The trouble with us is not that we do political economy. The trouble is that political economy has often a tendency to degenerate into crude propaganda. Professor Pigou’s warning is directed against this latter. Political Economy, let us remember, is the art of shaking out, under prescribed norms, the implications of theory for policy.
And in so far as policy is embedded in theory, it has been in the best tradition of economic thinking to lay it bare. Professor Pigou’s own practice upholds this tradition; economic science, he insists, must be ‘fruit-bearing’, and not merely ‘light-bearing’. ‘Let it be granted to the economist that, in his science as in others, from a diligent pursuit truth will not fly. But, if the final justification of his work is the fruit of practice, benefit through knowledge to human welfare, to find truth is not enough. Somehow the truth must be carried from the study to the market-place.
Somehow it must be brought to the mind and utilized in the work of those persons who guide affairs.’1
But it is one thing for the economist to use his special knowledge in a disinterested way, for guiding public policy, it is an entirely different thing for him to twist economic propositions in favour of this or that political party. In a society such as ours which is obsessed by politics, where to be a politician is the surest way to public applause, surer even than to be a film star, and where the worth even of a scientist is measured by the number of committees that he serves and the frequency with which his name appears in newspapers, the danger that your economist should succumb to the temptation of using whatever abilities he may have for political ends is great indeed.
The danger is enhanced by the fact that, on the one hand there is yet insufficient awareness of the responsibilities of a citizen in the country, on the other hand we do not have anything like a leadership among economists. In an environment like this it is often easier for an economist to prosper as a critic of the Government than as its supporter. If you are a known supporter of Government policy, you have more chance of being on Committees; if you systematically oppose Government policy, you are made a hero. It is one of the tragic paradoxes of our democracy that our vocal public are, if anything, anti-Government.
Nothing delights our audience in an assembly more than when the speaker runs down a Minister or the Government in general, even though the same audience might have been responsible for the ruling party being voted to power. Over the years we were taught to ‘fight’ a foreign Government; perhaps the inertia still remains, and the leaders who gave us the schooling now stand to bear the brunt.
Thus today, even as used to be the case before independence, a person catches public imagination more by writing a note of dissent than by signing an agreed document, however well-drafted the document might be.
And if on top of this he can carry the foreign Press over to his side, his position as an economist is assured. Without him no Seminar is complete, no Association respectable. Even universities run after him offering distinction. For has he not shown a ‘courage of conviction’ and an ‘independence of spirit’ such as so many others have not shown? Amusing, yes! For one surely wonders in the present political set-up of the country what it is that one has to show courage against or to be independent of.
The Government, as we have it now and there is no reason why this tradition should not continue does not punish opponents, it cajoles them, if only to preserve the reputation of being democratic. On the other hand, contrary to common belief, the economist today has better financial prospect outside the Government than within it. The critic does not suffer even if he is not ‘bought up’ by the Government.