Did Jagdish Bhagwati “originate”, “pioneer”, “intellectually father” India’s 1991 economic reform? Did Manmohan Singh? Or did I, through my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, just as Siddhartha Shankar Ray told Manmohan & his aides in Sep 1993 in Washington? Judge the evidence for yourself. And why has Amartya Sen misdescribed his work? India’s right path forward today remains what I said in my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture!

Did Jagdish Bhagwati “originate”, “pioneer”, “intellectually father” India’s 1991 economic reform?  Did Manmohan Singh? Or did I, through my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, just as Siddhartha Shankar Ray told Manmohan & his aides in Sep 1993 in Washington?  Judge the evidence for yourself.  And why has Amartya Sen misdescribed his work? India’s right path forward today remains what I said in my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture!




Part I:  Facts vs Fiction, Flattery, Falsification, etc


1. Problem

2.    Rajiv Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Milton Friedman & Myself

3.     Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh?  That just don’t fly!

 4.    Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism:  “To each according to his need”?


  Part II:    India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups

5.   Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics

6.   Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy

7.    Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan

8.  Dealing with Communist China

9.   Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making

10.   India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad



Part I:  Facts vs Fiction, Flattery, Falsification, etc


1. Problem

Arvind Panagariya says in the Times of India of 27 July 2013


 “…if in 1991 India embraced many of the Track-I reforms, writings by Sen played no role in it… The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati, both solely and jointly with Padma Desai and T N Srinivasan….”


Now Amartya Sen has not claimed involvement in the 1991 economic reforms so we are left with Panagariya claiming


“The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati…”


Should we suppose Professor Panagariya’s master and co-author Jagdish Bhagwati himself substantially believes and claims the same?  Three recent statements from Professor Bhagwati suffice by way of evidence:


(A)  Bhagwati said to parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha on 2 December 2010 about the pre-1991 situation:


“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s which culminated in our book, India: Planning for Industrialization (Oxford University Press: 1970) with a huge blowback at the time from virtually all the other leading economists and policymakers who were unable to think outside the box. In the end, our views prevailed and the changes which would transform the economy began, after an external payments crisis in 1991, under the forceful leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister at the time….”


(B)  Bhagwati said to Economic Times on 28 July 2013:


“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’.”


(C)  And Bhagwati said in Business Standard of 9 August 2013:


“… I was among the intellectual pioneers of the Track I reforms that transformed our economy and reduced poverty, and witness to that is provided by the Prime Minister’s many pronouncements and by noted economists like Deena Khatkhate.. I believe no one has accused Mr. Sen of being the intellectual father of these reforms. So, the fact is that this huge event in the economic life of India passed him by…”


From these pronouncements it seems fair to conclude Professors Bhagwati and Panagariya are claiming Bhagwati has been the principal author of “the intellectual origins” of India’s 1991 reforms, has been their “intellectual father” or at the very least has been “among the intellectual pioneers” of the reform (“among” his own collaborators and friends, since none else is mentioned).  Bhagwati has said too his friend Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister participated in the process while quoting Manmohan as having said Bhagwati was the principal author. 


Bhagwati’s opponent in current debate,  Amartya Sen, has been in agreement with him that Manmohan, their common friend during college days at Cambridge in the 1950s, was a principal originating the 1991 reforms, saying to Forbes in 2006:


“When Manmohan Singh came to office in the early 1990s as the newly appointed finance minister, in a government led by the Congress Party, he knew these problems well enough, as someone who had been strongly involved in government administration for a long time.”


In my experience, such sorts of claims, even in their weakest form, have been, at best, scientifically sloppy and unscholarly,  at worst mendacious suppressio veri/suggestio falsi, and in between these best and worst interpretations, examples of academic self-delusion and mutual flattery.  We shall see Bhagwati’s opponent, Amartya Sen, has denied academic paternity of recent policies he has spawned while appearing to claim academic paternity of things he has not!  Everyone may have reasonably expected greater self-knowledge, wisdom and scholarly values of such eminent academics.  Their current spat has instead seemed to reveal something rather dismal and self-serving. 


You can decide for yourself where the truth, ever such an elusive and fragile thing, happens to be and what is best done about it.   Here is some evidence.



2.  Rajiv Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray,  Milton Friedman & Myself


Professor Arvind Panagariya is evidently an American economics professor of Indian national origin who holds the Jagdish Bhagwati Chair of Indian Political Economy at Columbia University.   I am afraid I had not known his name until he mentioned my name in Economic Times of  24 October 2001.   He said




In mentioning the volume “edited by Subroto Roy and William E  James”,  Professor Panagariya did not appear to find the normal scientific civility to identify our work by name, date or publisher.  So here that is now:





This was a book published in 1992 by the late Tejeshwar Singh for Sage.  It resulted from the University of Hawaii Manoa perestroika-for-India project, that I and Ted James created and led between 1986 and 1992/93.   (Yes, Hawaii — not Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia or even Penn, whose India-policy programs were Johnny-come-latelies a decade or more later…)   There is a sister-volume too on Pakistan, created by a parallel project Ted and I had led at the same time:





In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission saying if our plan to study Afghanistan after India and Pakistan had not been thwarted by malign local forces among our sponsors themselves, we, a decade before the September 11 2001 attacks on the USA, may  just have come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis.   It was not to be.


Milton Friedman’s chapter that we published for the first time was a memorandum he wrote in November 1955 for the Government of India which the GoI had effectively suppressed.  I came to know of it while a doctoral student at Cambridge under Frank Hahn, when at a conference at Oxford about 1979-1980, Peter Tamas Bauer sat me down beside him and told me the story.  Later in Blacksburg about 1981, N. Georgescu-Roegen on a visit from Vanderbilt University told me the same thing.  Specifically, Georgescu-Roegen told me that leading Indian academics had almost insulted Milton in public which Milton had borne gamely; that after Milton had given a talk in Delhi to VKRV Rao’s graduate-students,  a talk Georgescu-Roegen had been present at, VKRV Rao had addressed the students and told them in all seriousness “You have heard what Professor Friedman has to say, if you repeat what he has said in your exams, you will fail”.


In 1981-1982 my doctoral thesis emerged, titled “On liberty & economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”,




My late great master in economic theory, Frank Hahn (1925-2013), found what I had written to be a “good thesis” bringing “a good knowledge of economics and of philosophy to bear on the literature on economic planning”, saying I had  shown “a good knowledge of economic theory” and my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds”.  


I myself said about it decades later “My original doctoral topic in 1976  ‘A monetary theory for India’ had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 … was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers.  Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men. “Economic Theory and Development Economics” was presented to the American Economic Association in December 1982 in company of Solow, Chenery, Streeten, and other eminences…” How I landed on that eminent AEA panel in December 1982 was because its convener Professor George Rosen of the University of Illinois recruited me overnight — as a replacement for Jagdish Bhagwati, who had had to return to India suddenly because of a parental death.  The results were published in 1983 in World Development.


Soon afterwards, London’s Institute of Economic Affairs published Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India.  This slim work was the first classical liberal critique of post-Mahalonobis Indian economic thought since BR Shenoy’s original criticism decades earlier.  It became the subject of The Times’ lead editorial on its day of publication 29 May 1984 — provoking the Indian High Commission in London to send copies to the Finance Ministry in Delhi where it apparently caused a stir, or so I was told years later by Amaresh Bagchi who was a recipient of it at the Ministry.



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 there were inaccuracies in this and so replied  dated 4 June which The Times published on 16 June 1984:



Milton and I met for the first time in the Fall of 1984 at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings at Cambridge when I gave him a copy of the IEA monograph, which he came to think extremely well of.   I told him I had heard of his 1955 document and asked him for it; he sent me the original blue/purple version of this soon thereafter.


[That original document was, incidentally,  in my professorial office among all my books, papers, theses and other academic items including my gown when I was attacked in 2003 by a corrupt gang at IIT Kharagpur —  all yet to be returned to me by IIT despite a High Court order during my present ongoing battle against corruption there over a USD 1.9 million scam !… Without having ever wished to, I have had to battle India’s notorious corruption first hand for a decade!]


I published Milton’s document for the first time on 21 May 1989 at the conference of the Hawaii project over the loud objection of assorted leftists… 


Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, Manmohan Singh or any of their acolytes will not be seen in this group photograph dated 21 May 1989 at the UH President’s House, because they were not there.  The Government of India was represented by the Ambassador to Washington, PK Kaul, as well as the Consul General in San Francisco, KS Rana (later Ambassador to Germany), besides the founding head of ICRIER who had invited himself.  


Manmohan Singh was not there as he precisely represented the Indian economic policy establishment I had been determined to reform!   In any case, he had left India about 1987 on his last assignment before retirement, with Julius Nyerere of Tanzania relating to the “South-South Commission”.  


I have said over more than a half dozen years now that there is no evidence whatsoever of Manmohan Singh having been a liberal economist in any sense of that word at any time before 1991, and scant evidence that he originated any liberal economic ideas since.  The widespread worldwide notion that he is to be credited for originating a sudden transformation of India from a path of pseudo-socialism to one of pseudo-liberalism has been without basis in evidence — almost entirely a political fiction, though an explicable one and one which has served, as such political fictions do, the purposes of those who invent them.


Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen were in their mid 50s and were two of the three senior-most Indians in US academic economics at the time.  I and Ted James, both in our 30s, decided to invite both Bhagwati and Sen to the Hawaii project-conference as distinguished guests but to do so somewhat insincerely late in the day, predicting they would decline, which is what they did, yet they had come to be formally informed of what we were doing.  We had a very serious attitude that was inspired a bit, I might say, by Oppenheimer’s secret “Manhattan project” and we wanted neither press-publicity nor anyone to become the star who ended up hogging the microphone or the limelight.


Besides, and most important of all, neither Bhagwati nor Sen had done work in the areas we were centrally interested in, namely, India’s macroeconomic and foreign trade framework and fiscal and monetary policies.   


Bhagwati, after his excellent 1970 work with Padma Desai for the OECD on Indian industry and trade, also co-authored with TN Srinivasan a fine 1975 volume for the NBER  Foreign Trade Regimes and Economic Development: India. 


TN Srinivasan was the third of the three senior-most Indian economists at the time in US academia; his work made us want to invite him as one of our main economic authors, and we charged him with writing the excellent chapter in Foundations that he came to do titled “Planning and Foreign Trade Reconsidered”.


The other main economist author we had hoped for was Sukhamoy Chakravarty from Delhi University and the Government of India’s Planning Commission, whom I had known since 1977 when I had been given his office at the Delhi School of Economics as a Visiting Assistant Professor while he was on sabbatical; despite my pleading he would not come due to ill health; he strongly recommended C Rangarajan, telling me Rangarajan had been the main author with him of the crucial 1985 RBI report on monetary policy; and he signed and gave me his last personal copy of that report dating it 14 July 1987.  Rangarajan said he could not come and recommended the head of the NIPFP, Amaresh Bagchi, promising to write jointly with him the chapter on monetary policy and public finance. 


Along with Milton Friedman’s suppressed 1955 memorandum which I was publishing for the first time in 1989, TN Srinivasan and Amaresh Bagchi authored the three main economic policy chapters that we felt we wanted. 


Other chapters we commissioned had to do with the state of governance (James Manor), federalism (Bhagwan Dua), Punjab and similar problems (PR Brass), agriculture (K Subbarao, as proposed by CH Hanumantha Rao), health (Anil Deolalikar, through open advertisement), and a historical assessment of the roots of economic policy (BR Tomlinson, as proposed by Anil Seal).  On the vital subject of education we failed to agree with the expert we wanted very much  (JBG Tilak, as proposed by George Psacharopolous) and so we had to cover the subject cursorily in our introduction mentioning his work.  And decades later, I apologised to Professor Dietmar Rothermund of Heidelberg University for having been so blinkered in the Anglo-American tradition at the time as to not having obtained his participation in the project.  


[The sister-volume we commissioned in parallel on Pakistan’s political economy had among its authors Francis Robinson, Akbar Ahmed, Shirin Tahir-Kehli, Robert La Porte, Shahid Javed Burki, Mohsin Khan, Mahmood Hasan Khan,  Naved Hamid, John Adams and Shahrukh Khan; this book came to be published in Pakistan in 1993 to good reviews but apparently was then lost by its publisher and is yet to be found; the military and religious clergy had been deliberately not invited by us though the name of Pervez Musharraf had I think arisen, and the military and religious clergy in fact came to rule the roost through the 1990s in Pakistan; the volume, two decades old, takes on fresh relevance with the new civilian governments of recent years.] [Postscript  27 November 2015: See my strident critique at Twitter of KM Kasuri, P Musharraf et al  e.g. at https://independentindian.com/2011/11/22/pakistans-point-of-view-or-points-of-view-on-kashmir-my-as-yet-undelivered-lahore-lecture-part-i/ passing off ideas they have taken from this volume without acknowledgement, ideas which have in any case become defunct  to their author, myself.]


Milton himself said this about his experience with me in his memoirs:




And Milton wrote on my behalf when I came to be attacked, being Indian, at the very University that had sponsored us:



My obituary notice at his passing in 2006 said: “My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics…. 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….”


In August 1990 in Delhi I came to tell Siddhartha Shankar Ray about the unpublished India-manuscript resulting from the Hawaii project that was in my possession as it headed to its publisher. 


Ray was a family-friend whose maternal grandfather CR Das led the Congress Party before MK Gandhi and had been a friend and colleague of my great grandfather SN Roy in Bengal’s politics in the 1920s;  Ray had also consented to stand on my behalf as Senior Counsel in a matter in the Supreme Court of India. 


Ray was involved in daily political parlays at his Delhi home with other Congress Party personages led by PV Narasimha Rao.  These senior regional figures seemed to me to be keeping their national leader, Rajiv Gandhi, aloof in splendid isolation at 10 Jan Path. 


Ray told me he and his wife had been in London in May 1984 on the day The Times had written its lead editorial on my work and they had seen it with excitement.  Upon hearing of the Hawaii project and the manuscript I had with me, Ray immediately insisted of his own accord that I must meet Rajiv Gandhi, and that he would be arranging a meeting. 


Hence it came to be a month later that a copy of the manuscript of the completed Hawaii project was be given by my hand on 18 September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi, then Leader of the Opposition and Congress President, an encounter I have quite fully described elsewhere.  I offered to get a copy to the PM, VP Singh, too but a key aide of his showed no interest in receiving it.


Rajiv made me a senior adviser, and I have claimed principal authorship of the 22 March 1991 draft of the Congress manifesto that actually shook and changed the political thinking of the Congress on economic matters in the direction Rajiv had desired and as I had advised him at our initial 18 September 1990 meeting. 


“… He began by talking about how important he felt panchayati raj was, and said he had been on the verge of passing major legislation on it but then lost the election. He asked me if I could spend some time thinking about it, and that he would get the papers sent to me. I said I would and remarked panchayati raj might be seen as decentralized provision of public goods, and gave the economist’s definition of public goods as those essential for the functioning of the market economy, like the Rule of Law, roads, fresh water, and sanitation, but which were unlikely to appear through competitive forces.


I distinguished between federal, state and local levels and said many of the most significant public goods were best provided locally. Rajiv had not heard the term “public goods” before, and he beamed a smile and his eyes lit up as he voiced the words slowly, seeming to like the concept immensely. It occurred to me he had been by choice a pilot of commercial aircraft. Now he seemed intrigued to find there could be systematic ways of thinking about navigating a country’s governance by common pursuit of reasonable judgement. I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)


Our project had identified the Congress’s lack of internal elections as a problem; when I raised it, Rajiv spoke of how he, as Congress President, had been trying to tackle the issue of bogus electoral rolls. I said the judiciary seemed to be in a mess due to the backlog of cases; many of which seemed related to land or rent control, and it may be risky to move towards a free economy without a properly functioning judicial system or at least a viable system of contractual enforcement. I said a lot of problems which should be handled by the law in the courts in India were instead getting politicised and decided on the streets. Rajiv had seen the problems of the judiciary and said he had good relations with the Chief Justice’s office, which could be put to use to improve the working of the judiciary.


The project had worked on Pakistan as well, and I went on to say we should solve the problem with Pakistan in a definitive manner. Rajiv spoke of how close his government had been in 1988 to a mutual withdrawal from Siachen. But Zia-ul-Haq was then killed and it became more difficult to implement the same thing with Benazir Bhutto, because, he said, as a democrat, she was playing to anti-Indian sentiments while he had found it somewhat easier to deal with the military. I pressed him on the long-term future relationship between the countries and he agreed a common market was the only real long-term solution. I wondered if he could find himself in a position to make a bold move like offering to go to Pakistan and addressing their Parliament to break the impasse. He did not say anything but seemed to think about the idea. Rajiv mentioned a recent Time magazine cover of Indian naval potential, which had caused an excessive stir in Delhi. He then talked about his visit to China, which seemed to him an important step towards normalization. He said he had not seen (or been shown) any absolute poverty in China of the sort we have in India. He talked about the Gulf situation, saying he did not disagree with the embargo of Iraq except he wished the ships enforcing the embargo had been under the U.N. flag. The meeting seemed to go on and on, and I was embarrassed at perhaps having taken too much time and that he was being too polite to get me to go. V. George had interrupted with news that Sheila Dixit (as I recall) had just been arrested by the U. P. Government, and there were evidently people waiting. Just before we finally stood up I expressed a hope that he was looking to the future of India with an eye to a modern political and economic agenda for the next election, rather than getting bogged down with domestic political events of the moment. That was the kind of hopefulness that had attracted many of my generation in 1985. I said I would happily work in any way to help define a long-term agenda. His eyes lit up and as we shook hands to say goodbye, he said he would be in touch with me again…. The next day I was called and asked to stay in Delhi for a few days, as Mr. Gandhi wanted me to meet some people…..


… That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country.  This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the VP Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization….. 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….”




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“… 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….”


In December 1991, I visited Rajiv’s widow at 10 Jan Path to express my condolences, the only time I have met her, and I gave her for her records a taped copy of Rajiv’s long-distance telephone conversations with me during the Gulf War earlier that year.   She seemed an extremely shy taciturn figure in deep mourning, and I do not think the little I said to her about her late husband’s relationship with me was comprehended.  Nor was it the time or place for more to be said.


In September 1993, at a special luncheon at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then the Ambassador to Washington, pointed at me and declared to Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, in presence of Manmohan’s key aides accompanying him including MS Ahluwalia, NK Singh, C Rangarajan and others,


“Congress manifesto was written on his computer”.


This was accurate enough to the extent that the 22 March 1991 draft as asked for by Rajiv and that came to explicitly affect policy had been and remains on my then-new NEC laptop.


At the Ambassador’s luncheon, I gave Manmohan Singh a copy of the Foundations book as a gift.  My father who knew him in the early 1970s through MG Kaul, ICS, had sent him a copy of my 1984 IEA monograph which Manmohan had acknowledged.  And back in 1973, he had visited our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in Paris to advise me about economics at my father’s request, and he and I had ended up in a fierce private debate for about forty minutes over the demerits (as I saw them) and merits (as he saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic policy-making.  But in 1993 we had both forgotten the 1973 meeting.  


In May 2002, the Congress passed an official party resolution moved by Digvijay Singh in presence of PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh that the 1991 reforms had originated with Rajiv Gandhi and not with either Narasimha Rao or Manmohan; no one dissented.  It was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President,  but there was truth in it too which all Congress MPs of the 13th Lok Sabha had come to know in a publication of mine they had received from me at IIT Kharagpur where since 1996 I had become Professor.  


Manmohan Singh himself, to his credit, has not at any point, except once during his failed Lok Sabha bid, claimed the reforms as his own invention and has said always he had followed what his Prime Minister had told him. However, he has not been averse to being attributed with all the credit by his flatterers, by the media, by businessmen and many many others around the world, and certainly he did not respond to Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray telling him and his key aides how the Congress-led reform had come about through my work except to tell me at the 1993 luncheon that when Arjun Singh criticised the reforms in Cabinet, he, Manmohan, would mention the manifesto. 


On 28 December 2009, Rajiv’s widow in an official Congress Party statement finally declared her late husband


left his personal imprint on the (Congress) party’s manifesto of 1991.″ 


How Sonia Gandhi, who has never had pretensions to knowledge of economics or political economy or political science or governance or history, came to place Manmohan Singh as her prime ministerial candidate and the font of economic and political wisdom along with Pranab Mukherjee, when both men hardly had been favourites of her late husband, would be a story in its own right.  And how Amartya Sen’s European-origin naturalised Indian co-author Jean Drèze later came to have policy influence from a different direction upon Sonia Gandhi, also a naturalised Indian of European origin, may be yet another story in its own right,  perhaps best told by themselves.


I would surmise the same elderly behind-the-scenes figure, now in his late 80s, had a hand in setting up both sets of influences — directly in the first case (from back in 1990-1991),  and indirectly in the second case (starting in 2004) .  This was a man who in a November 2007 newspaper article literally erased my name and inserted that of Manmohan Singh as part of the group that Rajiv created on 25 September following his 18 September meeting with me!   Reluctantly, I had to call this very elderly man a liar; he has not denied it and knows he has not been libeled.


One should never forget the two traditional powers interested in the subcontinent, Russia and Britain, have been never far from influence in Delhi.  In 1990-1991 what worried vested bureaucratic and business interests and foreign powers through their friends and agents was that they could see change was coming to India but they wanted to be able to control it themselves to their advantage, which they then broadly proceeded to do over the next two decades.  The foreign weapons’ contracts had to be preserved, as did other big-ticket imports that India ends up buying needlessly on credit it hardly has in world markets.  There are similarities to what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe where many apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became freedom-loving liberals overnight;  in the Indian case more than one badly compromised pro-USSR senior bureaucrat promptly exported his children and savings to America and wrapped themselves in the American flag.


The stubborn unalterable fact remains that Manmohan Singh was not physically present in India and was still with the Nyerere project on 18 September 1990 when I met Rajiv for the first time and gave him the unpublished results of the UH-Manoa project.  This simple straightforward fact is something the Congress Party, given its own myths and self-deception and disinformation, has not been able to cope with in its recently published history.   For myself, I have remained loyal to my memory of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, and my understanding of him.  The Rajiv Gandhi I knew had been enthused by me in 1990-1991 carrying the UH-Manoa perestroika-for-India project that I had led since 1986, and he had loved my advice to him on 18 September 1990 that he needed to modernise the party by preparing a coherent agenda (as other successful reformers had done) while still in Opposition waiting for elections, and to base that agenda on commitments to improving the judiciary and rule of law, stopping the debauching of money, and focusing on the provision of public goods instead.    Rajiv I am sure wanted a modern and modern-minded Congress — not one which depended on him let aside his family, but one which reduced that dependence and let him and his family alone.


As for Manmohan Singh being a liberal or liberalising economist, there is no evidence publicly available of that being so from his years before or during the Nyerere project, or after he returned and joined the Chandrashekhar PMO and the UGC  until becoming,  to his own surprise as he told Mark Tully,  PV Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister.  Some of his actions qua Finance Minister were liberalising in nature but he did not originate any basic idea of a change in a liberal direction of economic policy, and he has, with utmost honesty honestly, not claimed otherwise.  Innumerable flatterers and other self-interested parties have made out differently, creating what they have found to be a politically useful fiction; he has yet to deny them.


Siddhartha Shankar Ray and I met last in July 2009, when I gave him a copy of this 2005 volume I had created, which pleased him much. 




I said to him Bengal’s public finances were in abysmal condition, calling for emergency measures financially, and that Mamata Banerjee seemed to me to be someone who knew how to and would dislodge the Communists from their entrenched misgovernance of decades but she did not seem quite aware that dislodging a bad government politically was not the same thing as knowing how to govern properly oneself.  He,  again of his own accord, said immediately, 


“I will call her and her people to a meeting here so you can meet them and tell them that directly”. 


It never transpired.  In our last phone conversation I mentioned to him my plans of creating a Public Policy Institute — an idea he immediately and fully endorsed as being essential though adding “I can’t be part of it,  I’m on my way out”.


“I’m on my way out”.   That was Siddhartha Shankar Ray — always intelligent, always good-humoured, always public-spirited, always a great Indian, my only friend among politicians other than the late Rajiv Gandhi himself.



In March February 2010, my father and I called upon the new Bengal Governor, MK Narayanan and gave him a copy of the Thatcher volume for the Raj Bhavan Library; I told him the story about my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray and its result;  Narayanan within a few days made a visit to Ray’s hospital-bed, and when he emerged after several hours he made a statement, which in substance he repeated again when Ray died in November 2010:


“There are few people in post-Independence India who could equal his magnificent contribution to India’s growth and progress”.


To what facts did MK Narayanan, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, mean to refer with this extravagant praise of Ray?  Was Narayanan referring to Ray’s politics for Indira Gandhi?  To Ray’s Chief Ministership of Bengal?  To Ray’s Governorship of Punjab?  You will have to ask him but I doubt that was what he meant:  I surmise Narayanan’s eulogy could only have resulted after he confirmed with Ray on his hospital-bed the story I had told him, and that he was referring to the economic and political results that followed for the country once Ray had introduced me in September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi. But I say again, you will have to ask MK Narayanan himself what he and Ray talked about in hospital and what was the factual basis of Narayanan’s precise words of praise. To what facts exactly was MK Narayanan, former intelligence chief, meaning to refer when he stated Siddhartha Shankar Ray had made a “magnificent contribution to India’s growth and progress”?



3.   Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh?  That just don’t fly!


Now returning to the apparent desire of Professor Panagariya, the Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at Columbia, to attribute to Jagdish Bhagwati momentous change for the better in India as of 1991, even if Panagariya had not the scientific curiosity to look into our 1992 book titled Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s or into Milton Friedman’s own 1998 memoirs, we may have expected him to at least turn to his co-author and Columbia colleague, Jagdish Bhagwati himself, and ask, “Master, have you heard of this fellow Subroto Roy by any chance?”


Jagdish would have had to say yes, since not only had he received a copy of the proofs of my 1984 IEA work Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, he was kind enough to write in a letter dated 15 May 1984 that I had


“done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!” 



Also Jagdish may or may not have remembered our only meeting, when he and I had had a long conversation on the sofas in the foyer of the IMF in Washington when I was a consultant there in 1993 and he had come to meet someone; he was surprisingly knowledgeable about my personal 1990 matter in the Supreme Court of India which astonished me until he told me his brother the Supreme Court judge had mentioned the case to him!


Now my 1984 work was amply scientific and scholarly in fully crediting a large number of works in the necessary bibliography, including Bhagwati’s important work with his co-authors.  Specifically, Footnote 1 listed the literature saying:


“The early studies notably include: B. R. Shenoy, `A note of dissent’, Papers relating to the formulation of the Second Five-Year Plan, Government of India Planning Commission, Delhi, 1955; Indian Planning and Economic Development, Asia Publishing, Bombay, 1963, especially pp. 17-53; P. T. Bauer, Indian Economic Policy and Development, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1961; M. Friedman, unpublished memorandum to the Government of India, November 1955 (referred to in Bauer, op. cit., p. 59 ff.); and, some years later, Sudha Shenoy, India : Progress or Poverty?, Research Monograph 27, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1971. Some of the most relevant contemporary studies are: B. Balassa, `Reforming the system of incentives in World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 365-82; `Export incentives and export performance in developing countries: a comparative analysis’, Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, 114 (1978), pp. 24-61; The process of industrial development and alternative development strategies, Essays in International Finance No. 141, Princeton University, 1980; J. N. Bhagwati & P. Desai, India: Planning for Industrialisation, OECD, Paris : Oxford University Press, 1970; `Socialism and Indian Economic Policy’, World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 213-21; J. N. Bhagwati & T. N. Srinivasan, Foreign-trade Regimes and Economic Development: India, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1975; Anne O. Krueger, `Indian planning experience’, in T. Morgan et al. (eds.), Readings in Economic Development, Wadsworth, California, 1963, pp. 403-20; `The political economy of the rent-seeking society, American Economic Review, 64 (June 1974); The Benefits and Costs of Import-Substitution in India: a Microeconomic Study, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1975; Growth, distortions and patterns of trade among many countries, Studies in International Finance, Princeton University, 1977; Uma Lele, Food grain marketing in India : private performance and public policy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1971; T. W. Schultz (ed.), Distortions in agricultural incentives, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1978; V. Sukhatme, “The utilization of high-yielding rice and wheat varieties in India: an economic assessment”, University of Chicago PhD thesis, 1977….”


There were two specific references to Bhagwati’s work with Srinivasan:


“Jagdish Bhagwati and T. N. Srinivasan put it as follows : `The allocation of foreign exchange among alternative claimants and users in a direct control system . . .would presumably be with reference to a well-defined set of principles and criteria based on a system of priorities. In point of fact, however, there seem to have been few such criteria, if any, followed in practice.’”




“But as Bhagwati and Srinivasan report, `. . . the sheer weight of numbers made any meaningful listing of priorities extremely difficult. The problem was Orwellian: all industries had priority and how was each sponsoring authority to argue that some industries had more priority than others? It is not surprising, therefore, that the agencies involved in determining allocations by industry fell back on vague notions of “fairness”, implying pro rata allocations with reference to capacity installed or employment, or shares defined by past import allocations or similar rules of thumb’”


and one to Bhagwati and Desai:


“The best descriptions of Indian industrial policy are still to be found in Bhagwati and Desai (1970)…”


Professors Bhagwati and Panagriya have not apparently referred to anything beyond these joint works of Bhagwati’s dated 1970 with Padma Desai and 1975 with TN Srinivasan.  They have not claimed Bhagwati did anything by way of either publication or political activity in relation to India’s economic policy between May 1984, when he read my soon-to-be-published-work and found I had


done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems”,


and September 1990 when I gave Rajiv the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project results developed since 1986, which came to politically spark the 1991 reform in the Congress’s highest echelons from months before Rajiv’s assassination.   


There may have been no such claim made by Bhagwati and Panagariya because there may be no such evidence.  Between 1984 and 1990,  Professor Bhagwati’s research interests were away from Indian economic policy while his work on India through 1970 and 1975 had been fully and reasonably accounted for as of 1984 by myself.


What is left remaining is Bhagwati’s statement :


“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’


Now this light self-deprecating reference by Manmohan at an investors’ lunch in New York “for many big CEOs” was an evident attempt at political humour written by his speech-writer.   It was clearly, on its face, not serious history.   If we test it as serious history, it falls flat so we may only hope Manmohan Singh, unlike Jagdish Bhagwati, has not himself come to believe his own reported joke as anything more than that.  


The Bhagwati-Desai volume being referred to was developed from 1966-1970.  India saw critical economic and political events  in 1969, in 1970, in 1971, in 1972, in 1975, in 1977, etc.


Those were precisely years during which Manmohan Singh himself moved from being an academic to becoming a Government of India official, working first for MG Kaul, ICS, and then in 1971 coming to the attention of  PN Haksar, Indira Gandhi’s most powerful bureaucrat between 1967 and 1974: Haksar himself was Manmohan Singh’s acknowledged mentor in the Government, as Manmohan told Mark Tully in an interview.  


After Manmohan visited our Paris home in 1973 to talk to me about economics, my father — who had been himself sent to the Paris Embassy by Haksar in preparation for Indira Gandhi’s visit in November 1971 before the Bangladesh war —



had told me Manmohan was very highly regarded in government circles with economics degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford, and my father had added, to my surprise, what was probably a Haksarian governmental view that Manmohan was expected to be India’s Prime Minister some day.  That was 1973.


PN Haksar had been the archetypal Nehruvian Delhi intellectual of a certain era, being both a fierce nationalist and a fierce pro-USSR leftist from long before Independence.  I met him once on 23 March 1991, on the lawns of 10 Jan Path at the launch of General V Krishna Rao’s book on Indian defence which Rajiv was releasing, and Haksar gave a speech to introduce Rajiv (as if Rajiv needed introduction on the lawns of his own residence);  Haksar was in poor health but he seemed completely delighted to be back in favour with Rajiv,  after years of having been treated badly by Indira and her younger son.  


 Had Manmohan Singh in the early 1970s gone to Haksar — the architect of the nationalisation of India’s banking going on right then — and said “Sir, this OECD study by my friend Bhagwati and his wife says we should be liberalising foreign trade and domestic industry”, Haksar would have been astonished and sent him packing.  


There was a war on, plus a massive problem of 10 million refugees, a new country to support called Bangladesh, a railway strike, a bad crop, repressed inflation, shortages, and heaven knows what more, besides Nixon having backed Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan et al. 




Then after Bangladesh and the railway strike etc, came the rise of the politically odious younger son of Indira Gandhi and his friends (at least one of whom is today Sonia Gandhi’s gatekeeper) followed by the internal political Emergency, the grave foreign-fueled problem of Sikh separatism and its control, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards, and the Rajiv Gandhi years as Prime Minister. 


Certainly it was Rajiv’s arrival in office and Benazir’s initial return to Pakistan, along with the rise of Michael Gorbachev in the changing USSR, that inspired me in far away Hawaii in 1986 to design with Ted James the perestroika-projects for India and Pakistan which led to our two volumes, and which, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, came to reach Rajiv Gandhi in Opposition in September 1990 as he sat somewhat forlornly at 10 Jan Path after losing office. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune….


My friend and collaborator Ted James died of cancer in Manila in May 2010; earlier that year he came to say publicly


“Seldom are significant reforms imposed successfully by international bureaucracies. Most often they are the result of indigenous actors motivated by domestic imperatives. I believe this was the case in India in 1991. It may have been fortuitous that Dr. Roy gained an audience with a receptive Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 but it was not luck that he was prepared with a well-thought out program; this arose from years of careful thought and debate on the matter.”


Changing the direction of a ship of state is very hard, knowing in which direction it should change and to what degree is even harder; it has rarely been something that can be done without random shocks arising let aside the power of vested interests. Had Rajiv Gandhi lived to form a new Government, I have little doubt I would have led the reform that I had chalked out for him and that he had approved of;  Sonia Gandhi would have remained the housewife, mother and grandmother that she had preferred to be and not been made into the Queen of India by the Congress Party; Manmohan Singh had left India in 1987 for the Nyerere project and it had been rumoured at the time that had been slightly to do with him protesting, to the extent that he ever has protested anything, the anti-Sikh pogrom that some of Rajiv’s friends had apparently unleashed after Indira’s killing; he returned in November 1990, joined Chandrashekhar in December 1990, left Chandrashekhar in March 1991 when elections were announced and was biding his time as head of the UGC; had Rajiv Gandhi lived, Manmohan Singh would have had a governor’s career path, becoming the governor of one state after another; he would not have been brought into the economic reform process which he had had nothing to do with originating; and finally Pranab Mukherjee, who left the Congress Party and formed his own when Rajiv took over, would have been likely rehabilitated slowly but would not have come to control the working of the party as he did. I said in my Lok Sabha TV interview on 5 9 December 2012 that there have been many microeconomic improvements arising from technological progress in the last 22 years but the macroeconomic and monetary situation is grim, because at root the fiscal situation remains incoherent and confused. I do not see anyone in Manmohan Singh’s entourage among all his many acolytes and flatterers and apologists who is able to get to these root problems.  We shall address these issues in Part II.


What Manmohan Singh said in self-deprecating humour at an investors’ lunch in New York in 1992 is hardly serious history as Jagdish Bhagwati has seemed to wish it to be.  Besides, it would have been unlike Manmohan,  being the devoted student of Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor as he told Mark Tully,  to have taken such a liberalising initiative at all.  Furthermore, the 1969 American Economic Review published asurvey of Indian economic policy authored by his Delhi University colleagues Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty which made little mention of his work, and it would have been unreasonable to expect him to have been won over greatly by theirs. Perhaps there is a generous review from the 1970s by Manmohan Singh of the Bhagwati-Desai volume hidden somewhere but if so we should be told where it is.  A list of Manmohan Singh’s publications as an economist do not seem easily available anywhere.  


Lastly and perhaps most decisively, the 1970 Bhagwati-Desai volume, excellent study that it was, was hardly the first of its genre by way of liberal criticism of modern Indian economic policy!   Bhagwati declared in his 2010 speech to the Lok Sabha


“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s…”


But why has Bhagwati been forever silent about the equally if not more forceful and fundamental criticism of “the policy framework”, and advocacy of its “total overhaul”, by scholars in the 1950s, a decade and more earlier than him, when he and Manmohan and Amartya were still students?  Specifically, by BR Shenoy, Milton Friedman, and Peter Bauer?   The relevant bibliography from the mid 1950s is given in Footnote 1 of my 1984 work. 





Peter Tamas Bauer (1915-2002) played a vital role in all this as had he himself not brought the Friedman 1955 document to my attention I would not have known of it.




As undergraduates at the LSE, we had been petrified of him and I never spoke to him while there, having believed the propaganda that floated around about him; then while a Research Student at Cambridge, I happened to be a speaker with him at a conference at Oxford; he made me sit next to him at a meal and told me for the first time about Milton Friedman’s 1955 memorandum to the Government of India which had been suppressed.  I am privileged to say Peter from then on became a friend, and wrote, at my request, what became I am sure the kiss of death for me at the World Bank of 1982:



Later he may have been responsible for the London Times writing its lead editorial of 29 May 1984 on my work.


Now Milton had sent me in 1984, besides the original of his November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, a confidential 1956 document also which seemed to have been written for US Government consumption.  I did not publish this in Hawaii in 1989 as I was having difficulty enough publishing the 1955 memorandum.  I gave it to be published on the Internet some years ago, and after Milton’s passing, I had it published in The Statesman  on the same day as my obituary of him. 


It makes fascinating reading, especially about Mahalanobis and Shenoy, of how what Bhagwati wishes to call “the policy framework” that, he claims, he and Desai called for a “total overhaul” of, came to be what it was in the decade earlier when he and Amartya and Manmohan were still students. 


Friedman’s 1956 document said


“I met PC Mahalanobis in 1946 and again at a meeting of the International Statistical Institute in September 1947, and I know him well by reputation. He was absent during most of my stay in New Delhi, but I met him at a meeting of the Indian Planning Commission, of which he is one of the strongest and most able members.   Mahalanobis began as a mathematician and is a very able one. Able mathematicians are usually recognized for their ability at a relatively early age. Realizing their own ability as they do and working in a field of absolutes, tends, in my opinion, to make them dangerous when they apply themselves to economic planning. They produce specific and detailed plans in which they have confidence, without perhaps realizing that economic planning is not the absolute science that mathematics is. This general characteristic of mathematicians is true of Mahalanobis but in spite of the tendency he is willing to discuss a problem and listen to a different point of view. Once his decision is reached, however, he has great confidence in it. Mahalanobis was unquestionably extremely influential in drafting the Indian five-year plan. There were four key steps in the plan. The first was the so-called “Plan Frame” drafted by Mahalanobis himself. The second was a tentative plan based on the “Plan Frame”. The third step was a report by a committee of economists on the first two steps, and the fourth was a minority report by BR Shenoy on the economists’ report. The economists had no intention of drafting a definitive proposal but merely meant to comment on certain aspects of the first two steps. Shenoy’s minority report, however, had the effect of making the economists’ report official. The scheme of the Five Year Plan attributed to Mahalanobis faces two problems; one, that India needs heavy industry for economic development; and two, that development of heavy industry uses up large amounts of capital while providing only small employment.  Based on these facts, Mahalanobis proposed to concentrate on heavy industry development on the one hand and to subsidize the hand production cottage industries on the other. The latter course would discriminate against the smaller manufacturers. In my opinion, the plan wastes both capital and labour and the Indians get only the worst of both efforts. If left to their own devices under a free enterprise system I believe the Indians would gravitate naturally towards the production of such items as bicycles, sewing machines, and radios. This trend is already apparent without any subsidy. The Indian cottage industry is already cloaked in the same popular sort of mist as is rural life in the US. There is an idea in both places that this life is typical and the backbone of their respective countries. Politically, the Indian cottage industry problem is akin to the American farm problem. Mohandas Gandhi was a proponent of strengthening the cottage industry as a weapon against the British. This reason is now gone but the emotions engendered by Gandhi remain. Any move to strengthen the cottage industry has great political appeal and thus, Mahalanobis’ plan and its pseudo-scientific support for the industry also has great political appeal.  I found many supporters for the heavy industry phase of the Plan but almost no one (among the technical Civil Servants) who really believes in the cottage industry aspects, aside from their political appeal. In its initial form, the plan was very large and ambitious with optimistic estimates. My impression is that there is a substantial trend away from this approach, however, and an attempt to cut down. The development of heavy industry has slowed except for steel and iron. I believe that the proposed development of a synthetic petroleum plant has been dropped and probably wisely so. In addition, I believe that the proposed five year plan may be extended to six years. Other than his work on the plan, I am uncertain of Mahalanobis’ influence. The gossip is that he has Nehru’s ear and potentially he could be very influential, simply because of his intellectual ability and powers of persuasion. The question that occurs to me is how much difference Mahalanobis’ plan makes. The plan does not seem the important thing to me. I believe that the new drive and enthusiasm of the Indian nation will surmount any plan, good or bad. Then too, I feel a wide diversity in what is said and what is done. I believe that much of Nehru’s socialistic talk is simply that, just talk. Nehru has been trying to undermine the Socialist Party by this means and apparently the Congress Party’s adoption of a socialistic idea for industry has been successful in this respect.  One gets the impression, depending on whom one talks with, either that the Government runs business, or that two or three large businesses run the government. All that appears publicly indicates that the first is true, but a case can also be made for the latter interpretation. Favour and harassment are counterparts in the Indian economic scheme. There is no significant impairment of the willingness of Indian capitalists to invest in their industries, except in the specific industries where nationalization has been announced, but they are not always willing to invest and take the risks inherent in the free enterprise system. They want the Government to support their investment and when it refuses they back out and cry “Socialism”..”


I look forward to seeing a fundamental classical liberal critique from India’s distinguished American friends at Columbia University, Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai and Arvind Panagariya, if and when such a critique arises,  of the  “policy framework” in India as that evolved from the mid 1950s to become what exists across India in 2013 today.  Specifically:  Where is the criticism from Bhagwati of Mahalanobis and friends?  And where is Bhagwati’s defence of Shenoy, leave aside of Milton Friedman or Peter Bauer?   They seem not to exist. The most we get is a footnote again without the civility of any references, in the otherwise cogent 1975 Desai-Bhagwati paper “Socialism and Indian Economic Policy” alleging 


” Of these three types of impact of the Soviet example, the Plan-formulation approach was to be enthusiastically received by most commentators and, indeed, to lead to demands on the part of aid agencies for similar efforts by other developing countries. However, the shift to heavy industry was seen as a definite mistake by economic opinion of the Chicago school variety, reflecting their basic unfamiliarity with the structural models of growth and development planning of the Feldman-Mahalanobis variety-an ignorance which probably still persists. The detailed regulation was not quite noticed at the time, except by conservative commentators whose position however was extreme and precluded governmental planning of industrial investments on any scale.”


Desai and Bhagwati naturally found no apparent desire to locate any possible scientific truth or reasonableness among


“conservative commentators”


nor among the unnamed and undescribed


“economic opinion of the Chicago school variety”.   


Could Desai and Bhagwati have done anything different after all, even when talking about India to an American audience, without being at risk of losing their East Coast Limousine Liberal credentials?  Bhagwati used to routinely declare his “socialist” credentials, and even the other day on Indian TV emphatically declared he was not a “conservative” and scornfully dismissed “Thatcher and Reagan” for their “trickle down economics”…


Jagdish Bhagwati has evidently wanted to have his cake and eat it too…



4.    Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism: “To each according to his need”? 


If I have been candid or harsh in my assessments of Jagdish Bhagwati and Manmohan Singh as they relate to my personal experience with the change of direction in Indian economic policy originating in 1990-1991, I am afraid I must be equally so with Bhagwati’s current opponent in debate, Amartya Sen. Certainly I have found the current spat between Bhagwati and Sen over India’s political economy to be dismal, unscholarly, unscientific and misleading (or off-base) except for it having allowed a burst of domestic policy-discussion in circumstances when India needs it especially much.  


None of this criticism is personal but based on objective experience and the record.  My criticism of Professor Bhagwati and Dr Manmohan Singh does not diminish in the slightest my high personal regard for both of them.


Similarly, Amartya Sen and I go back, momentarily, to Hindustan Park in 1964 when there was a faint connection as family friends from World War II  (as Naren Deb and Manindranath Roy were friends and neighbours, and we still have the signed copy of a book gifted by the former to the latter), and then he later knew me cursorily when I was an undergraduate at LSE and he was already a famous professor, and I greatly enjoyed his excellent lectures at the LSE on his fine book On Economic Inequality, and a few years later he wrote in tangential support of me at Cambridge for which he was thanked in the preface to my 1989 Philosophy of Economics — even though that book of mine also contained in its Chapter 10 the decisive criticism of his main contribution until that time to what used to be called “social choice theory”. Amartya Sen had also written some splendid handwritten letters, a few pages of which remain with me, which puzzled me at the time due to his expressing his aversion to what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value. 


Professor Sen and I met briefly in 1978, and then again in 2006 when I was asked to talk to him in our philosophical conversation which came to be published nicely.  In 2006 I told him of my experience with Rajiv Gandhi in initiating what became the 1991 reform on the basis of my giving Rajiv the results of the Hawaii project,  and Amartya was kind enough to say that he knew I had been arguing all this “very early on”, referring presumably to the 1984 London Times editorial which he would have seen in his Oxford days before coming to Harvard.


This personal regard on my part or personal affection on his part aside, I have been appalled to find Professor Sen not taking moral and intellectual responsibility for and instead disclaiming paternity of the whole so-called “Food Security” policy which Sonia Gandhi has been prevailed upon over the years by him and his acolytes and friends and admirers to adopt, and she in her ignorance of all political economy and governance has now wished to impose upon the Congress Party and India as a whole:


“Questioner: You are being called the creator of the Food Security Bill.

Amartya Sen: Yes, I don’t know why. That is indeed a paternity suit I’m currently fighting. People are accusing me of being the father”.


Amartya Sen has repeatedly over the years gone on Indian prime-time television and declared things like


If you don’t agree there’s hunger in the world, there’s something morally wrong with you”


besides over the decades publishing titles like Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Hunger and Public Action, The Political Economy of Hunger etc and ceaselessly using his immense power with the media, with book publishing houses, with US academic departments and the world development economics business,  to promote his own and his acolytes’ opinions around the world, no matter how ill-considered or incoherent these may be.   A passage from his latest book with Jean Drèze reportedly reads


“If development is about the expansion of freedom, it has to embrace the removal of poverty as well as paying attention to ecology as integral parts of a unified concern, aimed ultimately at the security and advancement of human freedom. Indeed, important components of human freedoms — and crucial ingredients of our quality of life — are thoroughly dependent on the integrity of the environment, involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the epidemiological surroundings in which we live….”


Had such a passage reached me in an undergraduate essay, I would have considered it incoherent waffle, and I am afraid I cannot see why merely because it is authored  by an eminence at Harvard and his co-author, the evaluation should be any different.   I am reminded of my encounter in 1976 with Joan Robinson, the great tutor in 1950s Cambridge of Amartya and Manmohan:  “Joan Robinson cornered me once and took me into the office she shared with EAG… She came at me for an hour or so wishing to supervise me, I kept declining politely… saying I was with Frank Hahn and wished to work on money… “What does Frankie know about India?” she said… I said I did not know but he did know about monetary theory and that was what I needed for India;  I also said I did not think much about the Indian Marxists she had supervised… and mentioned a prominent name… she said about him, “Yes most of what he does can go straight into the dustbin”…”  The Indian Marxist whom I had referred to in this conversation with Joan was not Amartya but someone else much younger, yet her candid “can go straight into the dustbin” still applies to all incoherent waffle, whomsoever may produce it.


Indeed, Amartya Sen, if anyone, really should get down to writing his memoirs, and candidly so in order to explain his own thinking and deeds over the decades to himself and to the world in order that needless confusions do not arise.  


Else it becomes impossible to explain how someone who was said to be proud to have been a Communist student on the run from the police in West Bengal, who was Joan Robinson’s star pupil at a time she was extolling Maoist China and who has seemingly nurtured a deep lifelong fascination and affection for Communist China despite all its misdeeds, who was feted by the Communist regime of West Bengal after winning the Bank of Sweden Prize (on the same day that same regime had tossed into jail one unfortunate young Mr Khemkha merely for having been rude to its leaders on the Internet), and who seemed to share some of those winnings on social causes like primary education at the behest of the Communist regime’s ministers, etc, how someone with that noble comradely leftist personal history as an economist allows a flattering interviewer with a Harvard connection to describe him in Business Standard of 25 July 2013  as having been all along really a


“neoclassical economist”


who also happens to be


“the greatest living scholar of the original philosopher of the free market, Adam Smith”


Amartya Sen a neoclassical economist and a great scholar of Adam Smith?  It is hilarious to suppose so. The question arises, Does Sen, having published about Adam Smith recently in a few newspapers and leftist periodicals, agree with such a description by his flattering admirer from Harvard at Business Standard?  “Neoclassical” economics originated with men like Jevons, Menger, Walras, Pareto, Marshall, Wicksell, and was marked by the theory of value being explained by a demand-side too, and not, like classical economics, merely by the cost of production alone on the supply side.  Indeed a striking thing about the list below published by the Scandinavian Journal of Economics of Amartya’s books following his 1998 Bank of Sweden Prize


1467-9442.00152_p1is how consistently these works display his avoidance of all neoclassical economics, and the absence of all of what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value.   No “neoclassical economics” anywhere here  for sure!  


It would be fair enough if Professor Sen says he is hardly responsible for an admirer’s ignorant misdescription of his work — except the question still arises why he has himself also evidently misdescribed his own work!  For example, in his 13 July 2013 letter to The Economist in response to the criticism of Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, he says he had always been keenly interested in


“the importance of economic growth as a means— not an end”


and that this


“has been one of the themes even in my earliest writings (including “Choice of Techniques” in 1960 and “Growth Economics” in 1970)”.


This is a very peculiar opinion indeed to have been expressed by Professor Sen about his own work because the 1970 volume Growth Economics listed above among his books hardly can be said at all to be one of his own “earliest writings” as he now describes it to have been!


What had happened back then was that Sen, as someone considered a brilliant or promising young Indian economist at the time, had been asked by the editors of the famous Penguin Modern Economics Readings series to edit the specific issue  devoted to growth-theory — a compendium of classic already-published essays including those of Roy Harrod, Evsey Domar, Robert Solow and many others, to which young Amartya was given a chance to write an editorial Introduction.   Every economist familiar with that literature knows too that the growth-theory contained in that volume and others was considered highly abstract and notoriously divorced from actual historical processes of economic growth in different countries.  Everyone also knew that the individual editors in that famous Penguin Modern Economics Series were of relative unimportance as they did not commission new papers but merely collected classics already published and wrote an introduction.


This is significant presently because neither Professor Sen nor Professor Bhagwati may be objectively considered on the evidence of his life’s work as an economist to have been a major scholar of economic growth, either in theory or in historical practice.  As of December 1989,  Amartya Sen himself described his own interests to the American Economic Association as


“social choice theory, welfare economics, economic development”


and Jagdish Bhagwati described his interests as


“theory of international trade and policy, economic development”. 


Neither Sen nor Bhagwati mentioned growth economics or economic history or even general economic theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, etc.  Furthermore, Sen saying in his letter to The Economist  that he has been always interested in economic growth seems to be baseless in light of the list of his books above, other than the Penguin compendium already discussed.


Incidentally in the same American Economic Association volume of 1989, Padma Desai had described her interests as


“Soviet economy and comparative economic systems”; 


Arvind Panagariya had described his interests as


“economies of scale and trade; smuggling; parallel markets in planned economies”;


and one Suby Roy described his interests as


“foundations of monetary economics”.


Reflecting on Amartya Sen’s works over the 40 year period that I have known them


[and again, my personal copies of his books and those of Bhagwati and Desai, were all in my professorial office at IIT Kharagpur when I was attacked by a corrupt gang there in 2003; and IIT have been under a High Court order to return them but have not done so],


I wonder in fact if it might be fairly said that Sen has been on his own subjective journey over the decades around the world seeking to reinvent economics and political economy from scratch, and inventing his own terminology like “capabilities”, “functionings” and yes “entitlements” etc. to help him do so, while trying to assiduously avoid mention of canonical works of  modern world economics like Marshall’s Principles, Hicks’s Value and Capital, Debreu’s Theory of Value, or Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis, all defining the central neoclassical tradition of the modern theory of value.  


But no contemporary science, economics and political economy included, is open to be re-invented from scratch, and what Amartya Sen has ended up doing instead is seeming to be continually trying to reinvent the wheel, possibly without having had the self-knowledge to realise this.  Wittgenstein once made a paradoxical statement that one may know another’s mind better than one knows one’s own…  

Here is a current example.  Professor Sen says


“First, unlike the process of development in Japan, China, Korea and other countries, which pursued what Jean Drèze and I have called “Asian economic development” in our book, India has not had enough focus on public spending on school education and basic healthcare, which these other countries have had….”


Does Sen really believes believe he and Drèze  have now in 2013 discovered and christened an economic phenomenon named “Asian economic development”?  Everyone, from Japan and Bangkok and Manila, to Hawaii and Stanford to the World Bank’s East Asia department, including  especially my Hawaii colleague Ted James, and many many others including especially Gerald M Meier at Stanford, were publishing about all that every month — in the mid 1980s!  In fact, our project on India and Pakistan arose in the 1980s from precisely such a Hawaiian wave!  Everyone knows all that from back then or even earlier when the Japanese were talking about the “flying geese” model.  (And, incidentally,  Communist China did not at the time belong in the list.)  Where was Amartya Sen in the mid 1980s when all that was happening?  Jean Drèze was still a student perhaps. Is Professor Sen seeking to reinvent the wheel again with “Asian Economic Development” being claimed to be invented in 2013 by him and Drèze now? Oh please!  That just won’t fly either!


A second example may be taken from the year before Professor Sen was awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize when he gave a lecture on “human capital” theory which was published as a survey titled “Human Capital and Human Capability” in World Development 1997 Vol. 25, No. 12, 


Can you see any reference in this 1997 survey to TW Schultz’s 1960 American Economic Association Presidential Address or to Schultz’s classic 1964 book Transforming Traditional Agriculture or to his 1979 Bank of Sweden Prize address?  I could not.   If one did not know better, one might have thought from Professor Sen’s 1997 survey that there was nothing done worth talking about on the subject of “human capital” from the time of Adam Smith and David Hume until Amartya Sen finally came to the subject himself. 


Thirdly,  one is told by Sen’s admirer and collaborator, Professor James Foster of George Washington University, that what  Sen means by his notion of


“effective freedom”


is that this is something


“enhanced when a marginally nourished family now has the capability to be sufficiently nourished due to public action”…


Are Amartya and his acolytes claiming he has invented or reinvented welfare economics ab initio?   That before Amartya Sen, we did not know the importance of the able-bodied members of a community assisting those who are not able-bodied? 


Where have they been? Amartya needed merely to have read Marshall’s Principles evenslightly to find Marshall himself, the master of Maynard Keynes and all of Cambridge and modern world economics, declaring without any equivocation at the very start 


“….the study of the causes of poverty is the study of the causes of the degradation of a large part of mankind…”


But Marshall was interested in study, serious study, of poverty and its causes and amelioration, which is not something as easy or trivial as pontification on modern television.  My 1984 article “Considerations on Utility, Benevolence and Taxation” which also became a chapter of my 1989 Philosophy of Economics surveyed some of Marshall’s opinion.


“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was a utopian slogan around 1875 from Karl Marx, which generations of passionate undergraduates have found impressive. Amartya Sen deserves to tell us squarely about his engagement with Marx or Marxist thought from his earliest days until now.  His commitment in recent decades to democracy and the open and free society is clear;  but has he also at the same time all along been committed to a kind of half-baked communist utopia as represented by Marx’s 1875 slogan? 


“To each according to his need” sounds to be the underlying premise that is seeing practical manifestation in the Sonia Congress’s imposition of a so-called “right to food”; “from each according to his ability” is its flip side in the so-called “rural employment guarantee”.  Leave aside the limitless resource-allocation and incentive and public finance problems created by such naive ideas being made into government policy, there is a grave and fundamental issue that Amartya and other leftists have been too blinkered to see:


Do they suppose the organised business classes have been weakly cooperative and will just allow such massive redistribution to occur without getting the Indian political system to pay them off as well?   And how do the organised business classes get paid off?  By their getting to take the land of the inhabitants of rural India.   And land in an environment of a debauching of money and other paper assets is as good as gold.


So the peasants will lose their land to the government’s businessman friends on the one hand while purportedly getting “guaranteed” employment and food from the government’s bureaucrats on the other!  A landless, asset-less slave population, free to join the industrial proletariat! Is that what Amartya wants to see in India?  It may become what results within a few decades from his and his acolytes’ words and deeds. 


Rajiv Gandhi once gave me his private phone numbers at 10 Jan Path.  I used them back in January 1991 during the Gulf war.  But I cannot do so now as Rajiv is gone.  Amartya can.  Let him phone Sonia and prevail upon her to put the brakes on the wild food and employment schemes he and his friends have persuaded her about until he reads and reflects upon what I said in January 2007 in “On Land-Grabbing” and in my July 2007 open letter to him, reproduced below:


“At a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”…. Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”. The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead).   It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”.  Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.  In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.”  Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism).   Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia).  Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years.  For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since.  Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues… This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat….”


“Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University,  Dear Professor Sen,  Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23.  I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State.  The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia.  Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case).  Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism.  You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me.  You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”.   Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou. All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”  Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government.   Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses.  You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay.  West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights.  With my most respectful personal regards, I remain, Yours ever, Suby”


How does India, as a state, treat its weakest and most vulnerable citizens? Not very well at all.  It is often only because families and society have not collapsed completely, as they have elsewhere, that the weakest survive.  Can we solve in the 21st Century, in a practical manner appropriate to our times, the problem Buddha raised before he became the Buddha some twenty six centuries ago?  Says Eliot,


“The legend represents him as carefully secluded from all disquieting sights and as learning the existence of old age, sickness and death only by chance encounters which left a profound impression”


It is to this list we add “the poor” too, especially if we want to include a slightly later and equally great reformer some miles west of the Terai in the Levant.  I said some years ago “As we as infants and children need to be helped to find courage to face the start of life, we when very elderly can need to be helped to find courage to face life’s end”.   Old age carries with it the fear of death, fear of the end of life and what that means, which raises the meaning of life itself, or at least of the individual life, because we can hardly grasp what the end of life is if we haven’t what it is supposed to be the end of in the first place. What the very elderly need, as do the dying and terminally ill, is to find courage within themselves to comprehend all this with as much equanimity as possible. Companionship and camaraderie — or perhaps let us call it love — go towards that courage coming to be found; something similar goes for the sick, whether a sick child missing school or the elderly infirm, courage that they are not alone and that they can and will recover and not have to face death quite yet, that life will indeed resume.  


As for the poor, I said in 2009 about the bizarre Indian scheme of “interrogating, measuring, photographing and fingerprinting them against their will” that “the poor have their privacy and their dignity. They are going to refuse to waste their valuable time at the margins of survival volunteering for such gimmickry.”


“What New Delhi’s governing class fails to see is that the masses of India’s poor are not themselves a mass waiting for New Delhi’s handouts: they are individuals, free, rational, thinking individuals who know their own lives and resources and capacities and opportunities, and how to go about living their lives best. What they need is security, absence of state or other tyranny, roads, fresh water, electricity, functioning schools for their children, market opportunities for work, etc, not handouts from a monarch or aristocrats or businessmen….” Or, to put it differently in Kant’s terms, the poor need to be treated as ends in themselves, and not as the means towards the ends of others…



Part II India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups


5.   Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics

6.   Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy


7.    Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan


8.  Dealing with Communist China


9.   Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making


10.   India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad

Posted in Academic research, Amartya Sen, Arvind Panagariya, Asia and the West, Bengal's Public Finances, Bhagwati-Sen spat, BJP, Britain in India, Cambridge Univ Economics, Cambridge University, Columbia University, Congress Party, Congress Party History, Credit markets, Economic inequality, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economic Theory, Economic Theory of Growth, Economic Theory of Interest, Economic Theory of Value, Economics of Public Finance, Financial Repression, Governance, Government accounting, Government of India, India's Big Business, India's Cabinet Government, India's Government economists, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's balance of payments, India's Budget, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's constitutional politics, India's corruption, India's currency history, India's Economic History, India's Economy, India's Exports, India's Foreign Exchange Reserves, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Industry, India's inflation, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's Polity, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's State Finances, Institute of Economic Affairs, Jagdish Bhagwati, Jean Drèze, LK Advani, Manmohan Singh, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, Mihir Kumar Roy (MKRoy), Milton Friedman, Money and banking, Padma Desai, Paper money and deposits, Political Economy, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Reverse-Euro Model for India, Sen-Bhagwati spat, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Sonia Gandhi, Subroto Roy, Sukhamoy Chakravarty, The Times (London), University of Hawaii, William E (Ted) James (1951-2010). Leave a Comment »

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.


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.


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.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

How tightly will organised Big Business be able to control economic policies this time?

The power of organised Big Business over New Delhi’s economic policies (whether Congress-led or BJP-led) was signalled by the presence in the audience at Rashtrapati Bhavan last week of several prominent lobbyists when Dr Manmohan Singh and his senior-most Cabinet colleagues were being sworn-in by the President of India. Why were such witnesses needed at such an auspicious national occasion?

Organised Big Business (both private sector and public sector) along with organised Big Labour (whose interests are represented most ably by New Delhi’s official communist parties like the CPI-M and CPI), are astutely aware of how best to advance their own economic interests; this usually gets assisted nicely enough through clever use of our comprador English-language TV, newspaper and magazine media. Shortly after the election results, lobbyists were all over commercial TV proposing things like FDI in insurance and airports etc– as if that was the meaning of the Sonia-Rahul mandate or were issues of high national priority. A typical piece of such “pretend-economics” appears in today’s business-press from a formerly Leftist Indian bureaucrat: “With its decisive victory, the new Manmohan Singh government should at last be able to implement the required second generation reforms. Their lineaments (sic) are well known and with the removal of the Left’s veto, many of those stalled in the legislature as well as those which were forestalled can now be implemented. These should be able to put India back on a 9-10 per cent per annum growth rate…”

Today’s business-press also reports that the new Government is planning to create a fresh “Disinvestment Ministry” and Dr Singh’s chief economic policy aide is “a frontrunner among the names short-listed to head the new ministry” with Cabinet rank.

Now if any enterprising doctoral student was to investigate the question, I think the evidence would show that I, and I alone – not even BR Shenoy or AD Shroff or Jagdish Bhagwati — may have been the first among Indian economists to have argued in favour of the privatisation of India’s public sector. I did so precisely 25 years ago in Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, which was so unusual for its time that it attracted the lead editorial of The Times of London on the day it was published May 29 1984, and had its due impact on Indian economic policy then and since, as has been described elsewhere here.  In 1990-1991 while with Rajiv Gandhi, I had floated an idea of literally giving away shares of the public sector to the public that owned it (as several other countries had been doing at that time), specifically perhaps giving them to the poorest panchayats in aid of their development.  In 2004-2005, upon returning to Britain after many years, I helped create the book Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, and Margaret Thatcher if anyone was a paragon of privatisation.

That being said, I have to say I think a new Indian policy of creating a Ministry to privatise India’s public sector is probably a very BAD idea indeed in present circumstances — mainly because it will be driven by the interests of the organised Big Business lobbies that have so profoundly and subtly been able to control the New Delhi Government’s behaviour in recent decades.

Such lobbyist control is exercised often without the Government even realising or comprehending its parameters. For example, ask yourself: Is there any record anywhere of Dr Manmohan Singh, in his long career as a Government economist and then as a Rajya Sabha MP, having ever proposed before 2004-2005 that nuclear reactors were something vitally important to India’s future? And why do you suppose the most prominent Indian business lobby spent a million dollars and registered itself as an official lobbyist in Washington DC to promote the nuclear deal among American legislators? Because Big Business was feeling generous and altruistic towards the “energy security” of the ordinary people of India? Hardly.  Indian Big Business calculates and acts in its own interests, as is only to be expected under economic assumptions; those interests are frequently camouflaged by their lobbyist and media friends into seeming to be economic policy for the country as a whole.

Now our Government every year produces paper rupees and bank deposits in  practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Why we do not hear about this at all is because the most prominent Government economists themselves remain clueless — sometimes by choice, mostly by sheer ignorance — about the nature of the macroeconomic process that they are or have been part of.  (See my  “India’s Macroeconomics”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” etc elsewhere here). As for the Opposition’s economists, the less said about the CPI-M’s economists the better while the BJP, poor thing, has absolutely no economists at all!

Briefly speaking, Indian Big Business has acquired an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and as a result acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy.  It is not rocket-science  to realise the long-term path of the Indian rupee is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.

The Statesman of November 15 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy. It said:

“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”

Mamata Banerjee started her famous protest fast-unto-death in Kolkata not long afterwards, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007.

What goes for the government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy.  If Dr Singh’s new Government wishes to see real public sector assets being sold, let the Government seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees which the Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but rather in forex or gold-units instead!

Today’s headline says “Short of cash, govt. plans to revive disinvestment ministry”. Big Business’s powerful lobbies will suggest  that real public assets must be sold  (to whom? to organised Big Business of course!) in order to solve the grave fiscal problems in an inflationary economy caused precisely by those grave  fiscal problems! What I said in 2002 at IndiaSeminar may still be found to apply: I said the BJP’s privatisation ideas “deserve to be condemned…because they have made themselves believe that the proceeds of selling the public sector should merely go into patching up the bleeding haemorrhage which is India’s fiscal and monetary situation… (w)hile…Congress were largely responsible for that haemorrhage to have occurred in the first place.”

If the new Government would like to know how to proceed more wisely, they need to read and grasp, in the book edited by myself and Professor John Clarke in 2004-2005, the chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) before they read the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics).  India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Thatcher came in.

During the recent Election Campaign, I contrasted Dr Singh’s flattering praise in 2005 of the CPI-M’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with Sonia Gandhi’s pro-Mamata line in 2009 saying the CPI-M had taken land away from the poor.  This may soon signal a new fault-line in the new Cabinet too on economic policy with respect to not only land but also public sector privatisation – with Dr Singh’s pro-Big Business acolytes on one side and Mamata Banerjee’s stance in favour of small-scale unorganised business and labour on the other.  Party heavyweights like Dr Singh himself and Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee will weigh in one side or the other with Sonia being asked in due course to referee.

I personally am delighted to see the New Rahul Gandhi deciding not to be in Government and to instead reflect further on the “common man” and “common woman” about whom I had described his father talking to me on September 18 1990 at his home. Certainly the “aam admi” is not someone to be found among India’s organised Big Business or organised Big Labour nor their paid lobbyists in the big cities.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Posted in Academic research, AD Shroff, Asia and the West, Big Business and Big Labour, BR Shenoy, Britain, Britain in India, British history, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economic Theory, Economics of exchange controls, Economics of Public Finance, Economics of real estate valuation, Financial Management, Financial markets, Foreign exchange controls, Government Budget Constraint, Government of India, India's Big Business, India's Banking, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's corporate finance, India's corporate governance, India's corruption, India's currency history, India's Economic History, India's Economy, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's Industry, India's inflation, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's nomenclatura, India's peasants, India's political lobbyists, India's Politics, India's pork-barrel politics, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, Inflation, Land and political economy, Macroeconomics, Mamata Banerjee, Manmohan Singh, Margaret Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, Martin Ricketts, Mendacity in politics, Microeconomics, Monetary Theory, Money and banking, Mumbai financial world, New Delhi, Patrick Minford, Political cynicism, Political Economy, Political mendacity, Political Science, Politics, Pork-barrel politics, Power-elites and nomenclatura, Practical wisdom, Principal-agent problem, Privatisation, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Rajiv Gandhi, Rational decisions, Singur and Nandigram, Sonia Gandhi, Statesmanship, The Statesman, The Times (London), University of Buckingham. Leave a Comment »

My response to The Times’ editorial of May 29 1984

In August 1980, I went to Blacksburg in Virginia from Cambridge to work with James M. Buchanan’s Center for Study of Public Choice and to be Visiting Assistant Professor and later Assistant Professor at the Economics Department. When The Times editorial appeared in London on May 29 1984, I did not come to know of it for several days until foreign newspapers reached the Virginia Tech library and a friend phoned me with having seen it there. The Times (then under the editorship of Charles Douglas-Home) had been laudatory but also inaccurate as to what I did or did not have to say. My letter dated June 16 1984 corrected what was said about my work. The editorial is republished elsewhere here.

Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India (1984)

Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India Subroto Roy

First published on May 29 1984 as Occasional Paper No. 69 of the Institute of Economic Affairs, London

Preface March 2007

A quarter century has passed since my 1982 doctoral thesis at Cambridge University under Frank Hahn, examined by Christopher Bliss and Terence Hutchison, and titled “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India.” I wrote what follows shortly afterwards in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Ithaca, New York, and it was published on May 29 1984 in London by the Institute of Economic Affairs as Occasional Paper No. 69, ISBN: 0-255 36169-6. The day it was published it turned out to be the subject of the main editorial of The Times, then London’s leading newspaper. (I learnt later this had been due to Peter Bauer, and also that 700 copies sold in the first month, a record for the publisher.) The Times editorial though laudatory was misleading, and I had to clarify the contents of the monograph in a letter published on June 16 1984; both documents are available elsewhere at this site.

This work was the first explicit critique of post-Mahalanobis Indian economic thought from a classical liberal perspective since B. R. Shenoy’s initial criticism decades previously. I was 29 when it was published, I am 52 now. I do not agree with everything I wrote back then and find the tone a little puffed up as young men tend to be; it was five years before publication of my main “theoretical” work Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge: London & New York, 1989, also now republished here). 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 as a young man, 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 famous November 1955 Milton Friedman memorandum is referred to herein for the first time as “unpublished” in note 1; I was to meet Milton and Rose Friedman at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings held at Cambridge later that year, where I gave them a copy of this monograph; when Milton returned to Stanford he sent to me in Blacksburg his original 1955-56 documents on Indian planning. I published the 1955 document for the first time in May 1989 during the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project that I was then leading, it appeared later in the 1992 volume Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James. The results of the Hawaii project reached Rajiv Gandhi through my hand in September 1990, as told elsewhere in “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”. The 1956 document was published in November 2006 on the front page of The Statesman, on the same day my obituary of Milton appeared in the inside pages (both are republished here too).

It is apparent from this monograph that I knew almost nothing then about Pakistan or Islam; that has changed as may be seen especially from the other book I created with WE James at the University of Hawaii, Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, as well as my more recent work on Pakistan and Islam. It is of course impossible to understand India without understanding Pakistan and vice versa.

In general, this monograph had to do with India’s microeconomics and theory of value and resource allocation while my latest work – “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Our Policy Process”, “Fallacious Finance”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” . “Against Quackery”, “Growth & Government Delusion” etc – has to do with India’s macroeconomics and monetary and fiscal theory and policy. Part of the criticism of “distorted incentives” prevailing in Indira Gandhi’s India may still be relevant to India today, while the discussion of ethnic problems, agriculture, the “public choice” factors that stymie Indian progress, misgovernance etc will almost certainly be found so.

Pricing, Planning and Politics:

A Study of Economic Distortions in India

First published on May 29 1984 as Occasional Paper No. 69 of the Institute of Economic Affairs, London

“The economic laws which operate in India are the same as in other countries of the world; the causes which lead to wealth among other nations lead to prosperity in India; the causes which impoverish other nations impoverish the people of India. Therefore, the line of enquiry which the economist will pursue in respect of India is the same which he adopts in inquiring into the wealth or poverty of other nations.” Romesh Chunder Dutt, 1906, The Economic History of India

“Satyameva Jayathe” (“Let truth be victorious”), Motto of the Indian Republic


IN THE last 15 years, considerable evidence has accumulated to suggest that the most important policies pursued by successive governments of independent India have not been conducive to economic development, and have indeed gone against some of the most basic lessons that political economy has to offer. Forewarnings of the present predicament of India had come from a few economists in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but their arguments were either ignored or maligned as dogmatic and motivated by`ideology’.[1] My thesis in this Occasional Paper will be that, if the basic and commonsensical lessons of political economy had been acknowledged early on in the history of the Indian Republic, we might have found today a much more prosperous economy and a much healthier body politic than is the case.

To argue this, it is first necessary to describe an economy where the pursuit of the individual good by rational agents is conducted within some set of orderly political institutions which is conducive to both civil peace and sustained mass prosperity. Accordingly, Part I of this short Paper begins by describing the broad and familiar features of what may be called a neo-classical or liberal model, and then proceeds briefly to contrast it with a model in which individual incentives and public institutions have been distorted from their efficient characterizations.

The practical question that arises is: Where in practice have independent India’s policies led most conspicuously to distorted incentives and institutions? This will be the subject of Part III. Part II places the discussion in context by briefly describing a few relevant aspects of the political history of the Indian Republic.

I have argued elsewhere that every normative proposal for action is, in principle, open to question and criticism on the logical and factual grounds upon which it is founded. Whenever two people disagree about what ought to be done, it will be found either that at least one of them has made a mistake of logic or that they are also in disagreement about the facts of the case.[2] In Part IV, a tentative manifesto for political and economic reform in India is proposed, and I hope these proposals too will be subjected to critical scrutiny on the positive grounds upon which I shall seek to establish them.

Part I: Theory


A `FACT’ may be understood as the opposite of that which could have been the case but is not. A basic fact of the study of men and society – one which was acknowledged first by Aristotle and then, very importantly, by Adam Smith, and which has been emphasized in modern times by Friedrich Hayek – is that, while we are able to study and speak of the nature of human decision and action in general terms, we do not and cannot have a knowledge of how particular actions are moved by particular causes and circumstances.[3]

We might certainly know, for instance, that every household in an economy views some horizons, wants to fulfill some aspirations, and faces some constraints. But if we were asked to specify what all these characteristics happened to be as a matter of fact at any one moment, we would certainly not be able to do so. Men are concerned almost wholly with (and are experts at) living their own lives as best they can – foraging for food, shelter and work, celebrating weddings and births, rearing children, and mourning deaths. For the most part, they are neither interested in, nor competent at judging, what others happen to be doing in their private lives. Neither benevolence nor envy extends much beyond a man’s immediate vicinity, and, certainly, neither can extend to people he does not know or come to know of in the course of a lifetime.

This fact is also acknowledged in modern microeconomics, when it is said that, for the individual agent to be able to make decisions and act upon them, it is sufficient for him to know (besides his own desires, abilities and constraints) only of the relative prices prevailing locally of the goods and skills he wishes to trade.`Efficient incentive’ defined We might then provisionally define an `efficient incentive’ as a set of relative prices and wages such that, when economic agents act upon them, three conditions are fulfilled:(i) the difference between the total demand for and the total supply of every good and skill is zero; (ii) every consumer succeeds in trading the amounts of different goods that he desires, and so obtains the highest utility he can within the constraint of his budget; (iii) every private enterprise maximizes the difference between its total revenues and total costs, that is, its profits. [4]

Rational action, however, occurs within a particular institutional context. Which action is rational and which is not will depend on what institutions there are and how well or poorly they function. As both classical liberals and Marxists argue, the neo-Walrasian tradition in modern economics – as exemplified by the Arrow-Debreu model – is practically devoid of any explicit institutional description, and so may best be regarded as a useful but grossly incomplete metaphor in the economist’s inquiry.

The institutions most relevant to economic activity are those of government. We might therefore add a fourth condition to characterize an efficient economy, namely, that government institutions work in such a way as to allocate tax revenues towards providing public goods in the amounts desired by citizens. This must be an institutional assumption implicit in the general equilibrium construction, without which it would be impossible to see the sense of that model.

The question that follows is how we are to ascertain the composition of the set of public goods to be provided. As is commonly known, this seems to confront the economist with numerous conceptual and practical problems. I propose here to circumvent all the typical difficulties of how to discover and combine individual preferences for public goods, or how to prevent free-riders, and to take a somewhat different route.

Functions of civil government: protection, public goods, education

To answer the question `What should be public goods first and foremost? I suggest we look for the kind of answer Adam Smith or Jeremy Bentham or J. S. Mill might have given to a related but different question : `What should be the functions of government in a large civil society, regardless of whether or not it is constituted democratically?’ This was the relevant question before the modern era of mass democracy. And it is still interesting because, first, it probably remains the appropriate question for the many countries today which either do not have democratic governments or do not have long histories of democracy, and, secondly, because the kinds of answer given by classical authors were very similar to those we might expect from individual citizens in modern democracies as well.

The most important practical functions of civil government include defence against external aggression, the dispensing of civil and criminal justice, the protection of life, property and trade – broadly, the Rule of Law – and the pursuit of a judicious foreign policy. All are different aspects of the same broad objective of ensuring the survival of the community and the security of individual life.

Yet no pretext has been more common than that an imminent danger to the security of the community requires the government to take despotic measures. The guarantee by a civil government of the freedom of inquiry, discourse, criticism, and historical research should take precedence, therefore, even over ensuring security and survival, for it is probably the only final check there can be on whether what a government says is or is not in fact the case. Where this freedom is forcibly denied, or where it exists but people are too apathetic, ignorant or busy with their daily lives to exercise it, public life soon becomes self deceptive and absurd, with propaganda taking the place of discourse, and pretensions and appearances diverging more and more from attainments and reality. Wherever the questions `What is true?’ or `What is the case?’ are not asked frequently enough, there will be fewer and fewer correct answers as to what the case happens to be.[5]
After collective and individual security, the functions of government include the building of dams, embankments, bridges and canals, the provision of roads and fresh water, and so on – activities which, as Adam Smith put it, “. . . though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it, therefore, cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.” [6]

Each may be more or less a “pure” public good in the modern sense :“that each individual’s consumption of such a good leads to no subtraction from any other individual’s consumption of that good”.[7]

Such a list could be extended to include activities as diverse as: the prevention of soil erosion; the public finance of school education, and’ of measures of basic public health such as vaccinations against contagious diseases; the issuing of currency; sewage disposal; population censuses; the standardization of weights and measures; and so on. It is unnecessary to be more specific here since some people will find even this list controversial. Dogmatists will deny the need for free inquiry; pacifists will dispute that defence is a public good; communists will protest against the public protection of private property; `anarcho-capitalists’ will contest the public dispensation of justice; and so on. To these critics, I would offer merely the following short and incomplete reply.

First, a sound argument can be made that what functions civil government should have can be ascertained, without prejudice, by reasonable citizens, though which particular functions these are may well vary according to circumstances. Secondly, if we could spend time in thoughtful and leisured conversation with every citizen of a large community, it might be predicted – as a matter of cold, empirical fact – that practically everyone would agree with the suggestion that the first destinations of tax revenues should indeed be activities like defence, civil protection and the Rule of Law, the provision of roads, and so on. If such a prediction is correct, my thesis is plainly much more democratic than it might appear to modern economists, though I shall later claim that an objective defence of democratic institutions can be made on quite different grounds as well.

If there is a clear family resemblance between classical liberal authors – from Smith and Mill through to Hayek, Robbins, Friedman, Buchanan, Bauer and many others – it has to do, not so much with the denunciation of government activity in the market-place, as with the recognition of the existence of certain duties of government outside it, the fulfillment of which are indispensable to civil life, let alone the pursuit of economic prosperity. Their protest is at the high opportunity cost of the alternatives foregone.

This raises the question of how we might tell whether government is working well or badly in a particular country at a particular time, or, generally, how we might tell whether different public goods are provided in too small or large amounts. For present purposes it will again be sufficient to suggest a very rough and common sense way of proceeding: let us look first, and think second.

For example, the Iran-Iraq war has clearly been a perfect public bad as far as the ordinary citizenry in either country are concerned. Similarly, if there happen to be millions of cases queuing outside the courts waiting to be heard, or if crime is rampant and police protection ineffective, that may constitute prima facie evidence that too few public resources have been devoted to civil order and justice. Or, if heavy rainfall annually causes landslides in the hills and floods in the plains, devastating crops and leaving innumerable citizens destitute, that also might prompt us to ask whether sufficient public resources have gone towards precautions against such havoc. And so on.[8]

Which goods happen to be public goods depends on the circumstances and the level of government being discussed. For similar circumstances and levels, similar goods will most likely be public goods in different countries. The state ordinarily consists not only of the national government but also of several provincial governments and a myriad of local governments. In particular, a premise of the liberal state would be that public goods should in fact be provided by various levels of government, financed through taxes paid respectively at those levels. The citizen is a taxpayer at a variety of levels, and accordingly public goods are due to be provided at a variety of levels. Just as the national government may not usurp the power to tax for, or spend money on, a public good which is best provided by a provincial government to the citizens of a province, so a provincial government may not tax for, or spend on, a public good best provided by a local government to the citizens of a locality.

The broad principle involved has two aspects: first, a recognition that knowledge of particular circumstances – and hence the ability to act – is infinitesimally dispersed within a population; and, secondly, as direct and visible a matching as possible of the benefits a citizen receives from a particular public good with the taxes he pays towards it, thereby perhaps reducing his incentive to be a free rider on the contributions of others.8Uncertainty and ignoranceProvisionally, therefore, efficient incentives may be thought to consist of a set of market-clearing relative prices and wages, occurring within an institutional context in which the basic and indispensable functions of government have been adequately performed at a variety of appropriate levels.

Such a definition would still be seriously incomplete in one major respect. For we must now recognise: (i) that history is unique and irretrievable, that the present consists only of the fleeting moment, and that the future, by its very nature, cannot be fully known; (ii) that such a thing as human freedom exists; and (iii) that, as a consequence, uncertainty and ignorance are ubiquitous.

Some of the uncertainty derives from the unfolding of natural events (like the rains) over which man has little or no control. The rest derives from the fact that the individual is a free agent who is affected by the actions of others but who cannot predict those actions completely because they too are free agents like himself. Game theory would have had no appeal for the economist if the existence of human freedom had not been a fact. It is this which makes it impossible to read everything in another person’s mind and thus makes it impossible to predict everything he might do. The lasting contribution of Keynesian economics could be its emphasis that such uncertainty and ignorance are important to the economist’s inquiry.

Mathematical economists have been saying for several years that what is required if we are to be realistic are models which reflect the sequential character of actual decision-making and account for the past being immutable and the future uncertain.[9] However, they have proceeded to write even more complex mathematics than we already have – disregarding Aristotle’s advice not to seek more precision from the subject of an inquiry than it may be capable of yielding.[10] My question is the more mundane one of what becomes of the classical liberals’ concept of efficient incentives and institutions in a dynamic world. I shall answer it too in a pedestrian way.

The single overwhelming reason why uncertainty and ignorance are relevant to the economist’s descriptions is that they make real the possibility of mistakes by economic agents. To extend the previous discussion to a dynamic context, what we can do is to ask which institutions are most likely to reduce or mitigate the social consequences of mistaken decisions, whether made by private agents or by those in public office. And it is here that the classical liberals advocate two important institutional features: competition and the decentralisation of decision-making.

The major value of democratic institutions over authoritarian ones is that they encourage these two principles to be put into effect. Because, in a large economy, particular knowledge is infinitesimally dispersed, it may be better for adjustments to a multitude of variables to be made continuously in response to changing circumstances by a vast number of small economic agents, rather than for adjustments to a few variables to be made at political intervals by a small group of very powerful agents. The concentration of power to make major decisions among a few fallible men is a much more ominous prospect than the distribution of power in small amounts among a large number of fallible men. It is much more dangerous for a monopoly of ideas to be claimed about where the political good of a country lies than for there to be free and open competition among such ideas at the bar of reason.

D. H. Robertson put it well when he warned “that all the eggs should not be in the same basket – that in this highly uncertain world the fortunes of a whole trade, or a whole area, should not depend on the foresight and judgement of a single centre of decision”.[11] The presumption in favour of democratic institutions is that they reduce the potential damage from wrong political decisions damage which can be rationally expected in an uncertain world.[12] Elections, in the liberal understanding, are then not so much the means to promote the interests of one’s confederates as to remove from office without bloodshed rulers who fail to do what they are entrusted with, and to replace them by those from whom better is expected. Economic efficiency in an uncertain worldThe economic notion of efficient incentives is also modified by uncertainty and ignorance. In the theory, a set of prices is market clearing only relative to unchanging preferences, resources and technologies. In a dynamic world, however, demand and supply functions are themselves changing and the notion of efficient incentives must accordingly be adapted to one in which relative prices move in the direction of the excess demand: that is, if the parameters change so that the total demand for a good or skill comes to exceed the total supply, we should want to see its relative price rising (and, conversely, if total supply exceeds total demand, we should want to see its relative price falling). During such a process of adjustment, many people may suffer very considerable hardship – something which reasonable Keynesians do well to emphasise.

If changing preferences, resources or technologies cause the demand for a product to diminish, we should want to see the firms which manufacture it either entering different markets, or improving its quality by technological innovation, or lowering prices. Similarly, we should want to see workers in these firms whether blue- or white-collar – who have skills specific to a product whose price is falling either increasing their productivity or retraining themselves in different skills more specific to the manufacture of goods whose prices are rising. Numerous enterprises can go bankrupt, and numerous workers can find themselves unable to sell the skills they possess, if they fail to adapt quickly enough to changing market conditions. The more specialised the product and the more specific the skill, the more hardship there may be. There could well be orthodox Keynesian consequences whereby laid-off workers reduce their consumption expenditures and firms on the verge of bankruptcy reduce their investment expenditures, leading to lower incomes for others, and thus to lower expenditures by them too, and so on. An anti-Keynesian who denied the existence of such hardship would be closed to the facts. He might also not be doing his own theory justice: for it is not unreasonable to argue that, while adjustments are inevitable in an uncertain world, the classical response of prices moving in the direction of excess demand probably minimises the hardship in the transition from one equilibrium to the next.

In a dynamic world, therefore, in which supply and demand functions are shifting continually and unpredictably (though probably incrementally, and not drastically), efficient incentives are better thought of as relative prices which are not stagnant but which are moving – and moving quickly – in the direction of excess demand. It should, in general, be continually profitable at the margin for firms and workers to be innovating technologically and improving productivity. As everyone knows from experience, the principle goad to such activity is fair and free competition. If a job or contract is sought badly enough, and if better quality or lower price are known to be the only criteria of selection, the expected outcome is a differentiation and improvement by competitors of the individual quality or price of what is sold.

In broad summary, the liberal understanding of how material well-being can be improved rests on the assumption that the basic functions of civil government are performed satisfactorily. Government provides the backdrop of civil order and protection necessary for private citizens freely and fairly to conduct their own lives and their transactions with one another. It is a theory which acknowledges a fundamental fact in the study of society, namely, that the individual household : (a) most commonly defines its own horizons; (b) knows the particular opportunities available to it to produce, trade and consume; (c) recognises the particular constraints which prevent it from doing all that it may desire; and(d) perceives how these opportunities and constraints may be changing. Where, as in the liberal picture, there are large numbers of producers and consumers, sellers and buyers – each family acting more or less independently – the efforts of one family do not directly make for other than its own success, while at the same time the repercussions of its mistakes are felt by itself and do not reverberate throughout the whole community. Such has been, as I see it, the American secret to mass prosperity.


DISTORTED INCENTIVES are the logical opposites of efficient ones. Relative prices and wages send distorted signals to individual economic agents when they do not move in the direction of excess demand, so that there is no general tendency for markets to clear. A long-run or endemic excess demand for a good reveals itself in rationing, queueing and black markets. The price at which trade nominally takes place is too low and shows no tendency to move upwards.

Conversely, in a product market, a long-run or endemic excess supply reveals itself in surpluses and spoilages. In a labour market, it reveals itself, on the one hand, in armies of tenured employees who have no incentive to improve productivity, and, on the other hand, in lines of involuntarily or disguised unemployed who cannot sell all the skill they possess and have to settle for selling their less-specialised ones. The price at which trade nominally takes place is too high and shows no tendency to move downwards. In practical terms, firms do not find it profitable to be continually entering new markets or improving quality or enhancing technology or reducing price in order to attract and retain customers. Farmers in particular may face output and input prices which make technological improvements unprofitable.

In politics, distorted incentives are ones which make it profitable for politicians and government officials to be corruptible and taxpayers to be evasive. Because corruption is not penalised and honesty not rewarded, the pursuit of private interest may make it rational to be corrupt and irrational to be honest.

Individualism and statism

A neo-classical economic model like the one outlined above presupposes among citizens a political attitude of individualism. This may be defined as a condition in which citizens have the idea (a) that it is the individual household itself which is principally responsible for improvements in its own well-being, and (b) that government merely “is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people …”, and that government officials are merely the citizens’ “trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.” [13]

Its logical opposite may be called an attitude of statism – defined as prevailing when various classes of citizens have the idea that it is government which is and should be principally responsible for improvements in individual and public well-being. A good sense in which `power’ can be defined in political and economic contexts is as “the capacity to restrict the choices open to other men”.[14] An attitude of statism entails a willingness, or at least an acquiescence, on the part of citizens to relinquish to those in government, with little or no questioning, the power to make decisions which may affect their lives intimately. At the same time, responsibility for relapses or lack of progress in individual well-being is also thought to be the consequence of governmental and not private decision-making. Whereas individualism is a self-assertive attitude, statism is a self abnegating one. For those in government to have a statist mentality is the same as saying they are paternalistic, that is, making the presumption that the citizen is often incapable of judging for himself what is for his own good.

The suggestion that government should have the principal responsibility for improvements in individual and collective economic well-being – in the sense that the collectivity can and should satisfy the material aspirations of every individual – appears straightaway to be self contradictory. An individual can have enough difficulty trying to articulate his own horizons, aspirations and constraints, let alone trying to do the same for others. For a politician (or economist) to claim (or imply) not only that he knows(or can know) the relevant characteristics of everyone at once, but also that he knows how to ameliorate the condition of humanity at a stroke, as if by magic, would have been considered ridiculous in more candid times than ours. If we understand `collective effort’ to mean the sum of individual labours engaged in a common pursuit or endeavour, then for the collectivity to try materially to satisfy every individual would amount to imposing a duty on everyone to try materially to satisfy everyone else – an absurd state of affairs, flying in the face of the fact that most people most of the time do not wish to, or cannot, cope with much else except their private lives.

Exhorting government directly to improve the material wellbeing of `the people’ cannot mean what it seems to because it cannot refer to literally all the people but only to some of them perhaps only a majority, or only the well-organised. That the state is endogenous to the polity implies that no government has resources of its own out of which to disburse the amounts a politician may promise or an economist recommend. To fulfil new promises, given an initial condition of budgetary equilibrium, a government is only able either to print more fiat money or to tax the resources of individual citizens more heavily. Leaving aside the first alternative, fulfillment of the exhortation amounts to using public institutions to transfer resources from some people in order to keep promises made to others.

When the attitude spreads that, in politics, one man’s gain is another man’s loss, and where political control is to be had by winning majorities in elections, the citizen comes to face a perverse incentive to try to coalesce with more and more others in the hope of capturing the public revenues in his favour – instead of thinking critically about the nature of the political good as the institutions of democracy require him to. Political power becomes less dispersed, and the size of the polity diminishes in the sense that it comes to have fewer and fewer constituent agents, each of which is a larger and larger coalition of like-minded confederates intent on acquiring control for its own benefit.

Perhaps the worst consequence of a general attitude of statism, however, is that the basic, commonsensical functions of government are obscured, ignored, and neglected. Instead of requiring politicians and government officials to fulfill these functions, a citizenry allows its public agents to become brokers and entrepreneurs – trading not only in the products of government controlled industries but also in an array of positions of power and privilege, all in the name of directing a common endeavour to help the poor. The state places itself at every profitable opportunity between private citizens who might otherwise have conducted their transactions themselves perfectly well. The result is that governments do, or try to do, what either does not need to be done or ought not to be done by government, while they neglect that which only governments can do and which therefore they ought to be doing.

Part II: History


AN ATTITUDE of statism has probably been present in India since Mughal times at least. If anything, it spread during the British period since the raison d’être of British rule in India would have vanished without paternalism (as in the course of time it did) and the existence of British rule was the raison d’être of the nationalist movement. Paternalism towards India was espoused even by those Englishmen known for their liberal views at home. Thomas Macaulay, for instance, declared to the House of Commons in 1833: “It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future stage, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.”[15]

Less than a hundred years later, in 1930-31, the Indian National Congress – to the considerable chagrin of the British Government – resolved to bring about an independent India in which every citizen would have the right to free speech, to profess and practise his faith freely, and to move and practise his profession anywhere in the country. There would be universal adult suffrage and no-one would be unjustly deprived of his liberty or have his property entered, sequestered or confiscated. In particular, all citizens in the future republic would be `equal before the law, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex’, and no disability would attach`to any citizen by reason of his or her religion, caste, creed or sex, in regard to public employment, office of power or honour, and in the exercise of any trade or calling’.[16]

These resolutions were made in the thick of the battle for independence, and underscored the fundamental argument of the nationalists that, in spite of the infinitely diverse characteristics of the inhabitants of the sub-continent, a free and secular India was possible in which all would be ruled by a common law. That argument had been in contradistinction to the frequent taunt from British Conservatives that an
India without Britain would disintegrate in internecine bloodshed, and also to the later `two nations’ theory of the Muslim League which led eventually to the creation of
Pakistan. With the departure of the British and the Pakistanis, in 1950 the Constitution of the first Indian Republic was finally able to bring into force the idea of secularity which had inspired the nationalist cause. Thus, among the Fundamental Rights established by the Constitution, Article 14 provided that the state `shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of
India’. Articles 15.1, 15.2, 16.1, 16.2 and 29.2 went on to prohibit discrimination on the arbitrary grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth in matters of public employment or access to publicly-funded education.

The century between Macaulay and the resolutions for independence was by far the most important to the country’s intellectual history since earliest antiquity. While it took its turbulent course, long severed since the time of the early Greeks – came to be re-established. The common interest and the common contribution became one of admiring and learning from Europe and from India’s own past what there was to be admired and learnt, whilst forsaking and resisting what was self contradictory or base. The maxim for a century might have been : learn the good and let the evil be buried in history. As Tagore wrote :`The lamp of Europe is still burning; we must rekindle our old and extinguished lamp at that flame and start again on the road of time. We must fulfill the purpose of our connection with the English. This is the task we face in the building up of a great India.’[17]

The ideal aspired to was swaraj, or `self rule’. It literally meant not only a government of India by Indians accountable to Indians, but also the governance of the individual by himself. Not only was the country to be sovereign vis-à-vis other states; its individual citizens were to be free vis-à-vis each other and equal before its laws. Swaraj meant, in other words, a condition of political autonomy where the citizen constrained his own free actions so as not to harm others, and where the Rule of Law would protect him when he acted autonomously and resist him when he did not. Given a backdrop of civil order, the infinite number of ways to individual happiness and prosperity in an infinitely diverse sub-continent could then be pursued. Statism all pervading

An attitude of statism, however, has pervaded all public discourse in independent India, and has been reinforced by the social and economic policies pursued by successive governments.

In the first place, a ghost from earlier controversies with the British was to remain in the 1950 Constitution. Immediately after the provisions establishing equality before the law and equality of opportunity in public employment and publicly funded education, the following caveats appeared. Article 15.3 said that the state could make “any special provision for women and children”; and then, of more significance, Article 15.4 allowed the state to make “any special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes”.

Article 16.4 allowed it to make “any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.” Lastly, Article 335 said that “the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts [under the State] . . .” Who was to decide who was `backward’ and who was not, or which group was to be `scheduled’ and which not? Article 341.1 said that `The President may . . . by public notification specify the castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes’, and Article 341.2 added that `Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Castes specified under 341.1 any caste, race or tribe or part of or any group within any caste, race or tribe . . .’ Articles 342.1 and 342.2 said the same for the Scheduled Tribes.

Subsequently, two Presidential Orders named no fewer than 1,181 different groups in the country as `Scheduled Castes’ and more than 583 other groups as `Scheduled Tribes’. Roughly a sixth of the population thus came to be termed `backward’ by executive decree and were segregated by statute from the rest of the citizenry.

The direct precursor of these provisions was the `Communal Award’ by the British Government in 1932, who had taken it to be their duty “to safeguard what we believe to be the right of Depressed Classes to a fair proportion in Legislatures ”.[18] (`Depressed Classes’ was the official name for those misleadingly called `untouchables’ outside the Hindu fold.)

The complex customs of the Hindus call for endogamy and commensality among members of the same caste, thus making anyone outside a caste somewhat `untouchable’ for its members. In marriage and dining habits, many orthodox Hindus would hold foreigners, Muslims, and even Hindus of other castes at the same distance as those formally classified as `Depressed Classes’. Indeed, non-Hindus in India -including the British often maintained social protocols that were equally as strict.

No serious Indian historian would doubt that members of the `Depressed Classes’ had been oppressed and had suffered countless indignities throughout Indian history at the hands of so-called`caste Hindus’. At various times, persecution had led to mass conversions to the more secular faiths. But the ancient wrongs of the Hindu practices had to do not so much with the lack of physical contact in personal life which the word `untouchability’ connotes for Indian society has always consisted of a myriad of voluntarily segregated groups – but rather with open and obvious inequities such as the denial of equal access to temples, public wells, baths and schools.

Gandhi, who by his personal example probably did more for the cause of the `Depressed Classes’ than anyone else, protested against the Communal Award with one of his most famous fasts. Privately, he suspected that `…the communal question [was] being brought deliberately to the forefront and magnified by the government because they did not intend to part with power’.[19] Publicly, he argued that the pernicious consequence would be a further exacerbation of the apartheid under which the `Depressed Classes’ had suffered for so long, when the important thing was for their right to be within the Hindu fold to be acknowledged by `caste’ Hindus.[20]

The Fundamental Rights in the 1950 Constitution establishing the equality of all citizens before the law evidently had the 1930-31 resolutions as their precursors; while Article17 – which specifically declared `untouchability’ to be `abolished’ and its practice `forbidden’ – was part of Gandhi’s legacy, placing those who had for centuries been denigrated and persecuted on exactly the same footing in the eyes of the laws of the Republic as their denigrators and persecutors. The subsequent clauses authorizing the state to discriminate in favour of `Scheduled Castes’, and allowing it to define by executive decree who was to be so called, were evidently the remnants of the Communal Award of 1932. Discrimination by the state was initially to last for a period of 10 years only. It has, however, been extended three times -for another 10 years on each occasion – and so continues to the present day. We shall examine a few of the consequences in Part III.‘A socialistic pattern of society’As for economic policy, while the original 1950 Constitution had ambiguously stated certain ends – such as that government was `to strive to promote the welfare of the people’ – it made no mention at all of any specific economic institutions, statist or liberal, which the new Republic was to nurture as means towards those ends. In spite of this omission, successive governments have explicitly avowed their espousal of` socialism’ as the means to the good and prosperous society.

For instance, a “socialistic pattern of society where the principal means of production are under social ownership or control” was declared to be a national objective at the ruling Congress Party’s convention in 1955; and, in 1976, the notorious 42nd Amendment purported to change the very description of the country in the preamble to the original Constitution from the sober `Sovereign, Democratic Republic’ to the awkward `Sovereign, Secular, Socialist Democratic Republic’. It is an open and important issue of constitutional practice whether a temporary majoritarian government can change the legal description of a republic so fundamentally that it necessarily begs every question now and in the future about the efficacy of socialism as the route to mass prosperity.[21]

Even so, `socialism’ is a vague and equivocal word, meaning different things to different people. Briefly, what happened in the Indian context seems to have been that the Nationalist Government explicitly took upon itself the responsibility of becoming the prime mover of the economic growth of the country. This was in addition to its other fundamental and urgent political responsibilities at the time, namely, to establish peace and civil order in the aftermath of a bloody partition, re-settle several million destitute refugees, integrate into the Republic the numerous principalities and fiefdoms run by the princes and potentates, re-draw provincial boundaries on a sensible linguistic criterion, and generally educate people about their rights and responsibilities as individual citizens in a new and democratic republic.

In a poor country which had just ended a long period of alien rule, it was understandable, if in advisable, that a nationalist government led by cultured, educated men among unlettered masses should take upon itself the responsibility for economic growth. Part of the nationalists’ critique of British rule had been precisely that it had worked to the considerable detriment of the Indian economy. And, certainly, whatever the exact calculation of the benefits and costs of the British presence in India, while there had been obvious benefits, there had also been obvious costs such as iniquitous taxes and overt racial discrimination in employment. [22]Thus, when the nationalists practically swore themselves to provide better government for the economy, it was certainly a very praiseworthy aim; 1947 would indeed be the year of India’s `tryst with destiny’.

Better government not necessarily more government
What the Nehru Government came to believe, however, was that better government for the economy necessarily meant more government activity in the economy. A similar nationalist government led by cultured, educated men among an unlettered public had chosen differently in 1776 at Philadelphia, but the times and circumstances were very different. The Indian nationalists, and most especially Prime Minister Nehru, had just witnessed what they took to be, on the one hand, the collapse of the market economy in the Great Depression and, on the other, the rapid growth to greatness of Bolshevik Russia. In his presidential address to the Congress in 1936, for instance, Nehru spoke of the immediate past in these terms: `Everywhere conflicts grew, and a great depression overwhelmed the world and there was a progressive deterioration, everywhere except in the wide flung Soviet territories of the USSR, where, in marked contrast with the rest of the world, astonishing progress was made in every direction . . .’ Thus, it seemed to him, there was`. . . no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degradation, and the subjection of the Indian people except through Socialism”. Socialism meant, inter alia, ` the ending of private property, except in a restricted sense, and ttte repla emenr of the ,private profit system by a higher ideal of co-operative service. It means ultimately a change in our instincts and habits and desires. In short, it means a new civilisation, radically different from the present capitalist order. Some glimpse we can have of this new civilisation in the territories of the USSR. Much has happened there which has pained me greatly and with which I disagree, but I look upon that great and fascinating unfolding of anew order and a new civilisation as the most promising feature of our dismal age. If the future is full of hope it is largely because of Soviet Russia and what it has done, and I am convinced that, if some world catastrophe does not intervene, this new civilisation will spread to other lands and put an end to the wars and conflicts on which capitalism feeds’.[23]
Equally as certain and deep as his admiration for the liberal values of the West was Nehru’s evident misunderstanding of the causes and consequences of Stalin’s Russia. The political and economic history of India in the past 30 years cannot be understood without regard to her most powerful leader’s ambivalence about the nature of the political and economic good.
By the mid-1950s, many of India’s other prominent statesmen had died or retired from public life, and there was hardly a public figure of’ stature left (with the exception of Rajagopalachari) to challenge Nehru’s socialist vision of the country’s future. Moreover, men who were ostensibly `expert economists’, but whose writings revealed no knowledge of prices or markets or the concept of feasibility, were encouraged to endorse and embellish this vision, which they did without hesitation in the secure knowledge that they were shielded from critics by the intellectual patronage of a charismatic and elected leader.[24]
The choice between alternative models of mass economic prosperity must have seemed quite clear at the time. The cold fact did not, however, vanish that one of the oldest objective lessons of political economy has been that more government is not necessarily better government. It is to the consequences of ignoring this lesson that we now turn.

Part III: Practice

INDIA TODAY is a bizarre maze of distorted incentives, which I (and no doubt others) have found very difficult to untangle and understand. I shall, however, list and discuss the most significant of them as methodically as I can.

(i) Industry
The Indian Government has declared a large `public sector’ in commerce and industry to be a national objective. Towards this end, it has therefore progressively acquired numerous enterprises, large and small, so that it now has either a full monopoly in an industry or is one of a few oligopolists. These industries range from banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilisers and ship-building to making beer, soft drinks, telephones and wrist-watches. There are no explicit penalties for indefinite loss-making; indeed, bankrupt private enterprises have often been nationalised to serve politicians’ ends. And, certainly, there has been no general rule of marginal-cost pricing. In public utilities, like electricity generation and distribution or city buses and trams, prices appear to be well below marginal cost, leading to severe rationing and queueing. Sudden stoppages of electricity for hours at a time and monumental congestion on buses and trams have become endemic facts of life for millions of urban Indians.
At the same time, private industry in India has been made to face labyrinthine controls. The government has continually exhorted private firms to work in the `national interest’ – which means accepting the constraints of centralised planning. It has left no doubt that, while there is a `role’ for the min the growth of the economy, they exist at the sufferance of government and had better realise it, otherwise the dark forces of revolution which have so far been kept at bay will inevitably sweep them away altogether, as happened in Russia and China.
The constraints imposed on the operation of a private business are legion, and would make a businessman from the West or Far East reach for a psychiatrist or a pistol. An entrepreneur may not enter numerous industries without government approval of the `technical’ viability of his project; once it is approved, he cannot find credit except from a government bank; and he cannot buy raw materials and machinery of the highest quality at the lowest price since, if they are produced in India, he will be denied a licence to import better and/or cheaper foreign substitutes. The onus is on him to satisfy the government that no production occurs within India of the input he requires; only then will an import licence conceivably be granted, subject to periodic review by the government. He may be compelled to export a specified proportion of his output as a condition for the renewal of his import licence, which therefore places him at a disadvantage with foreign buyers who, of course, are aware of this restraint. He may be unable to compete internationally because the rupee is priced above its likely equilibrium and some of the inputs he uses are high-cost, low-quality domestic substitutes. As a result, he may be compelled practically to dump his output abroad at whatever price it will fetch.

The entrepreneur’s factory may be subject to random cuts in electricity for hours at a time. He may require government approval before he can increase his fixed capacity, modernise his plant, change a product-line, or even change the number of labour shifts. He may face minimum-wage and stringent unfair dismissal laws on the one hand, and price controls on the other. If he fails to meet credit obligations to the nationalised banks, he may be penalised by the appointment of one or more government directors to his board – a form of `creeping’ nationalisation. Further, he may be subjected to a constant threat of full nationalisation as and when the government decides that his industry should be in the public sector in the interests of national planning.[25]

The consequence of all these controls has been a monumental distortion of incentives away from encouraging private firms to try to attract customers by improving technology and quality or reducing prices towards encouraging them to concentrate on `rent-seeking’, in the term made familiar by Professors Gordon Tullock and James Buchanan.[26]

As Anne Krueger says in her excellent study of the automobile ancillary industry, the very notion of entrepreneurial efficiency changes in such circumstances: `Under conditions in India, the most important problem confronting entrepreneurs is that of assuring that production will continue. The combined effects of import licensing and investment licensing give virtually every firm a monopoly or quasi-monopoly position. The entrepreneur who is most successful in getting licences of greater value and/or in getting licences more quickly than his fellow producers will have higher profits. `The producer who does not compete successfully for licences cannot produce at all, no matter how skilled he is in achieving engineering efficiency, unless he enters the “open market” and pays a premium to the successful licence applicant for some materials . . . Successful entrepreneurs are therefore those who are best at obtaining the greatest number of licences most expeditiously . . .’ [27]

Moreover, firms which are low-cost and efficient (in the free market sense) and which are successful at rent-seeking as high-cost, inefficient firms may still not be able to compete the latter out of business because government will not usually allow a particular firm to expand – regardless of its efficiency – if there is excess capacity in the industry of which it is a part. High-cost firms can thereby rationally count on staying in business simply by maintaining significant excess capacity.

(ii) Foreign trade
The Government of India has always claimed that foreign exchange is a `scarce’ resource which must be rationed by fiat in the national interest. The total foreign-exchange revenue (at an exchange rate which was fixed until 1971 and has since been on a managed `peg’) has been allocated in the following order of priorities: first, to meet foreign debt repayments and government expenditures in the conduct of foreign policy, such as the maintenance of embassies (G1); secondly, to pay for imports of defence equipment, food, fertilisers and petroleum (G2); thirdly, to meet ear-marked payments for the imported inputs of public sector industries so that they may achieve projected production targets (G3); fourthly, to pay for the imported inputs of private sector firms which are
successful in obtaining import licences (P1); and, lastly, to satisfy the demands of the public at large for purposes such as travel abroad (P2).
Foreign exchange is `scarce’ in India, or elsewhere, in precisely the same sense that rice or petrol or cloth is scarce. Just as there exists some positive price for rice, petrol or cloth which, at any moment, will match total supplies with total demands, so there exists some positive price for rupees relative to dollars which, at any moment, will match the transaction and asset demands of Indians for dollars with the transaction and asset demands of foreigners for rupees. Underlying that market-clearing price would be (a) the demands of Indians for foreign goods whose f.o.b. prices were lower than those of domestic substitutes, and, similarly, the demands of foreigners for goods in which India has had a comparative advantage; and (b) the expectations of Indians and foreigners about the future purchasing power of the rupee relative to the dollar, using as a proxy, say, the difference between interest rates in India and abroad.

A free market in foreign exchange would first have encouraged India’s traditional exports, like jute manufactures and textiles, and then (if the positive theory of international trade is broadly correct)progressively encouraged the export of other non traditional goods which used India’s relatively inexpensive labour relatively intensively and thereby enabled Indian entrepreneurs to compete successfully in foreign markets. At the same time, capital flows into and out of India would have given the monetary authorities an incentive to keep domestic interest rates in line with the real opportunity cost of forgoing consumption in favour of savings.

Thus, the case against a free market in foreign exchange has always been, to say the least, far from obvious.[28] But even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the presumed superiority of rationing, the elementary theory of optimisation which underlies the so-called theory of `planning’ dictates that the government should allocate dollars between alternative uses such that the marginal dollar yields the same increase in social utility in any use. The Indian Government, however, appears to have allocated foreign exchange simply on the basis of giving a higher priority to its own foreign expenditures (categories Gl, G2 and G3) than to private foreign expenditures (categories Pl and P2). That is to say, regardless of how much social utility might have been derived from a particular increase in private-sector imports, it would not be considered until after the government had met all its own expenditures abroad.[29]
Jagdish Bhagwati and T. N. Srinivasan put it as follows : `The allocation of foreign exchange among alternative claimants and users in a direct control system . . .would presumably be with reference to a well-defined set of principles and criteria based on a system of priorities. In point of fact, however, there seem to have been few such criteria, if any, followed in practice.’[30]
With respect to imported inputs for private- and public-sector industries, a rule of `essentiality’ (that is, the input must be technically `essential’ to the production process) and a rule of `indigenous availability’(that is, there must be absolutely no domestically-produced physical substitutes, regardless of cost and quality)seem to have been followed. But, as Bhagwati and Srinivasan report, `. . . the sheer weight of numbers made any meaningful listing of priorities extremely difficult. The problem was Orwellian: all industries had priority and how was each sponsoring authority to argue that some industries had more priority than others? It is not surprising, therefore, that the agencies involved in determining allocations by industry fell back on vague notions of “fairness”, implying pro rata allocations with reference to capacity installed or employment, or shares defined by past import allocations or similar rules of thumb’. [31]

Clearly, in abjuring the free market and claiming a monopoly over foreign-exchange transactions, government planners have accepted certain premises as unquestionable: (a) that government sponsored industrialisation is the best means to mass prosperity; (b) that a policy of indefinite import-substitution is the best means to industrialisation; and (c) that such a policy requires all foreign expenditures by government to take precedence over all private foreign expenditures. The trade and foreign-exchange policies pursued cannot be understood except by reference to domestic economic policies and, in particular, to the view held about the proper functions of government in and out of the market-place.

In addition to a plethora of controls, tariffs and outright bans on imports, there have been erratic policies, subsidising the export of `new’, non-traditional manufactures like engineering goods, and taxing- and even banning – the export of goods in which India has traditionally enjoyed a comparative advantage.[32]

Moreover, the rupee has been continuously over-valued. From 1949 to 1959, the official exchange rate of Rs. 4.76 to the US dollar was, on average, 12..3 percent above the black-market rate, a figure which rose to 61 per cent between 1960 and 1965. From 1966 to 1970, the devalued official rate of Rs. 7.50 to the dollar was above the black-market rate by an average of 47.6 per cent, while from 1971 onwards the managed-peg rate has been above the black-market rate by an average of 24.3 per cent.[33]

Simple economics suggests that a free-market equilibrium rate would be somewhere between the black-market and official rates. An official exchange rate for the rupee fixed above that warranted by underlying relative demands for Indian and foreign goods, as well as by relative degrees of confidence in the rupee and the dollar, subsidises imports at the expense of exports. By discriminating in favour of its own foreign expenditures and against those of the private sector, the government has been the principal beneficiary of an over-valued rupee. If capital-intensive goods are the main imports and labour-intensive ones the main exports, an over-valued rupee further distorts incentives so as to favour the use of capital-intensive production processes over labour intensive ones – in a country with a demonstrable abundance of relatively inexpensive labour!
With an eye to India, Krueger has argued the general issue in these terms:`Subsidies can make any industry an export industry, even one that would not produce at all in an efficient allocation. Similarly, taxes can be levied on an industry that has comparative advantage which will penalize it enough to render domestic production entirely unprofitable. When taxes and subsidies are used, therefore, it is possible not only to distort the structure of production, but to distort it so much that the “wrong” commodities are exported.”[34]

The Indian Government’s planners have had the idea of forcibly effecting a reversal in the comparative advantage of the country, as if by magic overnight. The hope might have been that a forced pace of industrialisation would somehow allow economies of scale to be reaped and thus soon make Indian industrial goods competitive enough in international markets to be the country’s principal source of foreign exchange, displacing traditional manufactures like jute and textiles. In practice, however, as the evidence given by Bela Balassa
and other economists demonstrates, such a policy has not succeeded to date and is most unlikely ever to do so.
India’s import bill has risen continuously, most drastically after the 1973-74 quadrupling of petroleum prices; non-traditional manufactures have hardly been able to compete successfully in foreign markets; and the traditional exports of jute and textiles have suffered very severe setbacks. Balassa contrasts the consequences of the freer, outward-looking trade policies of South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan with those of the inward-looking, controlled regime of India as part of a study of 11 countries(including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Israel and Yugoslavia) which, along with Hong Kong, account for most of the manufactured exports of developing countries. India’s share of the total manufactured exports of these countries has fallen steadily from 65.4 per cent in 1953 to 50.7 per cent in1960, to 31.2 per
cent in 1966 and to a mere 10.3 per cent in 1973. The proportion exported of India’s total manufactured output fell from 9.7 per cent in 1960 to 9.4 per cent in 1966 and to 8.6 per cent in1973. In contrast, during the same two periods, the proportion of manufactured output exported rose from1 to 14 to 41 per cent in South Korea, from 11 to 20 to 43 per cent in Singapore, and from 9 to 19 to 50 per cent in Taiwan.[35]
Balassa cogently argues that the adverse effects of a sudden change in external factors, such as the quadrupling of petroleum prices in 1973-74 or the 1974-75 Western recession, were absorbed much more easily by developing countries with large foreign-trade sectors than by those like India with relatively small ones: `Outward orientation is associated with high export and import shares that permit reduction in non-essential imports without serious adverse effects on the functioning of the economy. By contrast, continued inward orientation involves limiting imports to an unavoidable minimum, so that any further reduction will impose a considerable cost in terms of growth. Furthermore, the greater flexibility of the national economies of countries pursuing an outward-oriented strategy, under which firms learn to live with foreign competition, makes it possible to change the product composition of exports in response to changes in world market conditions, whereas inward orientation entails establishing a more rigid economic structure.’[36]
In other words, if imports are both high in total value and diverse in composition, a rise in the relative price of a particular import for which home demand is relatively inelastic (like petroleum and its products) can be accommodated by a substitution of expenditure towards it and away from inessential imports for which demand is relatively elastic. A similar argument had typically been advanced by advocates of import-substitution when they maintained that the exports of a small country should be diverse and not concentrated on only a few goods since a decline in world prices would otherwise lead to serious falls in export revenues. This suggests that both critics and advocates of import substitution might agree that, for a country which is a price-taker in world markets, the encouragement of a large foreign-trade sector is a way of diversifying the risk of adverse effects from changes in world prices. The question remains as to whether the positive theory of trade is correct in saying that the encouragement of comparative advantage is superior to import-substitution as a means of achieving a large foreign sector. From the contrasting experiences of, say, South Korea on the one hand and India on the other, the answer seems overwhelmingly to be that it is.

(iii) Agriculture
The Indian Government has instituted a multiple-pricing system for the major food-grains, especially rice and wheat. Farmers are compelled to sell a specified fraction of their output to the government, at a price fixed by the government which is significantly lower than that warranted by underlying supply and demand conditions. Farmers may sell the remainder of their output freely. The quantities the government acquires in this way, plus any it imports (imports being subsidised by the over-valuation of the exchange rate), are sold by ration at lower than free-market prices in the so-called `fair-price’ shops – which happen to be mainly in urban areas. Urban consumers may purchase part of their requirements from such shops and the remainder on the open market at higher prices. Astute middle-class urban housewives know that rationed grain is often of poorer quality than that sold on the open market. Accordingly, the former often constitutes part of the wages of the domestic servants of the urban household, while the family consumes the latter. Insofar as this is true, it suggests that farmers distinguish quality much better than do government officials, and that they use this advantage somewhat to partition their output into low- and high-quality, selling the first under compulsion to the government and the second on the open market.
While such is the general food policy of India, the compulsory procurement of grains and their distribution to the ration-shops is implemented by individual State governments and not by the Union Government. There have usually been numerous restrictions on inter-State movements of grain, so the States do not form a full customs union; instead, the Union Government tries to be a central clearing-house, matching the desired imports of one State with the desired exports of another.[37]

Economic effects of ban on futures contracts
Furthermore, futures contracts in grains have been banned by law, in the belief that futures trading is conducive to speculation and that speculation is undesirable. A futures contract in grain consists simply of a promise by a seller to deliver an amount of grain to a buyer at some specified date in the future in return for payment at a price agreed today. The seller’s incentive to enter into the contract is the guarantee of a certain sale, and the availability of funds now; the buyer’s incentive is the guarantee of a certain price for future deliveries. The contract may be entered into because buyer and seller have different expectations about what the spot price will be in the future. The buyer minimises his expected costs and the seller maximises his expected revenues; both are able to balance their budgets inter-temporally. Even if they have the same expectations about future spot prices, buyer and seller may still find it mutually profitable to enter into a futures contract as a way of insuring against risk. Forbidding such contracts by decree thus forces more risk onto both buyer and seller than they would normally be prepared to carry, and also induces them to balance their accounts in each period rather than it inter-temporally. Alternative kinds of credit markets become it relatively more lucrative, with the potential seller and buyer of futures wheat respectively borrowing and lending more than they would otherwise have done.[38]
The government has also expressed its determination to keep prices in ration-shops low. It has accordingly stockpiled large inventories of grain, apparently regardless of the costs of storage and spoilage or the alternative of holding larger foreign-exchange reserves to permit increased imports when necessary.

The ostensible, declared objective of all such policies has been to ensure that the poor do not suffer severe adverse income effects from sudden rises in the price of food resulting (it has been thought) from the contingencies of rainfall and the actions of speculative traders. It is, however, an open secret that the policies have really been a means of (a) taxing farmers, who pay a smaller percentage of their income in direct and indirect taxes than do urban dwellers, and (b) subsidising urban consumers, who broadly comprise the industrial working class and the middle in classes.
At the same time, however, the government and its advisers — after the considerable hesitation recorded by David Hopper [39]- have also accepted that the best long-run prospects for increasing agricultural productivity lie in modernising traditional farming techniques. Given the outstanding results of the Green Revolution in wheat, they could hardly have arrived at any other conclusion. The problem from the government’s point of view has been, as a sympathetic economist puts it “…how to procure a sufficient quantity of food grains at reasonable prices without jeopardising the farmers’ incentives to produce more”.[40]

Thus, while taxing farmers de facto on their output, on the one hand, the government has tried, on the other, to promote the use of modern inputs by subsidizing them both directly and through low-interest loans from the banks for such investment.
Distortions of incentives in agriculture
The distortions of efficient incentives caused by such policies are not difficult to see. First, the low output prices of wheat and rice have, in effect, been discriminatory taxes on wheat. As Edward Schuh remarks, these discourage the production of `. . . the very crops that policy-makers believe the vulnerable groups should have greater access to . . .’[41]

Vasant Sukhatme and Theodore Schultz have argued that, even between wheat and rice, there has been severe discrimination in favour of the former. At the official over-valued exchange rate, the price of domestic wheat has been significantly higher than imported, while at open-market rates for the rupee, the domestic price approximated the import price. For rice, however, the domestic price has been consistently below the import price. Sukhatme estimated that the dead weight loss in welfare from the under pricing of rice amounted to 8.5 per cent of total agricultural income in 1967-68 and to 2.2 per cent in 1970-71. He also calculated effective rates of protection, which were strongly negative for rice whether at official or open-market exchange rates and positive for wheat at the official exchange rate. Both he and Schultz conclude that the discrimination against rice has been a major factor in explaining the absence of a Green Revolution in rice on the scale of that in wheat.[42]
Secondly, the main beneficiaries of government subsidies for modern inputs have evidently been not the many small farmers but the fewer relatively large ones. As Gilbert Brown reports :`Large-scale farmers buy most subsidised inputs. Poorer farmers usually lack the money to buy adequate amounts of fertiliser and pesticides, and are commonly unable to get credit except at near-prohibitive rates of often 60% to 100% per year. Even in countries with subsidised bank credit for agriculture, rich farmers get most of the credit because of legal or administrative restrictions and/ or through open or disguised bribery. Credit and subsidy programmes for tractors, tube wells and other fixed investments also go mostly to the largest and richest farmers . . .Water is also a subsidised input . . . The farmers who receive this subsidised water generally have substantially higher incomes (because of the water) than farmers without access to public irrigation. Thus, claims that water should be subsidised to help small farmers misses the point that most farmers with irrigation have higher incomes than those who do not.’[43]
Brown argues that subsidies for inputs have been made necessary only to offset the forced depression of output prices. Moreover, the social benefit from subsidising inputs is limited to when the input is first introduced: ‘Once the benefits and technique of using the input are widely known, however, the continuation of such subsidies serves largely to increase the benefit-cost ratio of using the input . . .’.
Whether it is better to continue with artificially low input and output prices or to adjust towards a free market in both must take into account that the subsidies have encouraged more capital-intensity in production, and also that the `. . . low prices of certain inputs, particularly water, are often associated with widespread waste and inefficient use of the resource’.[44]
Thirdly, the farmer who is too small to find investment in storage facilities profitable may also consider it not worth his while to hold any of his output for sale on the open market. He will then sell it all to the government – at a below-market price.
A general conclusion would seem to be that, if the combined effect of input subsidies and forced grain sales to government has been a net subsidy to agriculture, then it has been a progressive subsidy; whereas if the combined effect has been a net tax on agriculture, then it has been a regressive tax. The Marxists may be quite right to protest that what gains there have been in agriculture have accrued to the relatively larger farmers, while smaller peasants and farmers are becoming landless labourers in growing numbers as a result of bankruptcy (that is, there has been increasing `rural proletarianisation’, to use the Marxists’ picturesque phrase). But if this is true, the cause can be traced unambiguously to the Indian Government’s belief – vociferously shared by the Marxists – that the way towards the declared objective of helping the poor is by extensive interference in the price system. Besides, the industrial working class demonstrably benefits from low food prices, so the honest Marxist must face up to being torn by divided loyalties between the rural and the urban proletariats.

Srinivasan put it as follows in a 1974 survey article :`The public distribution system with respect to foodgrains . . . operated to the benefit of all those living in metropolitan cities and other large urban concentrations while all others, including rich and poor in relatively small urban and almost all rural areas, did not benefit at all. When one recalls that the rural population includes the most abject among the poor, namely landless workers, the inequity of the system becomes glaring. And in urban areas, the existence of the system and the fact that the ration is often inadequate provides incentives for a household to falsify the data on its size and age composition given to the rationing authorities, as well as to create bogus or ghost ration-cards, not to speak of the corruption of the personnel manning the rationing administration.’[45]

The history of the extensive control of agriculture – which has included a partial government monopsony, forcibly-depressed output prices, inter-State restrictions on grain movements, and urban ration-shops – can be traced to the last years of British rule, as an attempt to bolster the popularity of the imperial regime. [46] The continuation and reinforcement of statism in agriculture in independent India has evidently rested on certain premises, namely, that the private market would be grossly inefficient and would be dominated by a few traders continually reaping large speculative profits, with both the small farmer and the ordinary consumer suffering in consequence.

Uma Lele’s fine study of the private grain trade, however, shows the real picture to be quite different. She found that the trade was highly competitive, that individual traders were rational agents (given the constraints of technology and government policy), that location price differences closely reflected transport costs, and that temporal price differences closely reflected storage costs. She argued that, while there was considerable scope for government activity, it should be in the form, not of interfering in the competitive market, but rather of encouraging the market to work – by, for example, disseminating relevant information such as crop forecasts, standardising weights and measures, constructing or improving roads and encouraging efficiency in the market for the transport of grain, etc.[47]

The evident neglect of such findings as these, and the continued application of policies inimical to competition and the free market, suggest that successive governments of independent India have been hardly more concerned for the rural poor – whether as farmer or consumer – and hardly less concerned with bolstering their popularity in the urban areas than were the British.

(iv) Employment
An obvious consequence of the economic policies described above has been the distortion of the individual citizen’s calculation of the expected benefits and costs of living and working in urban areas compared with the rural countryside. The forced depression of output prices in agriculture and the plethora of foreign-trade policies which discriminate against agriculture certainly seem to have artificially depressed the expected incomes of farmers. At the same time, a large `public sector’ in industry, plus the array of foreign-trade policies which have protected private industry, plus the indirect subsidisation of food sold in urban ration-shops certainly seem to have artificially raised expected urban incomes. Predictably, the reaction has been a vast and continuing net migration from the villages to the towns and cities, even after adjusting for the seasonal nature of agriculture. This drift has been the subject of much inquiry and discussion by development economists.[48] I propose to set it aside and examine instead a different aspect of employment policy which has not received nearly as much attention, namely, the consequences of putting into effect the clauses in the 1950 Indian Constitution mentioned above which authorised discrimination in employment and public education in favour of the `Scheduled’ castes and tribes, as well as other policies which discriminate on grounds of ethnic origin.

The consequences have been similar in several respects to those in America of `affirmative action’ towards so-called `racial minorities’, and it will be useful to draw out the analogy a little. As Thomas Sowell has cogently argued in recent years, the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like `race’, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups : members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the state’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race: `. . . costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet those standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected – that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’[49]
At the same time, there is, in effect, a progressively graduated subsidy for members of the `minority’ group in favour of those who are already closest to meeting the general standards. Those in the mainstream of each group are largely unaffected; it is at the margins of competition that the bitterness caused by such policies will be felt and will manifest itself. It would seem that the situation in India – where the racial mosaic is if anything more complex than in America – is somewhat analogous. In recent years there has been civil tension and violence in the streets as poor Muslims, `caste’ Hindus, Sikhs and others have protested at being edged out of jobs and promotions by equally poor, or wealthier, members of the `Scheduled Castes’. In March-April 1981, for instance, there was widespread civil tension and violence in Gujarat over the reservation of places in the State’s medical colleges. A quarter of these places were statutorily reserved for members of the `Scheduled Castes’, with any not taken up by qualified candidates from these groups accruing to them in the future, thereby rapidly excluding from general competition as many as half the total number of places.[50]

The cruel paradox is that, while the position of many members (perhaps the vast majority) of the `Scheduled Castes’ vis-à-vis `caste’ Hindus remains one of degradation and persecution – quite regardless of the constitutional guarantees of equality in the eyes of the law – the relatively few who have succeeded in taking advantage of the discriminatory statutes have aroused the indignation of those who have not -causing even more animosity towards the `Scheduled Castes’ in general. One commentator observes the emergence of a `new elite’ among the `Scheduled Castes’ which `ceases to identify with its caste brethren’; while, at the same time, the law on equality `is so widely flouted precisely because the Scheduled Castes have not the means or courage to seek its protection . . .’ He concludes :`Contrived gestures such as are now popular will either not benefit [the Scheduled Castes] . . . or will do so only by further lowering already deplorable academic and administrative standards’. [51]
Moreover, when all government posts are advertised with a caveat that 10 or 15 per cent of themare reserved for members of the `Scheduled Castes’ and `Scheduled Tribes’, there is a considerable incentive for people to persuade Parliament to declare them as being such. And that also has happened. Discrimination in employment on the ground of caste has not been the only kind of discrimination practised by the Indian state. In what may be the most thorough study currently available on the origins, consequences and legal history of official discrimination in India, Weiner, Katzenstein and Rao have described the plethora of policies pursued by the central and state governments which have used not caste but ethnic origin as a criterion for public employment (with the private sector also often being `encouraged’ to follow suit) :`Preferences are given to those who belong to the “local” community, with “local” understood as referring to the numerically dominant linguistic group in the locality.’ [52] The authors conclude that what is emerging in India is`. . . a government-regulated labour market in which various ethnic groups are given a reserved share of that market. Competition for employment is thus not among all Indians, but within specified linguistic, caste, and tribal groups.`. . . various ethnic groups, therefore, fight politically for a share of that labour market. The major political struggles are often over who should get reservations, how the boundaries of the ethnic groups should be defined, and how large their share should be. There are also political struggles over whether there should be reservations in both education and employment, in private as well as in public employment, and in promotions as well as hiring. The preferential policies themselves have thus stimulated various ethnic groups to assert their “rights” to reservations.’[53]

It is not difficult to understand the general economic argument against discrimination on grounds such as caste or ethnic origin. If a private employer indulges a personal preference to hire only people of an kind A when there are more able or better qualified candidates of other ethnic kinds B, C, D, . . . ,available, and if the product of his firm is subject to competition in the market from other enterprises which do not discriminate on criteria which are irrelevant to economic efficiency, we may confidently expect the discriminating employer’s product to become uncompetitive and his profits to fall. The best and most obvious example of this would be in the professional sports industry in the USA : a `whites-only’ basketball or football team would be immediately vanquished on the games-field into bankruptcy. If government pursues employment policies which discriminate according to economically irrational criteria such as caste or ethnic origin, or if it forces all private firms to do likewise, there will certainly be inefficiency resulting in a loss of real aggregate output in the economy. In the terms of modern economics, a vector of total outputs which would be feasible given the parameters of the economy, and which would leave everyone either better off or at least no worse off, would not be achieved. In sum, the consequence of direct and widespread government interference in the labour market in India appears to have been, not only a disregard for the principle of equality before the law for every citizen (in a nascent republic of immensely diverse peoples), but also a loss of real output and an enormous `politicisation’ of economic life whereby individual success becomes increasingly tied to political power and increasingly removed from personal merit, enterprise and effort. In addition, the composition of occupations in the economy has been indirectly distorted by the set of industrial, agricultural and foreign-trade policies pursued by successive governments.


IT MIGHT be thought that a large and flabby `public sector’ in industry and commerce, labyrinthine controls on private industry, a government monopoly of foreign-exchange dealings, the overvaluation of the currency, indefinite import-substitution, forcibly depressed output and input prices in agriculture, enormous politicization of the labour market, disregard for equality before the law, and distortion of the composition of occupations would constitute a sufficient catalogue of symptoms of grave illness in the political economy of a nation. Sadly, however, there are in modern India other symptoms too which I can mention only briefly here.
An opinion frequently encountered among urban Indians (as well as among the majority of Western development economists) is that government control over the size of the population is a necessary condition for economic development, and indeed that it is the failure of government to do this that has dissipated the economic growth that would otherwise have resulted from the economic policies pursued. The urban Indian witnesses the hovels and shanty-towns inhabited by migrant families from the countryside attracted by the policies discussed previously, and he experiences the resulting congestion. So does the Western development economist when he ventures out of his hotel into the city streets. Very often, that is his only personal experience of the legendary `poor masses’ of India. It is understandable that such princely discomfiture should lead him to the opinion that the poor are mindless in their breeding habits and that they must be persuaded, bullied or compelled to change. If this opinion were true, it would seem to point to a neat and simple solution to many of the woes of poor countries, and India in particular. But if the opinion is false and yet widely believed, it would cause governments to be, as it were, barking up the wrong tree.
It is, however, far from established, and certainly not at all obvious, that demographic control is either necessary or desirable in India or elsewhere. In the first place, when the rate of infant mortality is known and experienced by rural people to be high, there will be mare births than there would have been otherwise. Secondly, it is perfectly clear that children are an investment good in traditional societies such as those of rural India. Even young children are a source of family income, either directly by working outside the home or indirectly by working at domestic chores and thereby releasing adult members of the family for outside work. For a child to be absent from primary school or to drop out within a few years is not necessarily truancy; it may be the outcome of a rational economic calculation about where his time may be better spent towards increasing the household’s income. Furthermore, in traditional societies adult children are the principal source of support for elderly and retired parents.
To know of the existence of artificial measures of contraception certainly enlarges the alternatives open to a couple. Assuming that such knowledge is not in itself a cause of unhappiness (as it can be if there are conflicting religious commitments), a couple may certainly be better off with that knowledge because of their ability to control the number and timing of their children. The couple might also have fewer children – though there is no necessary or causal connection between a knowledge of contraception and the number of children born to a couple. Rational calculation may produce the same number of children as the caprice of nature, the implication being that in general there is no causal connection between the availability of contraceptives and the rate of growth of the population. The value of a public policy which encourages the use of artificial contraception is not so much that it reduces the number of births as that it may allow couples more control over their own lives. Whether or not artificial contraception should be publicly subsidised is quite another question.
The Indian Government has expended considerable resources in propagating and subsidizing artificial birth control. The results appear to have been, at best, indifferent (coupled as birth control has been with indirect incentives for large families and, at worst, cruel – as when frenetic zeal spilled over into demands for, and the implementation of, compulsory sterilisation. For this author, however, the important consideration would seem to be not so much the exact costs and benefits of the demographic policies pursued as the critical acknowledgement that they have little or nothing to do with the fundamental causes of mass economic development.[54]
It remains a stark paradox that, with a general literacy rate of perhaps 30 per cent [NB: In 2007, this has grown to 73% for males and 48% for females] India still produces the third largest absolute number of science and engineering graduates in the world. This reflects the lopsidedness of the educational system, continued from British times, in which higher education is enormously subsidised relative to primary education. In addition, entry into the civil services requires a college or university education, which in turn requires a good private secondary school education, which in turn requires a good preparatory school education. Strenuously competing to enter prep. school, with the help of outside tutoring, is the unhappy fate of many a five- or six-year-old in the towns and cities, followed by strenuous competition in secondary school, college and university, and finally at the doorstep of government (or a foreign university).
A job in government – any job in government – has carried prestige since Mughal times. In addition to the prestige and the obvious benefits of tenure where ether `decent’ jobs are scarce, there has been in recent times the inner satisfaction from a belief that a person can truly do his best for his country only by being in government. Tens of thousands of youths spend significant personal resources (such as whole years in cramming schools) to compete for a few annual openings in government. It is only to be expected that the competent, ambitious, patriotic youth who succeeds will mature into a respected mandarin with an unshakeable conviction in the good his government has done for the masses, and in the further good yet in prospect.
Failure to anticipate monsoon damage and disarray of the judicial system
The most serious examples of the malfunctioning of civil government in India are probably the failure to take feasible public precautions against the monsoons and the disarray of the judicial system. Official estimates, for instance, of the damage caused by flooding to homes, crops and public utilities in a few weeks of July-August 1981 alone amounted to over Rs 1 billion, with 10.8 million people `affected’, 35,000 head of cattle lost, and 195,000 homes damaged. The full magnitude of the devastation which annually visits vast areas can be understood perhaps only by those in rural India, although the towns and cities also regularly suffer considerable chaos. [55] [NB 2007: Monsoon prediction appears far better today than it was when these words were written.]
As for the disarray of the judicial system, The Statesman lamented in July 1980:`The simplest matter takes an inordinate amount of time, remedies seldom being available to those without means or influence. Of the more than 16,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, about 5,000 were introduced more than five years ago; while nearly 16,000 of the backlog of more than 600,000 cases in our high courts have been hanging fire for over a decade. Allahabad is the worst offender but there are about 75,000 uncleared cases in the Calcutta High Court in addition to well over a million in West Bengal’s lower courts.”[56] Such a state of affairs has been caused not only by lazy and corrupt policemen, court clerks and lawyers, but also by the paucity of judges and magistrates. In addition, however,`. . . a vast volume of laws provokes endless litigation as much because of poor drafting which leads to disputes over interpretation as because they appear to violate particular rights and privileges. Land legislation offers an example of radical zeal running away with legal good sense, giving rise to thousands of suits against the Government . . .’ [57] When governments determinedly do what they need not or should not do, it may be expected that they will fail to do what civil government positively should be doing. In a sentence, that has been the tragedy of modern India.

Part IV : Reform

IT WILL by now have become evident to the reader from the descriptions and arguments given above that, in the judgement of the present author, only a set of radical changes in policy can put the Indian economy on a path to higher mass prosperity within a free and healthy body politic. I shall therefore put forward a tentative manifesto for reform, adding some predictions about which classes of citizens would be most likely to support or oppose a particular proposal. The scope and intention of such a manifesto should be made clear at the outset. As Aristotle taught, a set of actions which are the means towards certain ends may themselves be the ends towards which other prior means have to be taken.[58]
The ultimate ends of economic advice in India are to seek to bring about mass prosperity under conditions of individual freedom. The proposals I which follow are to be construed as means towards those ultimate ends. But they also constitute a set of intermediate ends, and their implementation would require further judgement about the best means towards achieving them. In economic policy, for instance, a firm but gradual phasing-in over a period of three or four years may be the best way to minimise the hardships entailed by the adjustment. For reasons which will become clear, however, I shall not here try to answer the question as to how the proposals might best be implemented.

(a) Effects of foreign policy on the domestic economy
It will be useful to begin with a short and very incomplete consideration of foreign policy insofar as it may bear upon domestic economic policies. It is a settled fact of international politics that, while there is no obvious connection between a nation’s economic and political institutions and the choice of strategic allies it faces, people’s subjective perceptions and opinions of the social arrangements in a foreign country can be deeply influenced by whether that country is seen as a potential ally or adversary. A related and equally settled fact is that war, or the fear of war, can make for the most incongruous of bed-fellows. In contemporary India, it is quite evident that the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and the sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones, has been caused to a very significant extent by the perception that the United States is relatively hostile towards India while the Soviet Union is relatively friendly. This was not always so. The official affection between the United States and India in the early years of the Republic was grounded in sincerity and goodwill. The roots of its demise are probably to be found in the split between the Soviet Union and China in the late 1950s which, in a short period of time, made the latter a valuable strategically for the United States against the former. By the early 1970s, the spectre of a joint military threat to India from a totalitarian China and a militarist Pakistan – and especially a threat which it was perceived democratic America would do little or nothing to thwart – made it prudent for democratic India to become the virtual ally of totalitarian Russia.
Such a configuration on the international chess-board need not have been detrimental to India’s economic development. It is possible to imagine a liberal state allied to a totalitarian one for strategic reasons, yet maintaining liberal economic policies domestically and internationally. In practice[58], however, the extent of `economic collaboration’, bilateral trading arrangements, `joint ventures’, barter agreements, `cultural exchanges’, and the like into which the Indian Government has entered with the Soviet bloc, appears significantly to exceed what it has achieved with the Western powers. In particular, Soviet arms have in recent years been purchased more often and then manufactured under licence. This too need not have been economically detrimental if the Soviet products had in practice been competitive on international markets in terms of price and quality. As is common knowledge, however, this is often not so. It therefore appears that part of the price India has had to pay for the strategic support of the Soviet Union has been the foisting on her of low-quality, high-priced Soviet goods, whether arms or steel mills or technical know-how. At the same time, for reasons which are partly historical and partly related to these considerations, direct foreign investment by private Western firms has been treated with, at best, coolness and, at worst, open hostility.

A change in India’s foreign policy
If the economic liberalisation that will be proposed here for India is to be effective, a truly independent yet prudent foreign policy may be required to accompany it. A change in the present strategic configuration – in which the United States is perceived in India to be virtually the ally of both China and Pakistan, while India is perceived in the United States to be virtually the ally of the Soviet Union – is unlikely until and unless the United States finds it in her best interests in the region to distance herself from China and Pakistan, which is unlikely to happen without a rapprochement between the Soviet Union and China. A drastic alternative way for India to reduce her dependence upon the Soviet Union would be the kind of divorce Egypt effected some years ago, followed by an alliance with the Western powers. This might, however, undermine once more the independence of foreign policy and be perceived in India as a move from the devil to the deep sea. The prudent remaining alternative would appear to be an earnest and vigorous pursuit of serious no-war pacts with Pakistan and China, combined with an appropriately small independent nuclear deterrent. It seems to the author that the reasons which commend this course are closely analogous to those offered by the present American and British governments for pursuing serious no-war negotiations with the Soviet bloc whilst simultaneously improving the Western nuclear deterrent.
(b) Liberalisation of foreign trade
Not only would the truly independent foreign policy proposed in the preceding paragraph allow India to distance herself from the Soviet Union; it would probably also prompt the Western powers to end the intergovernmental transfers which go by the name of `foreign aid’. For reasons that Peter Bauer has emphasised over many years, an end to such transfers might be a boon in disguise for India.[59] In particular, it would require the government to seek to balance the foreign-exchange accounts without becoming obligated to the Western powers, and this in turn would require a major economic transformation from a closed and protectionist economy to an open one which harnessed India’s comparative advantages.
An initial liberalisation of foreign trade, involving a transition from quotas to tariffs, would probably be supported by private industry as a whole. It would, however, be opposed by incumbent politicians and government officials since it would dissipate the rents they receive under the closed regime. A subsequent reduction in tariffs, a withdrawal of export subsidies, and the free floating of the rupee would be opposed by those private firms (and their labour unions) which would be uncompetitive internationally – probably those in `non-traditional’ industries. The measures would, however, be supported by ordinary consumers, by private firms in traditional industries like jute manufactures and textiles, and particularly by farmers.
Once private industry became subject to the strict discipline of international competition again, there would be no reason whatsoever for government-imposed internal controls which were not conducive to free and fair competition among firms for the consumer’s rupee. The repeal of the plethora of licensing policies would dissipate the large rents attached to the controls under the present regime. Since these rents are paid by private industry and received, directly or indirectly, by incumbent politicians and government officials, the former could be expected to welcome repeal and the latter to oppose it vigorously.

(c) Privatisation of `public-sector’ industries
At the same time, for the so-called `public-sector’ industries to face international competition, when they are currently monopolists or oligopolists, would demand such an improvement in economic discipline as probably to require the shares of most of them to be sold on the open market, with marginal-cost pricing imposed on the remainder. There is no economic reason why the Government of India shouldbe engaged in commercial or merchant banking and insurance, or in industries from steel, machine-tools, ship-building and fertilisers to wrist-watches, hotels and beer. Nor is there any cogent reason why it should be a major producer, let alone a monopolist, in the road, rail, air and sea transport industries. Large-scale privatisation would be supported by private citizens in general, and would also draw out the reputedly vast private funds which circulate in the untaxable underground economy. But such measures would probably be opposed vigorously by the government officials who currently manage these industries, aswell as by the public-sector labour unions.

(d) Free-market pricing in agriculture
With the repudiation of the mistaken premise that government sponsored industrialisation is the best means to mass economic development, the free-market pricing of agricultural outputs and the removal of all controls that are not conducive to free competition among farmers should follow. This would be welcomed by all farmers and perhaps by the rural population in general. It could also be expected to provide much encouragement to the technological transformation of traditional agriculture. The abolition of ration-shops in urban areas would be opposed by the industrial working class, by the urban middle classes in general, and by government officials and employees engaged in the present regime of public distribution. Further, farmers, especially relatively large ones, might be expected to oppose the concomitant free-market pricing of agricultural inputs, including credit and fertilisers, as would those government employees presently charged with distributing these inputs.
The ending of the distortions in agricultural output and input prices would establish a conclusive case for uniform systems of taxation in the economy, and especially for income from agriculture to be treated on a par with income from other occupations. These systems could locally include direct subsidies to those (whether in rural or urban areas) who are unable to provide any income for themselves, such as the insane and the severely disabled – all of whom are currently cared for, if at all, by private charity, and none of whom, strangely enough, appears to enter the moral calculations of socialist and Marxist economists.

(e) Tax revenues for public goods
The first and most important destination of tax revenues, whether raised centrally, provincially or locally, must be the provision of public goods – central, provincial and local. In an earlier section, we have seen what kinds of goods these should be. Among the most urgent in India are more effective precautions against the monsoons and improvements in the efficiency of the systems of civil and criminal justice. The former might include measures to prevent soil erosion and the building of better dams, embankments, canals and roads. Such programmes would be likely to command practically unanimous support in the localities in which they were implemented.
Reforms of the judicial system might include raising the salaries of judges and policemen, as well as the penalties for their misconduct; improving the training and morale of the police, with the object of increasing public confidence in them (especially in the villages); and expanding the number of courts, at least temporarily until the monumental backlog of cases has been reduced and brought under control. A general reduction in the political and administrative direction of economic life would lead to fewer lawsuits being brought against the government itself, and thus provide further relief for the judiciary. Widespread prison reform may also be required if the reports are true that a large proportion of those held prisoner for a number of years have yet to be brought to trial, and that potential prosecution witnesses, if they are poor and uneducated, are themselves sometimes kept in jail until a case comes to court. Such reforms would command the support of everyone except criminals, capricious litigants and corrupt or incompetent members of the police and judiciary, none of which groups, it must be supposed, comprises apolitical constituency.

Together with improvements in the system of justice, the principle of equality before the law would have to be taken seriously. This would require the dispensation of justice by the state to be, as it were, a process blind to the infinitely diverse caste and ethnic characteristics of the citizenry, which in turn would imply the repeal of all laws – whether central, provincial or local – permitting governmental authorities to discriminate in favour of a particular politically-specified caste or ethnic group. Merely to have written `equality before the law’ into the Constitution without really believing it either possible or desirable is to allow the mutual caste and ethnic bigotry of private citizens to be exploited for political ends. That innumerable members of a caste, or religious or ethnic community have suffered at the hands of another, and that members of the `Scheduled Castes’ in particular have been victims of enormous cruelty, should not prevent acknowledgement of the sober fact that the past is irretrievable, or that it is similar cruelty in the present and future against any citizen at the hands of any other, or the state, that the declaration of Fundamental Rights was intended to prevent.

(f) Other reforms
Other proposals could also be suggested : the introduction of vouchers for primary and secondary education; a serious assessment of the benefits from and costs of subsidies to higher education; an end to the government monopoly of radio and television; a revision of government pay-scales to make them competitive with the private sector, together with equivalent reductions in non pecuniary benefits; a decentralisation of public spending decisions from New Delhi to the State capitals and from there to the districts; and so on. However, it is hardly necessary to go further, since even a limited liberal agenda would appear doomed to be still-born.
Incumbent politicians, government officials, and the public sector unions in general would vigorously oppose any reduction in government intervention in the economy for fear of losing the rents and sinecures of the status quo. Indeed, professional politicians in general could be expected to be averse to any lessening of the politicisation of economic life.
In other countries, a political party proposing such a reduction in government intervention would usually enjoy the backing of private industry. In India, however, private industry in general would probably see it in its own interest to support only the reduction of internal controls, whilst vigorously opposing reductions in the neo-mercantilist external controls. In July 1981, for example, I asked a prominent industrialist to imagine first a free-market regime at home : `That would be very welcome indeed’, he replied enthusiastically. I then asked him to imagine a policy of free trade : `That would wipe us out’, he replied gravely. His answers indicate very well what is perhaps the single most important feature of the equilibrium that has emerged in India: by accepting without significant protest the constraints and costs imposed upon it by the government and its `planners’, the private corporate sector has traded the freedom of enterprise for mercantilist monopoly profits in the home market.
When Indian Marxists rail about collusion between the `national bourgeoisie’ (that is, the governmental class) and the `comprador bourgeoisie’ (that is, the private sector), they make a cogent point as old as Adam Smith’s critique of mercantilism.[60] But, again, they fail to see that the fortunes of the industrial working-class have also risen with those of the private and public industries that have gained from the present regime. Moreover, a large proportion of industrial workers and blue-collar government employees are migrants with families left behind in rural areas; these rural families might also oppose reductions in the transfers currently received by their migrant relatives. Finally, while joining other farmers in welcoming a free market in grain, the politically influential larger farmers could be expected to oppose the direct taxation of agricultural incomes and the elimination of subsidies for inputs.

Who is left who would gain from the kinds of reforms proposed here? Only the ordinary citizen qua consumer, the rural poor and the residuum of severely disabled citizens unable to create any income for themselves. None of these has been or is likely to become an effective political force.

India’s `unhappy equilibrium’
The economy of the first Indian Republic has tended towards a broad and increasingly unhappy equilibrium. Distortions of efficient relative prices and wages lead to both substitution and income effects. Those who lose from one distortion rationally seek another from which they may gain; those who lose from the second seek a third; and so on ad infinitum until a maze of distorted incentives are in place and a60Adam Smith, host of income transfers are in progress – sometimes offsetting losses, sometimes not. Tullock has emphasised that the problem is not only that there are dead-weight losses in welfare, but also that people are led `. . . to employ resources in attempting to obtain or prevent such transfers.’[61] In modern India, the waste of productive resources put to the pursuit of such transfers has been incalculable. The reforms pro-posed here would cut through the maze of distorted incentives and institutions all at once – for which very reason it seems unlikely they can come to be implemented.

The economic significance of a political attitude of individualism is that it clearly recognises the relationship between individual effort and reward, and the relationship between cause and consequence generally. An attitude of statism obscures or obliterates this relationship. In republican India, statism has pervaded all public discourse and prompted most public policy. Successive groups of politicians and government officials seem never to have recognised the fundamental nature of those functions of government which are the indispensable prerequisites of civil peace and mass prosperity. Nor have they understood that it is no part of government’s agenda to be the driving force to mass prosperity, and that this can come (if it will) only from innumerable individual efforts in the pursuit of private rewards. This is not at all to say that those in government have been ill-intentioned. On the contrary, they may have sincerely sought the public good whilst introducing a Leviathan government into the market-place and neglecting the proper duties of government outside it. As Bauer has remarked in a related context :`Their financial benefits may appear to be fortuitous, as if Adam Smith’s invisible hand were to work in reverse, so that those who sought the public good achieve what was no part of their intention, namely personal prosperity.’[62] It is indeed possible that the basic fact of human nature that individual households every where ordinarily know most about, and are only concerned with, their own well-being has never been acknowledged in modern India. The simple secret of a stable and prosperous polity is to create institutions which harness the universal pursuit of individual self interest, and not ones which pretend that men are selfless saints. A polity where this fact is acknowledged would not have to depend for the viability of its institutions on mere exhortation, as the institutions of the Indian Republic seem perpetually fated to do, even while the competitive pursuit of self interest is everywhere manifest.

The logic of economic reasoning and the adducement of economic evidence have in the past had little effect in India because the distribution of gains and losses from the policies pursued has been closely matched by the distribution of effective political power. This distribution seems most likely to continue, and so the prospects of significant and sustained endogenous reform seem, to this author at least, very small. Changes in external constraints seem to be the only likely source of a major disturbance to the equilibrium, and there can be no guarantee that the results will be for the better. This is a sad and troubling conclusion to come to, for a citizen of India or anyone else who has loved the country. It places this author in the paradoxical position of believing his arguments to be broadly correct – while hoping they are not.

ENDNOTES (The original monograph in 1984 had footnotes, which have had to be transformed since pages, in this new HTML age, no longer have to be linear as in a book nor have to be turned in order to be read).

[1] The early studies notably include: B. R. Shenoy, `A note of dissent’, Papers relating to the formulation of the Second Five-Year Plan, Government of India Planning Commission, Delhi, 1955; Indian Planning and Economic Development, Asia Publishing, Bombay, 1963, especially pp. 17-53; P. T. Bauer, Indian Economic Policy and Development, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1961; M. Friedman, unpublished memorandum to the Government of India, November 1955 (referred to in Bauer, op. cit., p. 59 ff.); and, some years later, Sudha Shenoy, India : Progress or Poverty?, Research Monograph 27, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1971. Some of the most relevant contemporary studies are: B. Balassa, `Reforming the system of incentives in World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 365-82; `Export incentives and export performance in developing countries: a comparative analysis’, Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, 114 (1978), pp. 24-61; The process of industrial development and alternative development strategies, Essays in International Finance No. 141, Princeton University, 1980; J. N. Bhagwati & P. Desai, India: Planning for Industrialisation, OECD, Paris : Oxford University Press, 1970; `Socialism and Indian Economic Policy’, World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 213-21; J. N. Bhagwati & T. N. Srinivasan, Foreign-trade Regimes and Economic Development: India, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1975; Anne O. Krueger, `Indian planning experience’, in T. Morgan et al. (eds.), Readings in Economic Development, Wadsworth, California, 1963, pp. 403-20; `The political economy of the rent-American Economic Review, 64 (June 1974); The Benefits and Costs of Import-Substitution in India : a Microeconomic Study, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1975; Growth, distortions and patterns of trade among many countries, Studies in International Finance, Princeton University, 1977; Uma Lele, Food grain marketing in India : private performance and public policy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1971; T. W. Schultz (ed.), Distortions in agricultural incentives, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1978; V. Sukhatme, “The utilization of high-yielding rice and wheat varieties in India: an economic assessment”, University of Chicago PhD thesis, 1977.

[2] S. Roy, “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”, University of Cambridge PhD thesis, 1982a, Chapters I and II; “Knowledge and freedom in economic theory: Parts I and II”, Centre for Study of Public Choice, Virginia Tech, working papers, 1982b. My epistemological arguments have closely followed those of Renford Bambrough, Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1979.

[3] Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, in Richard McKeon (ed.), The Basic Works of Aristotle, Random House, New York, 1941. We read: `. . . the whole account of matters of conduct must be given in outline and not precisely, as we said at the very beginning that the accounts we demand must be in accordance with the subject matter; matters concerned with conduct and questions of what is good for us have no fixity, any more than matters of health. The general account being of this nature, this account of particular cases is yet more lacking in exactness; for they do not fall under any art or precept but the agents themselves must in each case consider what is appropriate to the occasion, as happens also in the art of medicine or of navigation.’ (1,104a2-a9.)`. . . we do not deliberate even about all human affairs; for instance, no Spartan deliberates about the best constitution for the Scythians. For none of these things can be brought about by our own efforts. We deliberate about things that are in our power and can be done.’ (1,112a28-30.) Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations(1776), eds. R. H. Campbell et al., Liberty Classics, Indianapolis, 1981. We read: `What is the species of domestick industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in hislocal situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him.’ (Book IV. ii. 10, p. 456.) In modern times, Friedrich Hayek has always kept this fact in the foreground of his thinking. In his Individualism and Economic Order, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1949, we read, for example, of `. . . the constitutional limitation of man’s knowledge and interests, the fact the he cannot know more than a tiny part of the whole of society and that therefore all that can enter into his motives are the immediate effects which his actions will have in the sphere he knows . . .’ (p. 14.) The individual agent has a `special knowledge of circumstances of the; thus `. . . practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active co-operation.’ (p. 80.)

[4] The mathematical economist will recognise these three conditions as the characteristics which define a multi-market general equilibrium in the Arrow-Debreu model: Gerard Debreu, Theory of Value, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1959; K. J. Arrow and F. H. Hahn, General Competitive Analysis, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1971.

[5] This argument is discussed further in Roy (1982a), pp. 96-107, pp. 133-43.

[6] Adam Smith, op. cit., Book V. i. c., p. 723.

[7] P. A. Samuelson, `A pure theory of public expenditures’, Review of Economics & Statistics, 36, 1954,reprinted in K. J. Arrow & T. Scitovsky (eds.), Readings in Welfare Economics, R. D. Irwin, Homewood, Ill., 1969.

[8] The idea I have in the background is of some implicit public goods function endorsed more or less unanimously by citizens – but not necessarily by those with political power – with commonsense dictating the elements it should contain. Thus Let U = U (π1, π2 , …, πn) be such a function with δU/δπi > 0, δ2U/δπi2 < 0 i=1,2,…,n, where πi = 1,2,…n, is a lateral index of a public good or service like defence, civil protection, roads, dams, or the finance of basic education. Each of these is “produced” by an expenditure of public resources: πi = πi (τi ), δπi/δτi > 0, δ2πi /δτi2 < 0 i=1,2,…,k, Σ i=1,2,…,n τi = τ* where τ* is the total level of public resources available (whether by taxation or borrowing). An efficient condition, i.e., one in which given public resources are efficiently allocated among alternative public goods or services, would be δU/δπi/ δπi/δτi = δU/δπj / δπj/δτj for every i,j = 1,2,. .,n. So, if the marginal tax-rupee was put towards the production of any public good, the increase in social utility should be the same; otherwise we would find an excess supply of some public goods (e.g. bureaucrats) and an excess demand for others (e.g. courts, dams, police protection, etc.).

[9] Two examples are F. H. Hahn, On the notion of equilibrium in economics : an inaugural lecture, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973, and J. M. Grandmont, “Temporary general equilibrium theory : a survey”, Econometrica, vol. 46, 1977.

[10] Aristotle, op. cit., 1,094b12-1,094b27

[11] D. H. Robertson, `The Economic Outlook’, in his Utility and All That, Allen & Unwin, London, 1952, pp.51-52.

[12] Karl Popper made a similar point in The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1950, when he suggested that Plato’s question `who should rule?’ should be discarded for the question:`How can we so organise political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too muchdamage?’ (p. 120). There is relevant discussion by Renford Bambrough in `Plato’s modern friends and enemies’, Philosophy, 37, 1962, reprinted in R.Bambrough (ed.), Plato, Popper and Politics : some contributions to a modern controversy, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1967. I have discussed the relationship of expertise to democracy in Roy (1982a), pp 80-95.

[13] Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776, in The Constitution of the United States, ed. E. C. Smith, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1979, p. 21.

[14] P. T. Bauer, Dissent on Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, p. 72, n. 2. The term `statism’ suggested itself to the author after he read M. R. Masani, “Post-Sanjay outlook: where salvation does not lie” The Statesman, 9 July 1980.

[15]G. M. Young (ed.), Macaulay: Prose and Poetry, London: Macmillan, 1952, p. 718. Some 20 years later, in Considerations on Representative Government, ed. H. B. Acton (London: J. M. Dent), J. S. Mill claimed that rule by`a superior people . . . is often of the greatest advantage to a people, carrying them rapidly through several stages of progress’ (Ch. IV, p. 224). Ironically, a few years ago a distinguished retired member of the Indian civil service (who happens to be a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize) used very similar words in a newspaper article – in defence of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan!

[16] Resolution of the Indian National Congress, August 1931, reprinted in B. N. Pandey (ed.), The IndianNationalist Movement : 1885-1947, Macmillan, London, 1979, p. 67.

[17] S. Radhakrishnan, The philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, Macmillan, London, 1918, p. 232. For an excellent account of the intercourse between ancient India and ancient Greece, H. G. Rawlinson, `Early contacts between India and Europe’, in A. L. Basham (ed.), A Cultural History of India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975. For excellent accounts of the growth of liberalism in India in the l9th and carly 20th centuries : Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism : Competition and Collaboration in the later l9th Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1971, Chs. 1, 3-6; J. R. McLane, Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1977; Gordon Johnson, Provincial Politicsand Indian Nationalism,Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973, Ch. 1.

[18] Ramsay Macdonald’s letter to M. K. Gandhi, 8 September 1932, reprinted in Pandey (ed.), op. cit., p. 74.

[19] Devdas Gandhi’s letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, 2 October 1931, reprinted in Pandey (ed.), op. cit., p. 71

[20] Gandhi’s protest succeeded to the extent that the Award itself was superseded; and in unusual, euphoric displays of fraternity, `caste’ Hindus threw open temples to members of the `Depressed Classes’ and embraced them with
garlands. The compromise Pact which replaced the Communal Award removed separate electorates but still guaranteed special political representation for some years following the agreement. For an account of Gandhi’ s position on the Communal Award, Judith M. Brown, Gandhi and Civil Disobedience, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977, pp. 313-21.

[21] For an eminent lawyer’s commentary, N. A. Palkhivala, The Light of the Constitution, Forum of Free Enterprise, Bombay, 1976.

[22] There is reason to think the Mughals before the British had done no better and had probably done much worse. T. Raychaudhuri, `The State and the Economy: the Mughal Empire’, in T. Raychaudhuri & I. Habib (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. I, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982.

[23] V. B. Singh (ed.), Nehru on Socialism, Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Publications Division, Delhi, 1977, pp. 56-57, 67.

[24] `Draft recommendations for the formulation of the Second Five Year Mahalanobis;`The Second Five-Year Plan – A tentative framework’, drafted by the economic ministries; and a `Memorandum’ written by a panel of prominent Indian economists – all contained in Papers relating to the formulation of the SecondFive Year Plan, Government of India: Planning Commission, 1955 – were the principal influences on the actual Second Plan. No significant understanding of markets, prices or the concept of feasibility is evident on the part of any of the authors. Shenoy’s lonely dissent has already been noted (note 1).

[25] The best descriptions of Indian industrial policy are still to be found in Bhagwati and Desai (1970), op. cit. Also C. Wadhwa, `New Industrial Licensing Policy: An Appraisal’, in C. Wadhwa (ed.), Some problems of India’seconomic policy, Tata-McGraw Hill, Delhi, 1977, pp. 290-324.

[26] Gordon Tullock is generally credited with introducing the notion of rent-seeking in `The welfare costs of tariffs, monopolies and theft’, Western Economic, Journal, 5 (June 1967), while Krueger (1974), op. cit., introduced the term itself. The collection edited by J. M. Buchanan et al., Toward a theory of the rent-seeking society, Texas A&M Press, College Station, 1980, contains reprints of both papers as well as other studies.

[27] Krueger (1975), op. cit., p. 108 ff.

[28] The classic argument for a free market is in M. Friedman, `The case for flexible exchange rates’, in his Essays in Positive Economics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953, pp. 157-203. Also V. S. Vartikar,Commercial policy and economic development in India, Praeger, New York, 1969, based on his PhD at Wayne State University; and D. Lal, A liberal international economic order : the international monetary system and economic development, Essays in International Finance No. 139, Princeton University, October 1980.

[29] An additive sub-utility function might be defined within each set of categories UG= ∑ ai vi (Gi) a1 ≥ a2 ≥ a3, ∑ ai= 1UP= ∑ bj wj (Pj) b1 ≥ b2 ∑ bj= 1where the vi (.) and the wj (.) are further sub-utility functions defined on each category, etc. None of these has ever been spelt out by the Indian Government and certainly no amount of UP has seemed substitutable for an iota of UG.

[30] Bhagwati and Srinivasan, op. cit., p. 38.

[31] Ibid.,p. 38

[32] In 1980, for example, exports of pig-iron and of sheep- and goat-meat were banned; an export duty on jute manufactures was imposed on 18 February and lifted on 8 September. (Annual Report on Exchange Controls, International Monetary Fund, 1981, pp. 205-13.) The Import and Export Policy (April 1982, March 1983)announced by the Commerce Ministry reported the banning of exports of cane, paraffin wax, mustard and rape-seedoil, and `certain
wild-life items’, including lizards and robins. An embargo on the export of CTC (cut, tear and curl) tea was announced by the Ministry of Commerce on 24December 1983. CTC is high-quality tea which accounts for about three-quarters of India’s tea exports. The ban followed a doubling of domestic prices over the previous year, compulsory registration of tea dealers holding more than 1,000 kg. to prevent hoarding, and agreement by manufacturers to reduce their profit margins and cut prices ofpackaged tea by about 20 per cent (Financial Times, 14 December 1983). The Indian Government apparently feared that the supply of tea for the domestic market was going to run out (The Times, 5 January 1984). The effect of thesemeasures is artificially to depress prices in the domestic market whilst raising them overseas (The Economist, 14 January 1984).

[33] Pick’s Currency Year-book, various editions

[34] Krueger (1977), op. cit., pp. 27-28.

[35] Balassa (1978), op. cit., p. 39; Balassa (1980), op. cit., p. 16.

[36] Ibid.,p. 22.

[37] Short surveys of the relevant practices can be found in Lele, op. cit.,Appendix 1, pp. 225-37, and Sukhatme, op. cit., pp. 29-37. Also Gilbert Brown, `Agricultural pricing policies in developing countries’, and G. E.Schuh, `Approaches to “basic needs” and to “equity” that distort incentives in agriculture’, in Schultz (ed.), op. cit.,pp. 84-113 and pp. 307-27 respectively.

[38] Theoretical economists have long recognised that a fundamental flaw in, for example, the Arrow-Debreu model is its assumption that all conceivable futures contracts are practicable. The longest futures price actually quoted at
the Chicago Board of Trade, however, would be for silver, at about two years; for grains, the longest would be only about three months. Since the natural market outcome is a far-cry from the theory, the Indian Government’s fears about the effects of speculation appear to be much exaggerated. To see the risk-dispersing character of a futures contract, let us suppose that both buyer and seller place a probability of one-half on prices being either in 8 or 2; if they are risk-averse, they may prefer to trade at a certain futures price of 5 now, rather than wait for the future to unfold.

[39] David Hopper, `Distortions of agricultural development resulting from Government prohibitions,’ Schultz (ed.), op. cit., p. 69 ff.

[40] K. Prasad, `Foodgrains policy 1966-1976′, in Wadhwa (ed.), op. cit., p.479.

[41] Schultz (ed.), op. cit., p. 309.

[42] Sukhatme, op. cit., pp. 74-86; T. W. Schultz, `On the economics and politics of agriculture’, in Schultz(ed.), op. cit., p. 15 ff.

[43] Schultz (ed.), op. cit., pp. 92-93.

[44] Ibid.,p. 95.

[45] T. N. Srinivasan, `Income Distribution: A survey of policy-aspects’, in Wadhwa (ed.), op. cit., p. 265. That the small farmer may not find it profitable to invest in storage, and that (if it has been taxed) agriculture has been taxed regressively, are also remarked upon by Srinivasan.

[46] Lele, op. cit., p. 2, where reference is made to Sir Henry Knight, Food Administration in India, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1954.

[47] Lele, op. cit., pp. 214-24

[48] For example, M. Todaro, `A model of labor migration and urban unemployment in less developed countries’, American Economic Review, March 1969, 59, pp. 138-48; J. P. Harris & M. Todaro, `Migration,unemployment and development: a two-sector analysis’, American Economic Review, March 1970 60, pp. 126-42.The best paper known to the author is by Jerome Rothenberg, `On the economics of internal migration’, Working Paper No. 189, Dept. of Economics, MIT, July 1976.

[49] Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions, Basic Books, New York, 1980, pp. 268-69.

[50] `The logic of protection’, The Statesman, Editorial, 19 March 1981; also the Editorial, `Danger of caste ethnic

[51] S. K. Datta Ray, `Backlash to protection: fancy gifts ignore real reform’, The Statesman Weekly, 21 March 1981.

[52]M. Weiner, M. F. Katzenstein, K.V.N. Rao, India’s preferential policies : migrants, the middle classes and ethnic equality, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981, pp. 16-17.

[53] Ibid. p. 5

[54] P. T. Bauer, `Population explosion: myths and realities’, in Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1981, pp. 42-65, contains some of the clearest arguments known to the author about this question; also M. Weiner, India at the Polls : the Parliamentary Election of 1977, American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, 1978, pp. 35-39.

[55] 10 8 million people affected by floods’, The Statesman Weekly, 22 August 1981; also `Down the drain’, Editorial in The Statesman, 8 July 1981.

[56] Justice with speed’, Editorial in The Statesman, Calcutta and New Delhi, 21 July, 1980

[57] Aristotle, op. cit., 1,094a1-1, 094b11.

[58] There are few thorough studies known to the author that are relevant. One such is Asha L. Dattar, India’s Economic Relations with the USSR and Eastern Europe 1953-1969, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972.

[59] Bauer (1981) op. cit. Chapters 5 & 6.

[60]. Adam Smith op cit Book IV; also B. Baysinger et al.,`Mercantilism as a rent-seeking society’, in Buchanan et al (eds) op. cit. pp. 235-68.

[61] G. Tullock in Buchanan et al. (eds.), op. cit., p. 48.

[62] Bauer (1981), op. cit., p. 144.