Should the sarkari economist go extinct?

Three outrageous statements by our homegrown, made-in-India, saffron-hued economists have a retired IAS officer wondering...

Unemployed Indian youth set up an 'Achhe Din Pakoda Shop' with thanks to the Prime Minister's Pakoda Scheme for 'employment', in a demonstration against rising unemployment
Unemployed Indian youth set up an 'Achhe Din Pakoda Shop' with thanks to the Prime Minister's Pakoda Scheme for 'employment', in a demonstration against rising unemployment

Avay Shukla

In my 55 years of adult life, I have been trying to understand economists and have consistently failed.

In my student days, I briefly considered studying economics, till the chowkidar at the gates of Delhi School of Economics pointed out that I had failed every maths exam I had taken in my life. He advised me not to bother applying, and I, bowing to superior wisdom, took his advice.

I tried English at St Stephens: apparently, all chowkidars are made of the same timber, because this chap wouldn't even let me enter the hallowed portals, saying the gate was meant to keep gentlemen in and vagabonds out!

Hindu College was more broad-minded and so I joined there... But let us return to economists.

Economists have to be a yet-to-fully-evolve sub-set of Homo sapiens, with DNA inherited from the dinosaurs, and it would not be a bad thing if their sarkari version at least becomes extinct soon.

No two economists can ever agree on anything, and there are more schools of thought in economics than there are schools in Bihar. Put 10 economists in a room and there will be 11 opinions — and all of them will be wrong. Their entire collective wisdom is contained in gems like: you can pull on a piece of string but you cannot push on it. Give me a break, guys, even my Gurgaon-born Indie doggie knows this, and he never went to DSE!

'Why is this guy so bugged with economists?' You may well ask.

Well, they have almost destroyed the planet with their focus on just consumption and GDP.

They consider India's projected fall in TFR (total fertility rate) to 1.29 by 2051 (per the latest issue of the Lancet) an unmitigated disaster—even though we have 1,400 million already, the largest number of poor in the world, and cannot provide jobs, food or healthcare to most of them. And these wise men still want our population to grow? Just so that more 'productive labour' is available for their capitalist icons?

And now, to further confirm that this discipline should be disbanded, we have three outrageous statements by some of our own homegrown, made-in-India, saffron-hued economists.

Mr Sanjeev Sanyal, a historian and alleged economist who is a member of the PM's Economic Advisory Council, recently stated that sitting for the UPSC civil service exams was a waste of time, that it betrays a lack of aspirational qualities, that the bureaucracy is boring and offers no excitement or challenges, that the youth should aspire to be entrepreneurs instead. He spouted some more of the same drivel, but I hope you have got the flavour of his wisdom. He has been effectively countered by Sanjeev Chopra, author and retired IAS officer, in a recent article in the Print, but I need to add my two bits too.

With all due respect, Mr Sanyal should stick to history, where he cannot do much damage.

People like him in critical policy-making bodies, with their ignorance of ground realities, can do immense harm to the country and they are probably the reason why 83 per cent of our educated youth are unemployed, why the state has to provide free food to 800 million persons, why India is the most unequal nation in the world even though we have the fifth largest economy in the world. Sensible policies cannot emerge from brains that think like Mr Sanyal's does. He understands neither the psyche of the aspirational classes, nor the civil services.

Mr Sanyal's number-crunching and graph-gazing job may be as exciting as a romp in bed with a nymphomaniac, but he has no idea at all about the nature of jobs like the IAS, IPS or even the IFS.

No civil service in the world has the kind of diversity and challenges which the All India Services do — from law and order to the development programmes, from handling politicians to holding elections, from building infrastructure to providing relief when natural disasters strike. They have kept the country together through 75 years of the most difficult challenges, notwithstanding their own deficiencies and the disastrous policies of economists of Mr Sanyal's ilk.

There is reason enough for the youth of this country to aspire for these services, something which Mr. Sanyal should commend, not pour contempt upon. Take a chill pill, sir.

Alarmingly, this gentleman is not alone!

One Mr Anantha Nageswaran, chief economic advisor to the Government of India, at a function on 27 March said that it is not the government's responsibility to create jobs and that the government cannot solve the unemployment problem. (83 per cent of the educated youth in India are unemployed, and the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be unemployed.)

To me, this sounds very much like Mr Amit Shah's "selling pakoras on the road is also employment" revelation and betrays the same arrogance as ex-BJP minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's "government ne naukri dene ka theka nahi liya hai (the government has not taken up the mandate to give out jobs)".

I have a couple of questions for Mr Nageswaran: Is it the government's job only to create billionaires, to ensure that 77 per cent of the country's wealth is owned by the top 10 per cent of its population? Who, pray, will mandate the conditions for job creation if not the government of the day?

But wait! There's more of this hogwash.

Another economist, Mr Arvind Panagariya, who is the chairman of the 16th Finance Commission, has made an even more bizarre pronouncement: that income inequality is a necessary side effect of wealth generation, that those who worry about it are "inequality alarmists".

The World Inequality Report ranks India as among the most unequal countries in the world in income parity, while another report says that income inequality is now worse than in the colonial era. Meanwhile, a billionaire spends on his son's pre-wedding celebrations as much money as 100,000 Indians earn in a year — and Mr Panagariya says we are being 'alarmist'?! The irony, of course, is that he heads a body which is constitutionally mandated to reduce inter-state disparities and ensure a fair deal for all!

I shudder to think what kind of advice these gentlemen are giving the political executive on a daily basis.

All these eminences grises are of a distinct saffron hue, which is why they probably occupy the positions they do. Such statements are necessary, I suppose, to ensure that the colour does not fade, with disastrous consequences for their cushy sinecures.

But the fact is that they continue to wallow in archaic economic ideas which have been discredited long ago by a world now more concerned about rights than privileges. Which is why, like the Tyrannosaurus, it is time for them to go.


Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of The Deputy Commissioner’s Dog and Other Colleagues. He blogs at

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