Friday, July 26, 2013

Amartya Sen could be wrong, Jagdish Bhagwati correct and a few lacking grace!

Amartya Sen's remark on Narendra Modi has triggered an interesting debate. While it began with Amartya Sen saying he does not want Narendra Modi to become India's prime minister as he does not have secular credentials, Jagdish Bhagwati's arguments bring in an important counter argument.

"As an Indian citizen I don't want Modi as my PM. He has not done enough to make minorities feel safe" 

~ Amartya Sen



Firstly I feel Amartya Sen has been overly criticized since his remark on Narendra Modi is his personal take on the PM candidate. He is absolutely entitled to do so. Although I have some doubts over the reasons he has expressed.

He has said that "we don't want another Napoleon". Yes of course we don't want another Napoleon and I completely can relate to this thought considering they are about a person who has Gujarat Riots and Fake encounters tagged with him.

But should we also then rule out that Sikh riots and one of the biggest threats to Indian democracy i.e. the emergency happened during the governance of the party in power. After all the present leadership comprises of people from the same dynasty.

Coming on the issue of development I feel his priorities are more focused on spending money to uplift and help the poor. As a plan I think it is a perfect and an almost ideal plan. But let us also look at the administration of the plan. It has been almost pathetic. Little children in Bihar dying of the Mid-day meal scheme is one example of the many.

Another issue is the Food Security Bill. Jagdish Bhagwati has presented a perfectly valid counter argument 

"On one hand, Sen was not actively supporting new reforms which would bring in more revenues. At the same time, Sen is supporting the Food Bill which is going to increase spending. So there is a disjunction between slowing revenues and expanding social expenditures on Food Security Bill, etc. That is going to create a disjunction. That disjunct means you're going to almost certainly create inflation. Inflation, we know, is most harmful to the poor."

I see this a valid argument but with some underlying flaws. I've studied anti-brand movements carefully and come across developments that have been a result of such reforms increasing revenues. When revenues will come, it is definitely going to make a select few extremely rich and shall widen the middle class. 

While it seems perfect, the approach of increasing revenues unfortunately in India is not a very transparent one. Uninor is a perfect example of an investment being part of a major scam. Also, most big companies are known for lobbying that are suited more to their business interests (short term) than larger social interest.

I really doubt whether in the name of reforms leading to increase in revenue, and some greedy politicians (big scams did happen and so I am not wrong in saying that) we might end up calling much more evil and detrimental forces in the society.

Moreover businesses are interested in developing economies because of the growth it can bring. But it also leads these economies to consumption based economies. If India alone starts consuming like U.S., we would need two planet earths. This makes Amartya Sen's approach towards economy a much more long term success measure better suited to the needs of the country. But bills like the Food Security Bill can make people more dependent and less prone to sustaining themselves.

But, all of this is only speculation. I somehow also felt Jagdish Bhagwati should have shown some grace.

Although I am too small a person to say this as compared to both these economists, I don't think it is really wise or appropriate to call a Nobel Laureate in welfare economics a 'Johnny come lately' on the issue of poverty.


The argument given by Jagdish Bhagwati is that in 1980s Amartya Sen was no where in the picture on the issue of poverty. As far as my research on Amartya Sen was concerned, he already had a lot of published work on Poverty, Welfare and equality by 1980. I have my doubts over Amartya Sen as a "Johnny come lately".

There have also been people who have expressed doubts over Mr. Amartya Sen's Bharat Ratna. It is ridiculous and disgraceful. They say that Amartya Sen should not speak for a party. I think he is one of those rare few who are speaking about what they believe and are not motivated by party or politics. I don't see any reason for a Nobel Laureate to speak for an issue because he is speaking for a party. Why shouldn't a Bharat Ratna express his opinion? 

I am a small person to counter the thought of two prominent economists, one of which is a Nobel Laureate. If you disagree with me or would like to share your thoughts (in a civil manner), feel free to comment below.