Thursday, December 07, 2006

Our Prime Minister on globalization

In a speech at a conference organized by the LSE-Asia Forum, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh pays his tributes to the late Prof. I.G. Patel, reminisces about the exciting academia-government interactions during the early post-Independence days, talks about Asia's rise, and finally, challenges academics to solve important problems in the political economy of globalization. All in all, a great speech. While I urge you to read all of it, let me just give an extract, where Dr. Singh talks about those exciting days immediately after Independence:

The 1950s and the Sixties were a unique period in our developmental history. There was great interaction between officials in government and scholars in academia, both scholars from India and abroad.

We had several distinguished economists like Nicholas Kaldor, Joan Robinson, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith, I M D Little, W B Reddaway and Daniel Thorner who spent time at the Planning Commission. There was always a two way flow of talent between institutions like the Delhi School of Economics and the Indian Statistical Institute and the various ministries of our government.

This interaction enriched the quality of academic research, making it more policy-oriented, and also contributed to creative thinking within government. It has become fashionable of late to deride everything that was done in the realm of economic policy in those days. There are critics both on the Left and the Right. However, to be fair and honest, one must recognize that the early years after India's Independence were exciting times. Under the inspiring leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, a new generation of our countrymen tried to write on a blank slate and create a new State. The Indian economists were active participants in the national debate to build a new India free from the fear of want and exploitation.

There was much experimentation, since there were no known methodologies available for the construction of a new post-colonial nation. The political and intellectual atmosphere was charged with intense debate and discussion. Bold visions of a brave new world were being created on paper. IG was one of the many idealistic young economists who chose to participate in that great adventure of nation building.

Note the way Dr. Singh manages to get both Milton Friedman and the Planning Commission in the same sentence!

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Okay, I can't resist quoting another section of the speech:

Economics began, after all, as political economy. Economic policy making has always involved political choices since it has political consequences. IG belonged to a generation that recognized this ground reality. He knew that the choices our economists were recommending for adoption by the country had to be marketed in the political marketplace of democracy. It was not enough that these choices were rational, or that their costs and benefits could be measured. It was not enough that the arguments were intellectually consistent or were mathematically tested. In a democracy such choices had to be also politically defendable and acceptable.