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Silly Swaminomics October 22, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in economics, media, rant.
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I haven’t ever thought really highly of Swaminathan Aiyar of Swaminomics from the Times of India fame. But this time he really went overboard when in an article in the TOI he suggests this :

But in India, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar will produce more than enough workers for all states. So, don’t laugh at Lalu for having nine children. If each of his children in turn has nine kids, that will greatly increase India’s demographic dividend. It is said that God works in mysterious ways. So does Lalu.

This is a Class X student’s argument. And Berkeley-educated economist Atanu Dey rips him off – a highly recommended post.

What puts me off about Aiyar is just how simplistic his arguments sound to me. And not just today, but back in May 1996 when he was anchoring the general election results in a program with Nalini Singh, I remember his remarks – off-the-cuff and somehow unstudied they appeared. Cmon, Aiyar, you are on national television !

I understand that he is writing not for a journal but for the general public in a national daily and maybe he is expected to not indulge in mathematical equations and statistics. Infact people who I know that do like him, do so for this reason – the fact that he is able to cut down on jargon, use a few anecdotes and get his point through. The fact that he might be misrepresenting or oversimplifying either doesnt occur to them or just doesnt bother them.

I agree that having been in the academia, there may be bias in the way I judge Aiyar. Besides, I am not economics or demographics major. Economics is serious, hard, rigorous and tough – predictions often go wrong and an economy is one of the most complex and dynamic systems around. There is little oppurtunity to conduct controlled experiments on a macroscale unlike in much of physics. Imagine – conducting an experiment to know if the interest rate should be set at 4% or 5% and measure parameters and choose the best setting. All one can do sometimes is learn from previous data and make inferences and hope that one gets it quite right. There is lot of space for skepticism. And not everything in economics is common sense either. For example : Why not print more notes and make people rich !!

So let us accept that some things by their vary nature are so complex that sacrificing rigour beyond a point is sacrificing the truth – that would mean you either lie or you dont say all the truth. In such cases, you would rather not attempt such writing – much of the writing in Economics coloumns in major western dailies (For eg: NYTimes coloumns, LATimes ) , is only meant for those who have more than an elementary understanding of economics.

Aside from the main point, I was looking for Swaminathan Aiyar’s credentials. Masters degree in Economics it says – what has he done since then ? Any link to his papers – have his papers been subject to peer review ? Why does his website not have a link to them ? What is his expertise in population studies ? At best he is a journalist reporting on economic issues – and that is not the same as being an economist. Sometimes, that difference matters.

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Comments»

1. Nimit Kathuria - August 2, 2008

OMG! Who are you commenting on Swaminomics anyway? I mean you are a computer engineer who knows sh*t about the world but just wants to speak something for the heck of it. Look at you… “Why not print more notes” Are you serious? That was a question I asked in 5th grade and got an answer then… this is elementary economics, nobody asks this question, you thought you came up with this genius question, you moron? And about Swami’s credentials, he’s a real economist, the consultant to the World Bank types, just that you didn’t care enough to look and made a comment. So, shut up and stop posting ludicrous blogs.

2. sharath - August 3, 2008

if only Mr. Kathuria, you had actually followed the link “Why not print more notes” before going on your tirade.

3. Ravi - August 12, 2008

I quite agree with Sharath on Swaminathan being silly!! This article for example

http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/Opinion/Columnists/Swaminathan_S_Anklesaria_Aiyar/The_world_will_love_Mayawati_as_PM/articleshow/3349100.cms

has no substance whatsoever, and beyond that, people seem to seek his opinion.

Nimit needs to understand that it is not a personal offence, its that his opinions are silly!


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