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Gunning for Bhagwati October 9, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in contemplation, economics, india.

In some sense, a man and woman are married the moment they decide to live together for the rest of their life. Commitment then must be an amazing ( and unimaginable ) state of heart, or for the unromantically unchallenged, a state of mind ! That is probably what gets people wondering what afterall does a formal marriage ceremony do that has already not happened. ( the ‘permission’ to have kids ??, in some societies atleast )

Well, I think the same is true of economics. I am increasingly getting convinced that at heart I am an economist. I will never be hired as one and if hired, will definitely be fired as one ! Although I am not formally educated and informal knowledge itself is incomplete and half-baked, its one thing that engages me like few things else. There are more economists in my admired people’s list than any other category of individuals.

What else might explain that for the first time ever, I will be following the announcement of a Nobel Prize in Economics like I follow perhaps a Wimbledon winner or a World Cup football winner ( frankly I care less about these ). In a little over 8 hours from now, 7 am, EST, the Nobel prize for economics will be announced in Stockholm.

Two reasons why this is something I have been awaiting – firstly, my interest in economics that has deepened over the years means the names will be somewhat familiar as opposed to say a Medicine/Physics winner. Secondly, two Indians are on the favorites listAvinash Dixit of Game theory fame from Princeton and Jagdish Bhagwati from Columbia. The latter is better tipped infact.

Bhagwati, some may know, is one of the 3 with Amartya Sen and Manmohan Singh who are 1 year apart from each other that had parallel careers upto a point in the 1950s. They all went to Oxbridge for their studies, all of them returned to India and then the 3 took different paths – Manmohan stayed back in India, while the other two went back into Graduate school – Sen went back to the UK and Bhagwati came to MIT, Cambridge. Sen went on to win the Nobel in 1998 while Manmohan took an entire different path went on to make great and lasting contributions in a different sphere. The last time I heard Bhagwati speaking at a public event in India, he referred to the prime minister as Manmohan !

You must visit Bhagwati’s website that brings together remarks made by famous, some of them Nobel Laureate economists, on his 70th birthday celebrations. Here are two anecdotes.

From Paul Krugman, Bhagwati’s student and a likely Nobel Prize winner :

Those of you who missed the conference part earlier, there was a lot of discussion of who in the group was and was not an SOB – student of Bhagwati. And I am, of course, an SOB. And one of the things I came to learn, as I started to have students of my own, is that what your students remember is not what you hoped they would remember. You think they would remember your brilliant exposition of a model or your stunning blackboard technique, and instead they end up remembering the particularly good joke you told at some point.

And I have to say, one of my strongest memories of studying with Jagdish is a joke, which I have used in print – although the first time I was a little cautious, but I think I can attribute it explicitly to Jagdish right now. At one point Jagdish explained to us his personal theory of reincarnation, which was that if you are a good economist, a virtuous economist, you are reborn as a physicist, and if you are an evil, wicked economist, you are reborn as a sociologist.

From his wife and another distinguished economist, Padma Desai :

All of you know Jagdish as a brilliant economist, most of you as a loyal friend, some (including myself) as a close colleague, and a select few as a concerned teacher. I want to talk about Jagdish as I have known him, a devoted husband and an intellectual companion of nearly five decades, and a loving father to our daughter Anuradha.

Actually Anuradha and Jagdish have been, from day one, fun-loving, sparring companions rather than father and daughter. When she was hardly three, her day care teacher asked her: “Anuradha, what does your mother do?” “My mother goes to conferences.” “And your father? What does your father do?” “My father talks.” She had figured him out early on.

I leave you with an extract from a recent mail I wrote to a long lost classmate.

Coming to what you have been doing over the years, a wow went out of my mouth looking at your specialization – Economics, English, Psychology – yeah, if I had another chance to do it all, I would have gone for pretty much this combination, majored later in Economics, become an Economics. Prof and uuh, won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Okay, I overdid that one, cut that last part :P.

In the meanwhile, Go Bhagwati ! Is he going to sleep tonight ?

I am not. ( I have an assignment due ! )



1. More links today « Epistles - October 6, 2007

[…] last year’s post on anticipating the Nobel Prize (Economics mostly for a good reason) announcement. Not much […]

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