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Saturday, November 16, 2019

In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy, by Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah

In Service of the Republic: The art and science of economic policy, by Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah, Penguin Allen Lane, 2019.

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As a $3-trillion economy, India is on her way to becoming an economic superpower. Between 1991 and 2011, the period of our best growth, there was also a substantial decline in the number of people below the poverty line. Since 2011, however, there has been a marked retreat in the high growth performance of the previous two decades.

What happened to the promise? Where have we faltered? How do we change course? How do we overcome the ever-present dangers of the middle-income trap and get rich before we grow old? And one question above all else: What do we need to do to make our tryst with destiny?

As professional economists as well as former civil servants, Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah have spent most of their lives thinking about and working on these questions. The result: In Service of the Republic, a meticulously researched work that stands at the intersection of economics, political philosophy and public administration. This highly readable book lays out the art and the science of the policymaking that we need, from the high ideas to the gritty practicalities that go into building the Republic.

Nandan Nilekani: One of the most significant works on India's economic policies, this brilliant prescription for the country's future by two practitioners could not have come at a better time. Dr. Kelkar has played a role in many major financial reforms since liberalisation. What is most alluring about the book is its approach of tackling difficult economic concepts and making them accessible and engaging for the lay reader. A must-read for everyone.

Bibek Debroy: Two respected economists, who have worked in government and for government, have produced a remarkable and wonderful book, examining government, governance and state intervention in a charming and reader-friendly way. A book in the service of every citizen.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta: This marvellous book is a wonderful guide to thinking about public policy. It combines three things that rarely come together: clear analytical thinking on first principles, a good sense of historical judgement and a commitment to the values of freedom and fairness. It is the work of masterly professionals making their thinking accessible to a wider public.

Avinash Dixit: Kelkar and Shah have written a masterly book, combining in-depth personal experience and sound economic principles. With simple language and vivid examples, they offer many home truths about the why, when, what and how of policy, and even more important, when to do nothing. I hope India listens.