India’s chief economic advisor delighted his audience on Thursday by quoting from literary works to explain why different economies behave differently.
Delivering the third annual Literature Live! Independence Lecture, Arvind Subramanian picked lines from Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers — a book about a Mumbai slum — to explain why India’s economy is lagging while China’s marches forward.
“The book captures how basics such as health, education, sanitation, water and protection from violence are not given to the Annawadi [slum] residents. It says, ‘For the poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained’. Maybe, China has tackled fulfilling these basic needs and thus, it is able to grow,” Subramanian said.
Modelled on the Charles Eliot Norton lecture series by Jorge Luis Borges at Harvard, Subramanian delivered a lecture titled ‘How literature can help our understanding of economic development’.
Borges, Subramanian said, shared all that he had been reading and his love for literature. “I aim to be a vehicle for transmitting all that I have read outside of economics through this lecture, which will be a first for me,” he said.
Subramanian also expressed a desire to write a book based on his own theory of economic development, tentatively titled The Birth of Nations and the End of Economic History, elaborating on his view that nations well-endowed with foreign aid or natural resources are in fact handicapped in the form of a rent curse.
“I feel Pakistan is the way it is because of the military agreement they had with the US. The entrenchment of the army has now devastated their institutional development,” he said.
Anil Dharker, founder of the Literature Live! series, said the idea behind inviting Subramanian was to explore the unique economic challenges India faces because of its present and its past. The previous editions of the annual lecture featured historian Ramachandra Guha and RBI governor Raghuram Rajan.