Book review: Towards Development Economics: Selected Indian Contributions, c. 1900-1945

TCA Ananth mention this book in a previous article. I am quite sure most econ students who graduate from India have not heard about most economists featured in the book. Such is the tragedy of our econ teaching.

The book is a compilation of select writings of select eminent economists, written in the period 1900-45. The title of the book could have been much better. This one hardly does any justice and might be seen as another development book.

The present volume showcases some notable Indian contributions to development economics, well before the subject became a major part of mainstream economics in the UK and the US. Comprising contributions from some of the most prominent Indian economists of the pre-Independence era, including VG Kale, Brij Narain, LC Jain, BP Adarkar, VKRV Rao, etc, it gives a sampler of the body of scholarly work produced before Independence, reflecting the wide variety of views and approaches to the problem of Indian development. The papers are presented in chronological order to provide an idea of the way Indian economic thinking developed. They deal with topics such as the nature of underdevelopment, surplus labour and disguised unemployment, limitations of the ‘trickle-down theory’, role of the state in development, etc. The volume also includes biographical notes on all contributors, placing in context their contributions and assessing their originality and contemporary relevance.

Quite a good collection of essays. The one by LC Jain on Indigenous banking was part of his thesis written in 1930s. This was the period when setting up RBI was being discussed. He gave some insightful suggestions to the central bank for integrating the indigenous banking with mainstream banking. This is something which RBI struggled with and allowed all these bankers to eventually fade out. This was a huge loss as these guys knew local financing the best. This remains a contentoius area for RBI till date and financial inclusion a pipe-dream as well.

Then there are essays on Managing Agency model followed by British, debates on whether India should adopt industrialisation or not and in what form. There is another one on today’s hot topic – Economic Basis of the Communal Tension in India.

Good collection and has a brief profile of these thinkers as well. A must read collection of essays..

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