constitute the Appendix of Record giving the rulings of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including especially in File 8 the “after-discovered” evidence of how my attorney had been covertly purchased by my opponent. An example of perjured trial testimony is contained in File 2. In September 2007, I asked my opponent — the Government of one of the 50 States — to voluntarily admit its wrongdoings to the present Chief Judge of the US District Court as is required by law. Government lawyers should, after all, try to act lawfully.

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Fable of the Fox, the Farmer, and the Would-Be Tailors (circa Oct 1998)

Fable of the Fox, the Farmer, and the Would-Be Tailors

In the Land of Milk and Honey, there was once a great shortage of Tailors. So the King called for Tailors from all other Lands to come, and they would be each paid the princely sum of forty gold ducats for their work…

A Fox who lived in the Land of Stones and Dust heard of this. In the Land of Stones and Dust, people were hardworking but were mostly poor and destitute. If they worked hard all year, they could manage to keep only a half or maybe one ducat of gold. The Fox had an idea. Maybe he could start sending people to be Tailors in the Land of Milk and Honey. So he called a big gathering of the people and said: “People of the Land of Stones and Dust! I want to make you wealthy. All year long you toil and make only a few ducats under the blazing sun! I will make you into Tailors and send you within a few short weeks to the cool and lovely Land of Milk and Honey! Do you know how much a Tailor makes there? Forty gold ducats in a year! Think of that! You and your family will live in the lap of luxury!“ There was a sigh of disbelief mixed with happiness in the crowd at the mention of such an unearthly large sum of money. Nobody, not even the richest, could earn such amounts here, which mere Tailors could make over there! None of the people had been to the Land of Milk and Honey but they had heard many stories of its riches before.

“Come right up, sign right here, sign right here!” said the Fox, and many people crowded to sign on. “It will cost you a couple of ducats, just a couple, that’s all, and we will soon have you off to the Land of Milk and Honey where forty gold ducats are yours for the taking! Isn’t that something?!” When he mentioned the two ducats they had to pay, a lot of people stopped. “But how can we pay so much, you know that in our country we only earn a pittance every year; two ducats are beyond our reach, it means our life’s savings!” “Come now my friends,” said the Fox, “what kind of spirit is that? Can’t you see that soon within a few short weeks you will be in the Land of Milk and Honey, and as a Tailor you will be making forty ducats, now isn’t that truly a princely sum the likes of which you’ve never seen? Think about that! You are being asked to contribute a little something to that goal, what’s one or two ducats here and there, think of your future! If you don’t have the two ducats in your pocket, sell a few things you don’t need, even your house for soon you will be on your way to the Land of Milk and Honey!”

The Fox spoke so persuasively and with such a kind voice and generosity in his eyes that as many as one hundred and sixty people sold their belongings, and each confidently put two ducats into the Fox’s hands. The three hundred and twenty gold ducats brought tears of joy to the Fox as he counted them; this could become such a pleasant activity he thought to himself!

But now, he thought, I have a problem; the King of the Land of Milk and Honey has asked for Tailors, and these people I have are all woodcutters, weavers and candlestick-makers. Somehow, I have to make them all Tailors. Let me go to my friend the Farmer, maybe he can teach them some tailoring for a few ducats!

The Old Farmer listened to the Fox’s offer with increasing anticipation. He had always liked a good sum of money in hand though he was careful not to show it by any ostentation. He had many mouths to feed, and besides if something was left over he would like to visit the Land of Milk and Honey just once himself with all his family. “Certainly, my good friend,” he told the Fox, “give me the money and soon I’ll make tailors out of these people. Oh what fun we shall have together!” The fact he was a farmer and not a tailor himself or that he had never been to the Land of Milk and Honey and knew nothing about it did not seem to bother him. He was a man who felt he knew the substance of almost all the subjects under the sun beneath which he had toiled. Why, even on the subject of tailoring in the Land of Milk and Honey, he had an opinion or two which he felt to be surely among the very best. Besides, he said to himself, what he knew not himself he would rely on his many friends and relatives to provide. So he brought together his wife, who did some sewing, and a cousin who had once cut cloth for a coat, and three nephews who were apprenticed to a weaver, and two of his nieces who were supposed to knit wool so fast that it was said they could make a whole blanket in half a day, as well as a few trusted friends here and there, including one who had once been a tailor’s apprentice many years ago but had not succeeded because of his poor eyesight.

And the Fox brought all the Would-be Tailors to the Old Farmer, who put them all in a room with his kith and kin so they could be taught their skills every day and night for some weeks. A Traveller happened to pass through and find this in progress. “But will this help these woodcutters, weavers and candlestick-makers to become Tailors?” he innocently asked the Old Farmer. The Old Farmer made no reply. Instead, in the deep of night when the Traveller slept, the Farmer and the Fox arranged to have the hapless fool’s throat cut and then threw his body into the sea.

When the Would-Be Tailors came out of the room into the sunlight, the Fox had ships ready for them at the harbour to take them to the Land of Milk and Honey. He bundled them on board, and almost before they could say their farewells to their loved ones, the ships were quickly on their way. “But are we Tailors now?” shouted one from the decks. “What?”, the Fox said over all the noise, “are you Tailors now? Yes, yes, of course you are Tailors, what else do you think you are, don’t worry about anything, you are Tailors all right, you are just what they want in the Land of Milk and Honey, work hard now, and all the best to you, good luck!”

Alas, it was not to be. Some of the Would-Be Tailors never reached as their ships sank en route. Others reached but could not find work or were killed by the locals in the Land of Milk and Honey or were sent in slave ships back to the Land of Stones and Dust. A few Would-Be Tailors did manage to stay on somehow and per chance learned to become tailors and earn a modest living, but they too yearned for their homes and families and even the hot sun of their own Land of Stones and Dust. As for the Fox and the Old Farmer, life went on nicely enough, as they went from town to town speaking to people about the glories and riches that awaited them in the cool and lovely Land of Milk and Honey, and many crowds gathered to hear them everywhere they went.

Moral: Do not interfere with people when they are making money (or, for that matter, when they are eating, or making love).