The economists

The economistsSpeaking in 1934 before a London School of Economics audience (of which the present writer happened to be one), Professor Pigou gave a piece of warning to students of economics which deserves special notice today in our country.

It is possible, he said, for a student of economics to construct arguments for whatever policy he would want to support. He may thus have the temptation to make slight adjustments in his economic view in favour of the policies and methods of one politicial party or the other, for that way lies his chance of playing a part in the great affairs of the State. A political party, be it the Government or the Opposition, does not have patience with a truth-seeker. It needs advocates, and in its scale, that economist weighs more who can find arguments in support of the policy to which it is wedded.

Professor Pigou cites an incident from his own experience. On a piece of economic legislation in his country he happened once to write a note in The Times. The Prime Minister of the day, thinking that it lent support to his policy, made a public acknowledgement of it in which he hailed its author as ‘the great Cambridge economist’. In truth, however, the note did not favour the Government policy, and like a true scientist the Professor pointed this out. Whereupon in the estimation of the eminent Prime Minister, he came down as a ‘mere academic theorist’. It is not always easy to put up with such vicissitudes of career; the temptation to seek public recognition is great. But for the social scientist to yield to such temptation is, Professor Pigou warns, ‘to sell his birthright in the household of truth for a mess of political pottage.

As it is, economics in India centres on planning, and in this area there is quite a large scope for the economist to push ‘opinion’. Gone are the days when an economist could find comfort in his cloistered abode manipulating curves and symbols and showing ‘tendencies’ under assumed conditions. Academic aloofness is at a discount in the economists’ market these days. The economist must come out in the open, must act, if he is to be anybody in society. Up to a point this is good. In an economy which is in a state of transition, where big changes are taking place in every field of activity, there must occur stresses and strains which the economist cannot afford to overlook.

We have seen a lot of these during the operation of the Second Plan, and we are up against some again as the Third Plan is proceeding. In the circumstances involvement in immediate problems is unavoidable for the economist. Planning does seem to indicate a revival of Political Economy.

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