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Playing It Safe

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Economics, also called the dismal science, is perceived to be a dry subject. Making it interesting to read is an art. And, sadly, Rajeev Malhotra, who has put together a compendium of essays to celebrate 50 years of the Indian Economic Service, has failed in this regard. Malhotra is economic adviser to the finance minister and the book talks about the period 2011-20 as a critical decade in which Indian economic growth settles at a higher plateau of 9 per cent gross domestic product growth. The essays focus on what needs to be done in different areas of policy and administration to sustain this ambitious growth.

The problem is that the writers are very much part of the administration that has formulated and administered India's economic policies, so existing policies do not attract criticism. No attempt is made to show an alternate path either. 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, inflation, etc., there is hardly anything worth writing about, unless there is something radical to propose.
 
In essays on exchange rate, inflation, privatisation, the explanations seem simplistic. Yes, in a couple of places the authors do admit to the problem of lack of authentic data, but none has made an attempt to address the issue. Similarly, there is acceptance that the measure of inflation is wrong, but no hint about what is the alternative. While discussing inflation, there is a hint of a "target" rate of around 3 per cent, but no comments on whether it is doable or not. There are some wonderful terms coined such as "conceptual concordance" that left me scurrying for Google search pages and none the wiser at the end of it. Most of the topics are written with an overdose of references, cross references, tables and not many conclusions. Most of the sentences force you to shift to the annexure and to the appendix and either skip it or start all over again. This is definitely not for laymen.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-06-2012)