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Bumble Bee and Economics

“Hello Navlankar,” I said as I walked into the economists’ conference organised by the Centre for Economic, Political and Social Studies (CEPSS), Mumbai. Though organised in Mumbai, predictably, the speakers were from the Eastern part of the country – i.e. Kolkatha, Chennai, Delhi & Andhra. Navlankar was an economist of an unconventional mould. He was rumoured to have been an informal advisor to a former Finance Minister. Further, Navlankar was a great liberal. A brilliant thinker, he would critically examine every issue without getting overwhelmed under any circumstances. After exchanging pleasantries I asked him as to why the conference was held in distant Mumbai. “You see, there is no Mumbai School of economics like the Delhi School or even the Madras School of Economics. I thought we need to promote one in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India. This is just an idea and it is obviously at a preliminary stage. All depends on this seminar and its success. Some Corporates have shown interest in the project,” he said. Having returned to his home city after three decades in Delhi and abroad, I could see that he was keen on the project.

I was personally impressed at the nobility of the idea. Surely a Mumbai School of economics (MSE) was a welcome one. It was a long over due too. As we sat through the seminar I found that old hands eulogising the markets forces. My mind raced back to heady days of socialism in the late sixties when this very same group was vociferously demanding more of commanding heights in the economy for the State. The shift from Keynes to Hayack within three decades was seamless for these economists; the “U” turn effortless. If at all there was something called intellectual dishonesty, this was it. All these made these economists irrelevant and their ideology, meaningless. One got a distinct impression that these economists when challenged intellectually were found to be intellectually challenged.

I went back to Navlankar and asked him as to why Mumbai never had a celebrated economist like say Kolkatha, Delhi or Chennai. His reply stunned me. He replied, “Narada, Mumbai has a commercial mind. It has too little time for economics and its theories. In fact, there is an absolute disconnect between economists and commerce in India.” Navlankar was right. While economists came from the Eastern parts of the country, businessmen were from the Western parts. One would struggle to find an economist from Gujarat, Rajasthan or Punjab. And all these were highly prosperous states within the country. More specifically one does not find an economist from the Marwadi, Patel, Shah and other business communities of India. But paradoxically it is these communities that are the engines of growth in modern India. In fact even Mumbai does have celebrated economists. When pressed further he added, “Under the established law of physics, I am told that the bumblebee is not supposed to fly, as its body is not structured aerodynamically. Yet it flies and the only argument that one has is that the bumblebee does not know physics. Similarly, left to themselves, these business communities would be unable to explain their economic successes. Neither can modern economics and Indian economists. Being high on theory, I have always found that economists being highly economical about economics”. One was not sure whether economists stood in the way of the growth of eastern India, which was resource rich, or the absence of the economists propelled western India, despite being resource poor. As both Navlankar and I exchanged noted on these issues, he seemed to suddenly developed cold feet about the project. “Let me not ruin Mumbai, Narada. Let me abandon the idea of a Mumbai School of economics. Let Mumbai not have the burden of economists and their theories. I am a patriot” he quipped. I agreed on this. Do you?

Last modified on Sunday, 07 July 2013 07:36