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.
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:
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.
First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page Nov 22 2006
Milton Friedman, who died on 16 November 2006 in San Francisco, was without a doubt the greatest economist after John Maynard Keynes. Before Keynes, great 20th century economists included Alfred Marshall and Knut Wicksell, while Keynes’s contemporaries included Irving Fisher, AC Pigou and many others. Keynes was followed by his younger critic FA Hayek, but Hayek is remembered less for his technical economics as for his criticism of “socialist economics” and contributions to politics. Milton Friedman more than anyone else was Keynes’s successor in economics (and in applied macroeconomics in particular), in the same way David Ricardo had been the successor of Adam Smith. Ricardo disagreed with Smith and Friedman disagreed with Keynes, but the impact of each on the direction and course both of economics and of the world in which they lived was similar in size and scope.
Friedman’s impact on the contemporary world may have been largest through his design and advocacy as early as 1953 of the system of floating exchange-rates. In the early 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system of adjustable fixed exchange-rates collapsed and Friedman’s friend and colleague George P. Shultz was US Treasury Secretary in the Nixon Administration, the international monetary system started to become of the kind Friedman had described two decades earlier. Equally large was Friedman’s worldwide impact in re-establishing concern about the frequent cause of macroeconomic inflation being money supply growth rates well above real income growth rates. All contemporary talk of “inflation targeting” among macroeconomic policy-makers since the 1980s has its roots in Friedman’s December 1967 presidential address to the American Economic Association. His main empirical disagreement with Keynes and the Keynesians lay in his belief that people held the intrinsically worthless tokens known as “money” largely in order to expedite their transactions and not as a store of value – hence the “demand for money” was a function mostly of income and not of interest rates, contrary to what Keynes had suggested in his 1930s analysis of “Depression Economics”. It is in this sense that Friedman restored the traditional “quantity theory” as being a specific theory of the demand for money.
Friedman’s main descriptive work lay in the monumental Monetary History of the United States he co-authored with Anna J. Schwartz, which suggested drastic contractions of the money supply had contributed to the Great Depression in America. Friedman made innumerable smaller contributions too, the most prominent and foresighted of which had to do with advocating larger parental choice in the public finance of their children’s school education via the use of “vouchers”. The modern Friedman Foundation has that as its main focus of philanthropy. The emphasis on greater individual choice in school education exemplified Friedman’s commitments both to individual freedom and the notion of investment in human capital.
Friedman had significant influences upon several non-Western countries too, most prominently India and China, besides a grossly misreported episode in Chile. As described in his autobiography with his wife Rose, Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998), Friedman spent six months in India in 1955 at the Government of India’s invitation during the formulation of the Second Five Year Plan. His work done for the Government of India came to be suppressed for the next 34 years. Peter Bauer had told me during my doctoral work at Cambridge in the late 1970s of the existence of a Friedman memorandum, and N. Georgescu-Roegen told me the same in America in 1980, adding that Friedman had been almost insulted publicly by VKRV Rao at the time after giving a lecture to students on his analysis of India’s problems.
The other document on Mahalanobis is published in The Statesman today for the first time, though there has been an Internet copy floating around for a few years. The Friedmans’ autobiography quoted what I said in 1989 about the 1955 memorandum and may be repeated: “The aims of economic policy (in India) were to create conditions for rapid increase in levels of income and consumption for the mass of the people, and these aims were shared by everyone from PC Mahalanobis to Milton Friedman. The means recommended were different. Mahalanobis advocated a leading role for the state and an emphasis on the growth of physical capital. Friedman advocated a necessary but clearly limited role for the state, and placed on the agenda large-scale investment in the stock of human capital, encouragement of domestic competition, steady and predictable monetary growth, and a flexible exchange rate for the rupee as a convertible hard currency, which would have entailed also an open competitive position in the world economy… If such an alternative had been more thoroughly discussed at the time, the optimal role of the state in India today, as well as the optimum complementarity between human capital and physical capital, may have been more easily determined.”
A few months before attending my Hawaii conference on India, Friedman had been in China, and his memorandum to Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and two-hour dialogue of 19 September 1988 with him are now classics republished in the 1998 autobiography. Also republished there are all documents relating to Friedman’s six-day academic visit to Chile in March 1975 and his correspondence with General Pinochet, which speak for themselves and make clear Friedman had nothing to do with that regime other than offer his opinion when asked about how to reduce Chile’s hyperinflation at the time.
My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics, with e-mails exchanged as recently as September. I was a doctoral student of his bitter enemy yet for over two decades he not only treated me with unfailing courtesy and affection, he supported me in lonely righteous battles: doing for me what he said he had never done before, which was to stand as an expert witness in a United States Federal Court. I will miss him much though I know that he, as a man of reason, would not have wished me to.
Preface May 26 2009: Despite the harshness of this review, I should like to add that Ms Sucheta Dalal of Mumbai is my favourite financial journalist in India.
Review of A. D. Shroff: Titan of Finance and Free Enterprise by Sucheta Dalal, with a foreword by N. A. Palkhivala, Viking 2000.
First published in Freedom First, 2001
A. D. Shroff died on October 27 1965. But if you want to know when he was born you will not find it in this biography – it could be deduced to be 1898, 1899, 1900 or 1901 depending on where you look in this book. We are told Shroff got a second at Bombay University and proceeded to the LSE in the early 1920s. That was an exciting time to be in Europe and at the LSE in particular, yet this biography tells us nothing of what Shroff may have felt or experienced there, except that he got a job with an American and not an English bank, and attended evening classes at the LSE. Shroff is said to return in 1924 and almost immediately becomes a partner in Batlivala & Karani, stockbrokers, where he remains until 1939 when he joins the Tatas. Now Shroff was a Parsi, and his early education, career and professional relationships in the Bombay financial world were doubtless governed by this central fact. Yet even this vital aspect of his life has not seemed worthy of serious development by Sucheta Dalal.
Then Ms. Dalal tells us numerous times that Shroff was “astonishingly successful” and a “financial wizard”, yet she does not offer a single concrete example which may have illustrated this definitively for us to reflect upon or learn from. Shroff was a stock-broker who actively traded, we are told, on the international exchanges, yet we do not come to know whether he made money or lost money during the boom of the 1920s, the Great Crash of 1929 or the Great Depression of the 1930s. Ms. Dalal tells us (p. 16) the young Shroff’s tax return for 1935 showed an income of Rs. 167,000. As a “well-known financial journalist” herself, she could have calculated this to amount to something like Rs. 20,752,707 at today’s prices. But Ms. Dalal makes no attempt to explain how Shroff made this enormous income, nor does she delve into the further obvious question how a man like Shroff was then eventually to die with taxes unpaid, leaving his family in some financial distress or difficulty. We may have reasonably expected some explanation of all this, but no, it is all going to be left a mystery. That Shroff was “particularly charming to women”, was fond of throwing “lavish” parties, or that he suffered a “nervous breakdown” in 1938, only serves to deepen the mystery. Practically the only concrete example of Shroff’s financial wizardry given by Sucheta Dalal in this biography is that he seems to have been close to the regime of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and borrowed from that source to get the Tatas out of a financial jam.
Ms. Dalal makes much of Shroff being considered for the job of Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India in 1936, in succession to Sikander Hyat (later Premier of Punjab), a job which went to Manilal Nanavati, a senior administrator of Baroda. Dalal says that Shroff was the preferred candidate of the RBI’s first Governor, an Australian banker by the name of Osborne Smith, and that his appointment was sabotaged by the machinations of the senior Deputy Governor, James Taylor, and his fellow civil servant and Finance Member, James Grigg. Now the RBI’s official history spends long pages discussing some of the roots of a conflict between Smith, Taylor and Grigg (History of the Reserve Bank of India, 1939-1951, RBI Bombay 1970, p. 222 et. seq. ). Ms. Dalal has done well to throw some new light on that early conflict, but she makes no comment on why the official history makes no mention at all of Shroff, then a youthful stock-broker, being a candidate for the job, only that “about 25 people were in the run for the post” (History, p. 227). The same official history mentions Shroff and others being members of the “Currency League” which agitated against parts of the original RBI Bill, but Ms. Dalal seems not to have looked up Shroff ‘s name in the index of that book and so says nothing about it.
Leave aside facts and economic history and turn to the sort of gossip, anecdote and rumour which fills many of these pages. Ms. Dalal tells us Shroff had monumental confrontations with two senior contemporaries of his in the Bombay financial world: J. R. D. Tata and Ardeshir Dalal. Fascinating, the reader says, tell us more about this at least. But again there is only disappointment, and we learn almost nothing of the depth or dynamics of these conflicts either. Time after time, a reader is forced to decide whether the biographer has been merely lazy in dealing with her chosen subject or whether facts are being glossed over thirty five years after his death.
This is a great pity. A. D. Shroff’s lasting legacy for India has been the Forum of Free Enterprise, run so ably by his friend and disciple M. R. Pai for so long. Post-Independence Indian liberals, like many liberals elsewhere, are of two kinds – those who were arguing for liberalism before it became fashionable to do so, and those who are filled with newly discovered liberal ideas now that it has become fashionable to be so. The way to fix which category one belongs to is by recalling one’s opinions before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, our nation of hundreds of millions of people, produced a sum total of perhaps a dozen or so genuine liberals in political economy: Rajagopalachari, Masani, Shenoy among them.
Shroff’s Forum of Free Enterprise was one rare beacon of hope that Indian liberals had in those dark days before 1989. (To her credit, Ms. Dalal records Shroff’s assessment of Nehru: “Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru has indulged in a very serious self-contradiction when he wants a rapid industrialization of the country and at the same time preaches the abolition of private property”). The Forum’s little, plain, inexpensive pamphlets, with their massive reach among unknown multitudes of Indian students, often seemed more important than most Indian newspaper editorials at the time, because they defiantly permitted the opinions of a Milton Friedman or a Peter Bauer to be expressed to contradict the Sovietesque intelligentsia in Delhi and elsewhere. From each of those pamphlets peered out a photograph of and a quotation from A. D. Shroff. Many Forum readers must have wondered who this man was who had given them the chance to read these little pamphlets in the darkness. The opportunity after all these years of even a sponsored biography was an outstanding one. It should have been seized properly and professionally, for the production of a full and comprehensive picture of the man — his talents as well as his faults. This reviewer has little doubt that Shroff was a strong, hard, rambunctious kind of man, who hated all things puny and narrow-minded, who may have had in him rare qualities of economic leadership which India did not come to properly utilize. (Suppose Nehru had made him Finance Minister — could he have been India’s Ludwig Erhardt?) A chance to properly write the biography of that man has been squandered.
Preface August 2008 : In the summer of 1977, I had run out of money completely after my first year as a Research Student at Cambridge; I was offered a job to teach at a renowned girls’ school at Cambridge (the Perse School for Girls) but when I returned to India, I was offered a Junior Research Fellowship at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, by Professor VK Chetty (author of some excellent work on Indian monetary economics) which I accepted for a few months.
(It was all vegetarian by way of cuisine at ISI so I used to cycle to the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus for some non-vegetarian food — only to encounter at the restaurant there some of those who run the CPI-M party today! They did not quite know what to make of a libertarian!)
Sukhamoy Chakravarty is perhaps the foremost economist in India today. He has been a principal student of the theory of development planning as well as instrumental in the formulation of economic policy in the country. The work under review derives from his Radhakrishnan Memorial Lectures given at All Souls College, Oxford, in 1985. It is a critical and yet sympathetic assessment of Indian experience, which offers critics of planning a more formidable foil than has been available thus far.
The key decisions which have shaped the present state of India’s economy and polity were taken in the mid 1950s by Jawaharlal Nehru on the advice of PC Mahalanobis. Both had been impressed with what they supposed to be Soviet experience and disillusioned with what they supposed to be the experience of the relatively decentralized market economies of the West. The decisions taken entailed, among other things, widespread and detailed regulation of private industry, large-scale industrial investments by the government, widespread and detailed control of foreign trade and payments, an assumption of inflows of foreign aid, and a neglect of agriculture.
Chakravarty suggests these decisions may have been rational at the time. In other words, whatever we might think of them now, given the circumstances and the state of knowledge then, India did what India should have done.
The present reviewer disagrees. The grounds for disagreement briefly are (a) a liberal alternative had been clearly expressed in India even in the 1950s (by B.R. Shenoy, Milton Friedman and Peter Bauer) but was for all practical purposes forcibly silenced; (b) this alternative has had at least as strong a claim, if not a much stronger claim, to economic reasoning and evidence than what came to be accepted.
Be this as it may, Chakravarty is a serious, scholarly, and undogmatic planner, and it so happens that several of his strongest opinions in the book are ones with which the liberal critic will have no disagreement at all. For example, he stresses the great importance of providing infrastructure in agriculture, and of “the need to upgrade the quality of human agents through appropriate investment in health, education and nutrition” (p. 75). T. W. Schultz of the University of Chicago has argued precisely the same for several decades now, and in fact received the Nobel Prize in recognition of it. So had Milton Friedman in a Memorandum to the Government of India in 1955. Then Chakravarty decries mere stimulation of monetary demand through what is called deficit financing, which amounts to little more than printing money” (p. 76), and points further to the government monopoly over the banking system, which gives it “command over financial savings of the community at largely negative real rates of interest” (p. 79). Here Chakravarty draws upon his experience as chairman of a very important commission of the Reserve Bank of India, which, in an excellent report, made a candid assessment of the politicisation of the money supply in India (Report of the Committee to Review the Working of the Monetary System, Bombay: Reserve Bank of India, 1985).
Then Chakravarty speaks of the “level of efficiency in the operation and maintenance of the public sector”, and says “the type of managerial culture that is needed to realize a higher level of productivity of capital and labour cannot be reached with the present style of running public enterprises” (p. 79).
Critics of development planning can hardly be in disagreement with such statements. They might add perhaps that a major way to improve competitiveness and raise revenues which could then go towards provision of public goods and investment in agriculture draw out the huge volumes of black money in the underground economy would be to sell most if not all of the non-defence public sector. Combined with optimal provision of public goods, the deregulation of private industry and the encouragement of competition in all spheres, such a policy would go far towards a commonsensical approach at home, even while the economy remained relatively closed to the outside or opened only slowly.
Chakravarty expresses a considerable scepticism with respect to current beliefs in India that the importation of the latest industrial technologies will somehow swiftly turn the economy outward to export-led growth (pp.72-73). His argument is sobering, as when he points to balance of payments problems in a transition and also to possible external constraints on the growth of exports. This too the critic of Indian planning may find plausible. And besides, if shallow liberalization fails, then there is danger that the real thing will never come to be tried.
In general, Chakravarty advocates a method of careful and undogmatic assessment of facts and given circumstances, followed by measured and incremental responses. His splendid essays will be useful to friends and critics of development planning alike.”
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