How to be a top economist – Marxist edition ft. Prof Arun Kumar

If you are anything like me, you have a lot of respect for economists. These extraordinary men and women work with facts and figures that tell of the fortunes of the 7 billion people who share this planet. In the Indian context, every percentage point added or subtracted from GDP growth means a lot. For millions of people, it could mean the difference between having a full stomach and going to sleep hungry. For millions of kids, it could be the difference between education and malnutrition or even death.

Rest assured therefore that these extraordinary men and women take their role extremely seriously. In particular, they would never act as if they are pulling numbers out of thin air. Or throw out numbers like a drunken gambler at a casino in Las Vegas.

Today I would like to profile for you one of the top economic minds of our age – the most distinguished Prof. Arun Kumar, who has taught economics for nearly 30 years at JNU. And not just because it’s Christmas season and Prof. Arun Kumar has a beard that looks exactly like Santa Claus. In the Modi era, with its fanciful ideas like hard work over Harvard, we need intellectuals more than ever before. Since we cannot trust the official numbers, whether from EVMs or CSO or NSSO, we need intellectuals like Prof. Arun Kumar to tell us what is really going on.

First, the credentials. Prepare to be dazzled, folks.

Dr. Arun Kumar taught Economics in Jawaharlal Nehru University from 1984 to 2015. He was the Sukhamoy Chakravarty Chair Professor in the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, JNU. He is a former Chairperson of the Centre. He was the President of JNU Teachers’ Association in 2014. He has been a Vice President and acting President of the Indian Academy of Social Sciences. He has specialized in Development, Public Finance and Public Policy and Macroeconomics.

Feeling humbled yet?

Now, we all know that India’s economy was pushed into contraction when PM Modi ordered a lockdown on the entire country beginning late March. But by how much? The official figure is that of a near 24% contraction for the first quarter of FY20-21, i.e., for the period from April to June. You might think that number is rosy enough for the Prime Minister’s critics that they would not haggle with it.

You would be wrong. Stop looking at everything through a political prism. For top economists like Prof. Arun Kumar, it is about truth. And nothing but the truth. Here is the real picture.

Truth hurts. But at least we know the truth.

Make a note of the date. It’s Sep 9, 2020. I insist on that because the truth is about to undergo a major revision. You have to keep revising truth. You know, like history.

Here you go.

If you thought -24% was bad, nothing could have prepared you for the nightmare of -40%. And now it’s -50%. Bitter but true. Prof. Arun Kumar delivered the bad news in a policy speech organized by the Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.

That was the truth, at least as of Oct 24, 2020.

What’s the latest on the truth? Prof. Kumar has an update.

What could be “worse than war?” Trust a ‘veteran’ to know — veteran economist, that is. So now it is around -40% again. I say ‘around’ because I played the audio and Barkha seemed a little confused by the professor’s responses. At one point the good professor seemed to say -45%; then Barkha asked if it was around -40% and the professor looked like he was agreeing with her on that.

Are you struggling here? Good! Now you have some idea of a man who has presumably read all the books that appear in his background. And many many more.

40, 50, 45, 40 … Folks, this is science and hope you have learned to take it seriously. Remember that each percentage point in India’s GDP growth puts the lives of hundreds of millions of poor and vulnerable people in the balance.

So what have I personally concluded? Something like this:

precisely when its dubiousness as a pragmatic record is recognised, the narrative reveals its function in creating a people in politics, and history.

For the record, I have absolutely no idea what that means. But I saw Pratap Bhanu Mehta using this quote from some political theorist the other day. And I thought it sounded smart. And I felt it might impress all of you. It would be otiose to say otherwise. Again, I don’t know what ‘otiose’ means. But Pratap Bhanu Mehta used that word. And P B Mehta is smart, like the thesaurus.

So here is my actual conclusion. Facts and figures don’t really matter. Darr ka mahaul hai.

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