Prof. Bhagwati vs Prof. Sen fights keep getting uglier…(and the economics issues keep getting mixed with politics)

In some economics circles, it is whispered that “please give Jagdish Bhagwati a Nobel Prize, so that he stops attacking Amartya Sen.” It just keeps getting uglier by the day. One does not know how and why things got so bitter between the two, but things continue despite many years with both the stalwarts in their 80s.

And most of the time it is Prof. Bhagwati who brings Prof Sen in the argument.

For instance, the recent UP elections are seen as voters showing demonetisation as hugely positive. Prof. Bhagwati who defended the decision says UP elections exposes like of Prof Sen:

“The Prime Minister’s success in Uttar Pradesh has therefore meant that Amartya Sen and his friends who argued that demonetisation would hurt growth, have been humiliated and exposed as much as the Congress,” Bhagwati told PTI in an email interview.

Really Prof. Bhagwati?

It is astounding to see economists of his stature defend current political administration’s decisions whatever it may be. And that too at the cost of economics.

Infact, the first question which should be answered is “Would he have defended if UPA/Congress had done demonetisation?” One might say it is a hypothetical question but it is not. It is not just politics which is getting increasingly divisive but economics too. All we get to hear is from the defenders of the current government on economics side is that previous government was worse at this. It is tragic to see such major players and government advisers play a key role in this divisive politics.

The same question also needs to be posed to Prof Sen as well: Would he admonish demonetisation if UPA-II did it? But then currently the question matters more for Prof Bhagwati as NDA government is in power. We have seen how lack of enough caution from economic advisers/benefactors in previous UPA government led to their final ouster.

Though, PM has said he prefers hardwork over Harvard but continues to be surrounded and backed by people from Harvard and its likes. So who knows what is going on really.

Actually, what made you appreciate likes of Prof Bhagwati that they continued to stand by their economics despite UP/Congress winning elections before 2014. He should know all this much better than others as the previous governments won elections despite he showing it was all poor economics. Demonetisation had pretty much every element which Prof Bhagwati criticised previous governments (rationing, queuing, bureaucracy over markets etc).

We all know how political leaders can continue to build narrative around their ideas and win elections despite poor economics. Economics catches over a long run and suddenly one loses against all expectations. This has been responsible for much of the battles between economists and policymakers.

All this is pretty sad and hitting below the belt which is best left to Indian politicians. Not expected and wanted from these guys.

As Indian economics students who have read up both of their works, one hoped that they offer more constructive criticism without taking political sides. It is such a shame that it has gone completely in the opposite direction.


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