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A Modest Proposal for Reviving the Economy

Don’t get into those maths, as Piyush Goyal famously said. Here’s a simpler test to decide what’s what.

There is a belief in some quarters that our economy would benefit from advice on policy formulation if such counsel were to be sought from the best professional minds in the government. But how does one arrange such an outcome?

After much strenuous reflection on the matter, a forum called ‘Economists for India’ has come up with the following proposal.

A test should be administered to all members of the Indian Administrative and Allied Services to hone in on a committed cohort with the requisite characteristics of a sound economic adviser answering to today’s needs. These characteristics are: the virtue of instant obedience to those above, a capacity for resolute stonewalling and unswerving disloyalty to intentional truth-telling.

No doubt the government will be swamped by eligible candidates who come out of the test with flying colours. Those who don’t (if there are any such) should be forthwith dismissed from service or transferred to Meghalaya. This is called weeding out, which is always the first step in the important task of weeding in.

From the rest, a final set of five advisers can be selected by implementing a stratified random sampling procedure using advanced Monte Carlo techniques which were, of course, anticipated by Aryabhata anticipating Kautilya, or the other way round, depending on who came first.

Also read | Explainer: Will Nirmala Sitharaman’s Corporate Tax Cuts Save India’s Economy?

What follows is a sample test paper, which draws on the pedagogic skills of two accomplished scholars, W.C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman, who did the sort of thing for British history which Economists for India is now attempting for Indian economics. The reader is referred to the book 1066 And All That by Sellar and Yeatman.

Model test paper

  • Who or what is responsible for our current economic crisis?

(a) Our Five Year Plans
(b) The National Sample Survey Office
(c) Our Navaratna PSUs
(d) Jawaharlal Nehru
(e) All of the above
(f) None of the above (Be very, very careful.)

  • That was a trick question (except for options (a) to (e), especially (d)). What economic crisis? We are well on our way to doubling farmer incomes and becoming a $5 trillion economy. You are invited to elaborate on this theme with nationalistic fervour, employing at most one side of the paper, neither side of your brain, and only saffron ink. A premium of 15 marks will accrue to answers written in Hindi.
  • Does mathematics help with understanding gravity? (Hint: Since the answer is ‘no’, how would you stimulate exports? Or at least simulate them? An innovative answer could secure a prestigious position in the Department of Dodgy Statistics.)
  • Does gravity help with understanding mathematics? (Hint: Do you think they were just fooling around when they fudged the GDP growth rates?)
  • Write a note on the pitfalls of discounting the future heavily. (Hint: Amplify on the theme of “What’s the hurry?”. Consider, in particular, the example of taking one’s time to announce an unemployment rate of 6.1%, and the benefit of deferring the announcement till after the elections.)
  • What accounts for the slump in the automobile industry? (Hint: Think Ola and Uber and leave them alone: get after the damned share-autos instead. That should also teach the lower-class millennials a thing or two.)
  • Does the RBI require a governor? (Hint: Dwell lovingly on the dictum “Minimum governors, maximum government.”)
  • Why should the RBI be merged with, or better still, submerged under, NITI Aayog? (Hint: Full marks will be given for the brief answer “Why not?”)
  • List at least 21 of the 362 reasons that have been advanced for demonetisation. (Hint: Some repetition, and a lot of fawning, are welcome.)
  • Draw up a table with two columns headed, respectively, “Advantages of demonetisation” and “Disadvantages of demonetisation”, and fill them up, leaving the second column blank. (Note: Negative marks for each entry, up to three entries, in the second column; demotion to the rank of Section Officer for 4-8 entries; Tihar Jail for more than eight entries.)
  • Compare and contrast GST (Goods and Services Tax) with TGS (Tokyo Girls Style) or SGT (Small Gas Turbine), or anything else that seizes your fancy, as long as GST comes out looking good. (Note: You may use logarithmic tables, if you think that will help.)
  • How would you solve India’s population problem? (Hint: P-lyg-my; ill-g-l imm-g-ation.)
  • Write a Sanskrit verse in Anushtubh meter on “The Bovine Economy of India”. (Brihati and Jagati are also acceptable. Also Pankti, but with the caveat that the verse should be read-only before Rahu Kalam.)
  • How would you suddenly bring the poverty rate down to 1.87% without obviously fiddling with the poverty line? (Hint: It’s called exponential decay. For you to work out the econometrics after manufacturing the data.)
  • Draw up a list of your colleagues who have been known to say that our economic policies are a joke. We can book them under the Indian Official Secrets Act, and that should also help narrow down the field of competition for you.

S. Subramanian is an economist who lives and works in Chennai.