Pricing, Planning 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
Preface to the pdf copy November 2021
40 years have passed since my doctoral thesis at Cambridge University under Frank Hahn was submitted, examined and passed by Christopher Bliss and Terence Hutchison, 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 66 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The famous November 1955 Milton Friedman memorandum is referred to herein for the first time as “unpublished” in note 1; I was to meet Milton and Rose Friedman at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings held at Cambridge later that year, where I gave them a copy of this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.