Monday, May 28, 2012

A review of one of the worst books I have read

A CRITICAL DECADE- Published by : OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS EDITOR : RAJEEV MALHOTRA PRICE: RS.695 The Indian Economic Service (IES) was set up in 1961 to have a team of economists who would help the government in terms of economic advice, economic administration and many other things that Economists are supposed to do. To celebrate fifty years of IES, Mr. Rajeev Malhotra, Economic Adviser to the Finance Minister, Government of India has put together a compendium of essays. Mr.Malhotra talks about the period 2011 to 2020 as a critical decade in which the Indian economic growth settles to a higher plateau of nine percent plus GDP growth. These essays focus on what needs to be done in different areas of policy and administration, so that this ambitious growth can be sustained. Economics is perceived to be a very dry subject. An attempt to read this book will tell you why. Each chapter is scholarly to the extent that it starts with a summary, then the body and then an ending. The problem is that the writers are very much part of the administration that has formulated and administered the policies, so to that extent, existing policies do not attract criticism. No attempt is made to show an alternate path. Now, if you take topics that include a world view of economic circumstances and experiences, budget reforms, fiscal responsibility (or lack of it) of governments, budget making in India, inflation etc., , there is hardly anything worth writing about, unless there is something radical that one proposes. Most of the topics are written with an overdose of references, cross references, statistical tables and not many conclusions. From the main sentence you shift to the annexure and then to the appendix and then either skip it or start all over again. It is tough not to lose thread of what one is reading. The other thing that I found very irritating is the tendency to write sentences that are so long, that by the time you read the full sentence, you have lost the thread. I wonder if this is a deliberate thing that helps provide and escape route and provides so many qualifications to a simple statement. Let me give you a couple of sentences: “The policy response has to be well targeted and evidence- based, recognising contextual specifications in different parts of the country” whilst making a reference to the real level of reforms and making a claim ‘This book contributes to that objective”. I leave it to you interpret. Or take this : “To ensure proper proportionate balance of power between the lender and the borrower and limit unregulated commercialisation of microfinance, the Government of India needs to regulate MFI activities by introducing an appropriate formal statutory and regulatory framework”. There are only parables, tables and half hearted conclusions. There is no path breaking or radical thinking contained in the 454 pages between the covers of the book. And I also found out that economists are anything but economical with words, in their attempt to hedge and obfuscate. In many essays that relate to exchange rate, inflation, privatisation etc., I was disappointed at the simplistic explanations that offer no breakthroughs. Yes, in a couple of places the author/s do admit the problem about lack of authentic data (the recent degrading of growth rate came to mind), but none addressed the issue. Similarly, there is acceptance that the measure of inflation is wrong, but no hint about what is the alternative. Whilst discussing inflation, there is a hint of a ‘target’ rate that is around three percent! No comments however on whether it is a doable thing. Many interesting topics (interesting to people like things that are to do with economics such as exchange rates, competition law, privatisation etc) have been covered, but you sense some hesitancy in pronouncement of the right things to do. Clearly, there is a pro-establishment stance that runs through the book (the foreword is also by an Establishment man). Of course, there are some wonderful terms coined like “conceptual concordance” that left me scurrying for Google search pages and none the wiser at the end of it. Yes, this book is definitely NOT for the general person or ‘lay’ person. Coming from a background where I do need to keep up with some of the economics, I thought this book would be a breeze and I would be able to pick up a few things. Alas, I was disappointed. It was a real effort to finish the book and at the end of it, nothing gained, as far as I am concerned. I perhaps expected a bit too much, as the introduction and preface talks about how this book is authored by people who are in the midst of formulating and suggesting economic policies. I will not recommend this book to be a required or even an optional reading. R. Balakrishnan ( April 16th, 2012 .

No comments: