Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Review of " An Economist in the Real World: The Art of Policymaking in India "

Kaushik Basu was the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) to the Government of India in the same period when I was a student at IRMA. I say this because those years were the ones where I developed a deep interest in policy making, development , economics, and sociology. Hence this book took me to the days when EPW was favoured over HBR!

The CEA's role as Basu writes in his book is to generate new ideas and look at age old problems in a new way. Creativity is thus essential in this role. I still remember one of the Economic Survey during Basu's period had an IS-LM graph on the cover, possible depicting the impact of interest rates on the real world economy. Those were the days where India was facing massive inflation. Basu perhaps will also be known for advocating a unique solution to combat what he termed "harassment bribes". These are bribes which are given to people who are responsible for delivering goods or services to the citizens. These include for example, an electricity connection. His solution was to make the act of giving the bribe legal and only treat the act of accepting the bribe illegal. The solution was criticised heavily in the media. I personally felt it was worth a try.

The book itself is a good read for those trying to understand the problems that emerging markets face. These include food security, inflation, access to financial services, sanctity of contracts, etc. Basu also touches upon the impact of culture and social norms not only on policmaking but on the science of economics. He argues that policies developed for third world countries should take into account the social norms and culture of that particular country or region and first world policies should not, as we now know after observing the impact of Washington Consensus policies,  be thrust on these countries.

I was forewarned by friends that Basu can be too "heavy" to read. I accept that parts of the book require some basic knowledge of economics especially when he explains the mechanics of food procurement in India and the impact it has on prices and farmer welfare. This largely draws upon his article in EPW which was published sometime in late 2010 or early 2011.

The book is neither a memoir of a CEA nor an academic text on policymaking. This I believe is the strength of the book. For those interested to go beyond the politics of policies, and are looking for reasoned debate on why policies work and dont work, this book is essential read. But then, in countries like India, populism always trumps good policies!

Monday, December 22, 2014


I moved from Bengaluru to Kolkata a month back. Kolkata was one of the cities where I always wanted to live once. Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, London and NY make up the list. So when the opportunity came up, I grabbed it with glee.

Kolkata is more Mumbai than Bangalore. It has a character which Bangalore doesn't. It would be unfair to compare Bangalore to either Mumbai or Kolkata. But Bangalore has grown into a large city and hence will draw comparisons.

I arrived at, what colleagues who work here told me, the best time to be in Kolkata. Its cold, and since its December has a festive look to it not seen in Mumbai or in Bengaluru during this time of the year.

Kolkata is also cheap- cheap transport, cheap food, cheap housing. Cheap of course does not mean poor quality of life. Not once have I ever had to look for change- the coins in circulation are plenty and no tea vendor or bus conductor has ever asked me for exact exchange. In Bengaluru, the auto drivers and the bus conductors always round it up to the higher denomination. Rs 25 is always Rs 30 if you don't have exact change to give to the auto driver.

2014 has been the year of travel. I hope 2015 gives me the opportunities to explore the world. As JRR Tolkien wrote "Not all those who wander are lost".

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Two years.....

...after passing out of IRMA, life has been boring and at times extremely saddening.

Amidst the good news of so many of my batchmates tying the knot, I had to deal with news of the death of the King..Dr Verghese Kurien, my finance professor Prof Shiladitya Roy and my batchmate Abhishek Tiwari who lived on the same floor as I did in IRMA.
Hopefully I shall resume blogging on a regular basis.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Drucker on the privileged access to management

"No greater damage could be done to our economy or to our society than to attempt to "professionalise" management by "licensing" managers, for instance, or by limiting access to management to people with a special academic degree (empahsis mine)"
                      -Peter F Drucker in the "The Practice of Management" first published in 1955.

Monday, April 9, 2012


I was busy in office preparing a spreadsheet about a pilot I was running to gain customer insights. My mobile buzzed and I saw an email on IRMA's alumni page. It was about an alumnus named Manoharan who passed away due to cancer. He had passed out from IRMA in the late 80s and was working in tribal areas of Tamil Nadu.It was indeed a sad moment as one always find some attachment towards fellow IRMANs no matter which batch they belong to.
After a few days, I stumbled onto Manoharan's blog. He also had a photo stream on Flickr. Reading his blog and looking at his photos left an impact. His blog postings and photos reveal a man with extraordinary strength. He took the illness in his stride and appeared to be absolutely unaffected by it. He seemed like a gentleman with extraordinary willpower.
As mails from alumni poured in, one came to know so much more about Manoharan. Son of a top Agriculture Government Employee he rejected IIMB and came to IRMA. He topped his batch and went on to work at the grassroots. When he was working in AP, he was abducted by Naxals. But as an alumnus who recounted the episode put it "Naxalites kidnapped him suspecting him to be working for the government against them,interrogated him,got charmed by him and left him"

It is disappointing and sad when such beautiful people suddenly leave us. In the late 90s it was Sanjoy Ghosh who left us abruptly and now Manoharan. Beautiful people in the true sense of the word.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Rajan Memorial Lecture by Prof Prabhat Pattnaik

Last year, Prof  M S Sriram had delivered the Rajan Memorial Lecture. I had written about it in my blog. This year, Prof. Prabhat Pattnaik of JNU delivered the lecture. Prof. Pattnaik is one of India's leading economists and political commentator. Though I would have loved to be in IRMA to hear him speak live, the video of the talk is on youtube.

Friday, March 16, 2012

IRMA in the news

It is close to one year since I passed out of  IRMA and in the last few weeks, I have received some good news about IRMA and IRMAns.

  1. PranbDa making a grant of Rs 25 crore to IRMAin the Annual Budget. In true IRMA style, a lot of IRMA alumni have questioned what it means for the autonomy of the insititute.
  2. Two of my immediate seniors have been admitted to the John F Kennedy's Public Policy Programme at Harvard.
  3. Mamta Murthy an alumna of IRMA won a National Film Award for her documentary.
It is always a proud moment when the Institute and its brands (the students) achieve any important milestones.