Economics now wealth-creating device for few: Ashok Mitra

March 18th, 2011 - 12:36 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 18 (IANS) Economics today has been reduced to an elitist device that helps a handful in society make money and more money, unmindful if the rest of humanity is condemned to pestilential living, says economist Ashok Mitra.

“Economists — unbound economists — those who follow the whims of their intellect and have managed to forget what a social conscience is, are dangerous animals,” says Mitra, who has served as chief economic advisor in the finance ministry.

“They should be kept in their lair,” he writes in his latest book “Nowhere Nation” (Penguin-Viking).

“Another set of these practitioners love to play Satan and tempt citizenry to take wild leaps into speculative bliss promising future — the future, it is eventually realised, will not walk anywhere near the fantasy.”

Earlier, economics was committed to the cause of expanding the wealth and welfare of society, embracing the entire spectrum of human beings, Mitra says, drawing also from his experience as West Bengal’s finance minister.

The volume that arrived in bookstores last week questions the very status of India as a nascent superpower through a series of probing essays and reflections to document socio-political changes first published by The Telegraph.

Mitra also uses the underside of progress like graft, black money, communalism, reforms, liberalisation, India-US nuclear deal, the attempt to take away land from peasants for factories and neo-colonialism to re-examine if there exists a single Indian reality.

“A rather startling set of data, attributed to the Swiss Banking Association, has been making the rounds in the media,” says Mitra, turning the spotlight on corruption in his 2009 essay, “India Be Proud”.

“If data are to be believed, we emerge on top of the world at least in one particular matter,” he says, asserting that corruption, as one would know, had entered the portals of the nation decades ago.

“For decades after Independence, the government imposed severe restrictions on foreign exchange transactions and it was mighty difficult to obtain foreign currencies without official sanctions,” Mitra says in his book.

A few standard strategems were, nonetheless, at the beck and call of unscrupulous ones to enable them to get around formal rules, Mitra says. “One such was to over-invoice imports and under-invoice exports with the collusion of willing foreign partners.”

Then, the economist says, international corporate giants took full advantage of the new developments in India after the economic liberalisation that was launched under then finance minister and the present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“It was suddenly free-for-all, with no holds barred. Whatever was left of the nation’s ethical principles got butchered in a span of 15 years,” Mitra observes, delving into the forces that led to unjustified accumulation of unaccounted-for money.

In another essay, “Serenade to Gujarat”, Mitra says: “The propensity to paint Gujarat in the most lurid of parivar colours can only promote divisiveness. To condemn a region or the people inhabiting it for distasteful incidents on its soil seems absurdly wrong.”

The humorist, litterateur, cynic and the global trend spotter in Mitra comes to the fore in his “Unaware of Gold” published in October 2007. “The Britannia is making waves,” Mitra proclaims.

“No matter, thanks to the American century, English has retained its dominance on global centrestage. The rapid spread of English has coincided with another equally-breathtaking development,” he says.

“Bright youngsters, offspring of families who migrated from the subcontinent and settled on either side of Atlantic, have emerged as major phenomenon on international literary scene,” he adds, though a disturbing thought intrudes.

“It is more than possible many of these writers of South Asian extraction, famous and rich on either side of the Atlantic, do not even have a nodding acquaintance with what goes on in the field of literature, in languages their migrating families are born in.”

The anthology also has several essays devoted to the Left politics in West Bengal and its economic policies, and comments that the globalisation lobby sold on the luscious dream by special economic zones has agents at all levels of administration and polity.

“In India, permission for special economic zones are distributed like confetti.”

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be reached at

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