|Prof. Amartya Sen|
So what's the big noise all about? Let's get to the basics to understand the debate.
|Prof. Jagdish Bhagwati|
Their vigorous debate can essentially be reduced to this : what comes first - chicken or egg?
The 'egg' here is redistribution of national resources, and the 'chicken' is economic growth. While the Sen thought hinges on economic growth following redistribution of resources (to eliminate severe human development bottlenecks like illiteracy, abject poverty, sanitation issues etc.), the Bhagwati camp speaks of economic growth automatically and eventually leading to a process of redistribution of resources.
So the contrast is quite stark. And there can be no compromise as both are holding on to directly opposite sides of the development debate spectrum.
After the debate has been debated for long, here is what Prof Jagdish Bhgawati has to say on his take : "The issue is not that I am for growth per se and Sen is for “redistribution”. That is just a self-serving canard by the likes of Sen. I am for “redistribution” (i.e. spending revenue for the poor) but, unlike Sen I do not pretend that somehow money will materialize, like in some of our mythological tales, from just our wishing for them! That way lies irresponsibility, not wisdom. And since it will harm the poor, instead of helping them, as I have argued with and without Professor Panagariya, this is an immoral position rather than the “progressive” position that Sen would have his uncritical readers believe to be."
When quizzed whether GDP growth and redistribution of resources can go hand-in-hand, this is what Prof. Bhagwati felt : "That is the sort of wishy-washy thinking that obfuscates the issue. Of course, a limited amount of “redistribution” can be financed even without growth; but how far could we have gone with it in the 1960s and 1970s? In the end, there is no alternative to growth which will raise the revenues earned, at any given rates, to make it feasible to finance the social expenditures which our planners and politicians like Pandit Nehru always wanted. Sen also claims that countries like Singapore educated people first and this led to growth later. That shows how ignorant he is. If you educate people and there are no economic policies that provide increased jobs, the education will not suffice for growth and prosperity."
|The Economist stokes the fire!|
Lot of amused, and bemused, educated onlookers in India are surprised at the volacano-style battle that initially was sober, then grew mildly vicious, then took on political colours, and finally ended with personal barbs! Many intellectuals would surely have breathed a sigh of relief seeing (their own) naked human emotions even in the best of these two minds. As they say - 'only human'!
For those still confused, the simple crux of the matter can be listed as -
- Sen would support the Food Security Bill in its present format (an entitlement, and hence redistribution), whereas Bhagwati would not
- Bhagwati would go all out for labour market reforms and trade liberalisation to increase output and efficiency, buy Sen may not (as a primary policy)
- Bhagwati will look and sound anti-poor at first sight, but Sen would be visible as a possible extension of Mother Teresa
- Indian politicians may not understand either of them fully, bar a few leading lights (or heads)
The list could go on.
In a nation like India, with the multitude and urgency of growth challenges facing policy makers, it is obvious that such debates will happen. I feel it is a great and refreshing change because at least it is an intellectual debate, unlike the utterly despicable, cheap and degraded political debates we have been subjected to in the past few months, as the run-up to 2014 elections began.
We want more, Sen sir and Bhagwati sir! Let the debate continue.