Amartya Sen calls demonetisation despotic

I don’t know who the other chap but he’s being rather rude to Professor Sen who is not only a Nobel Laureate but was the Master of Trinity College (which is no mean feat for a coloured person as Trinity is the Queen of Oxbridge and it’s richest college by far – also the whitest, poshest and most entrenched).

My thoughts on demonetisation is that it was a tax on the upper middle classes but one that the ultra-rich (the Ambani class) could easily avoid.

The magic of PR is that Aam Admi hates both the upper class and the Muslim minority but admired the oligarchic class, who really control India’s tentacles. That 0.1% elite is immunised to all governments and changes to tri-colour to Saffron depending on who is in power.

To be fair I don’t think the Ambani-KJo-Modi axis is all that bad but it is what it is. The KJo Muslim-loving liberal class will act as a counter on the Modi centralising tendencies and the Ambani class will hopefully ape Silicon Valley philanthropists and start to give back to the country in a more substantial measure (I’m not a fan of Antillia but I can understand why Mukesh did it).

As an aside I mentioned to Vidhi this morning my rather controversial thought that caste was a Hindu problem. At that moment Lakshmi turned into Durga and while Vidhi is a classic Nehruvian capitalist; she has a deep distrust of Pakistan and Islam and she remember her pati is part-Pakistani (if this were a Bollywood film I’d be ISI and she’d be RAW – that would be a great flick).

She made some really good points and so did I (I like to think).

My contention was that we had seen three movies; Padmavati (sati), Toilet (open defecation), Dhadak (intercaste) and the problem is that all three have some justification in Hindu scripture.

So while caste is a South Asian phenomenon; the only community that provides religious justification to it is the Hindu community. If I say with a Mullah for 1hour I would be able to convince that Islam has no theological basis for caste..

Vidhi’s retort, which I thought was much more convincing than mine, was that even if Hinduism had these retrograde elements the Indian constitution time and time again defies the Hindu religion for classical liberalism.

Pakistan wouldn’t ever dare pass a law that countermanded even the lightest Islamic law and that’s what makes Pakistan such a barbaric country. She even reminded me that Bahai faith has its regressive elements that I constantly justify so Zach 0 – Vidhi 1.

40 thoughts on “Amartya Sen calls demonetisation despotic”

  1. Zach,

    Unsolicited advice from an old married person (20yrs+ Going):
    1. Don’t discuss politics with your wife. They never improve marital relationships.
    2. If you do discuss your opinions and justify them, keep them between yourself. Think about your potential offspring when you make these discussions public.
    3. If you do want to make them public, give posting privileges to Vidhi too. It is rather unfair to report one-sided version of a private debate without providing the other party an opportunity to agree or disagree.

    Also, if your glorious commentariat starts taking potshots at her opinions, does that make you happy?

    1. She read this post before I published it (I always vet any post that does mention her as a general rule of thumb).
      She actually said I should post it because it was an interesting discussion.
      Neither of us are fully invested in our opinions that it would affect our joint life together (or so I would hope).

      Vidhi is now focussing on her twitter- (her thoughts on my Dhadak post – for her science and instagram for her fashion –

      Our offspring at the moment is a 30kg Lion and he’s too busy trying to stay cool in our “Indian summer” to dwell on his particular national identity. Though we have discovered that he prefers meat to veg so I’m guessing where his inclination might be:)

      Also people can feel free to disagree with her or my opinions so long as it’s respectful..

      1. Zach,

        Good to know this is vetted.

        Hinduism can be used to justify anything. It is an old religion that changes with the changes in society. There is a lot of emphasis on Desa, Kaala, Patra which refers to location, time and content.

        It is not fair that religion gets blamed when the religion preaches you to change the rules with time and location, and gives you plenty of examples.

        1. Some more unsolicited advise Zack. Just remember that Vidhi is vastly smarter, better looking, nicer, stronger . . . basically superior in every way than you. Worship her daily as God herself and carefully listen to and obey all of God’s commands. You will be golden. 😉

  2. I think Modi’s demonetization is like Trump’s tariffs. A formal and rigorous analysis can prove incontrovertibly that they are bad ideas that cause real harm to the economy. Yet in both cases, the respective policies satisfy an emotional craving for the public (or a large section of it), and people are willing to undergo hardships just on the off-chance that people they dislike will be hurt.

    It’s a depressing observation (if accurate) for people who care about democracy as well as rational expert analysis.

  3. Saw the clip:
    1) The other panelist was disrespectful to Amartya Sen.
    2) I don’t agree with the language “despotic act”, this said it is okay to disagree with demonetization
    3) Amartya is underestimating the degree to which the Indian economy has gone white, virtual and electronic. Many poor Indians now have low cost financial virtual accounts and can engage in business and purchases through Paytm. This is very good.

  4. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Pakistan a “barbaric” country. It is true that it is the “Islamic Republic” of Pakistan and no laws can be made that are contrary to Quran and Sunnah. However, most of the real hardcore “Islamic” laws came in with General Zia and were not inevitable in 1947.

    While the Indian Constitution is impressive, the current regime is not all that fond of it. India also has its fair share of lynchings etc. So I don’t find the competition as to which country is more “barbaric” useful.

    The point about caste having no theological justification in Islam is a fairly obvious one and I don’t think can be argued with by many rational people.

  5. I thought Amartya Sen was an expert in developmental economics, not monetary policy. This is a bit like asking for Virat Kohli’s opinion on Roger Federer’s serve …

  6. Amartya Sen is a well decorated front line economist. He is worth paying attention to on demonetization, not withstanding his specialty. I only heard negative news about the demonetization that happened in India.
    It is a done deal but post-mortem could help to bring some perspective. Rumors are BJP government may try it again by banning some other denomination currency before the 2019 general election in order to empty the opposition election funds which are typically unaccounted.

    1. Gov’t takes decisive action which affects common man. I do like decisive actions. OTOH where’s the decisive action against industry leaders and rich people? Malaya absconded with loans of about 3000 crores. That is only a tip of the iceberg. Indian banks have given unsecured or lightly secured or easy loans to the tune of 50000 crores. Why can’t the government tighten up there by calling back badly secured loans? Raghuram Rajam wanted to send a circular to that effect to all banks. His tenure was not extended. It’s not just coincidence.

  7. If the originators of a policy can be removed from power without violence then it is not despotic.


    A formal and rigorous analysis can prove incontrovertibly that they are bad ideas that cause real harm to the economy

    A “formal and rigorous” analysis of economic policies assumes quite a lot about rational behaviour of economic participants, most of which are theoretical idealizations as opposed to reality. So, this “incontrovertible proof” that you speak of has to be taken with a pinch of salt.

    This isn’t to say that demonetization is good (or bad), but that neither view is incontrovertible. There is always significant error in economic analysis, and therefore a lot of room for dogma. In short, economics isn’t physics and Omorto da isn’t Einstein.

  8. I am bit amused by intelligent folks still not getting the point of demonitization. Probably because they are economist. Demonitization was NOT a economic decision , it was a electoral decision which served its purpose. It burnished Modi credentials back to its pro-poor image and won him the most significant electoral state in India. That’s it what it was for. People keep on looking at its economic rationality and argue about it. This sort of cynical economic move is not without precedent when in 70s Indira G nationalized all banks(something which Bhutto did with Shariff’s companies) to burnishing her pro poor credentials. In recent times in 2009 the Congress gave a nation wide farm loan waiver amounting to loss of millions to the banks, the result was they won the election handsomely(something i feel would be the BJP govt next move). Its people who sit in US think tanks who say dumb shit like good economics make good politics.

    I think the problem in India (Subcontinent) think that somehow economic decisions are purely economic in nature. There is a reason why neither Air India / Pak Airlines cannot be sold off even though they make millions in loses everyday. And still people go on and on.

    “…even if Hinduism had these retrograde elements the Indian constitution time and time again defies the Hindu religion for classical liberalism.”

    The reason for that has to do with the two person(Nehru and Ambedkar) making the changes were not Hindus themselves, while the two (Gandhi and Patel) who could have stifled the changes were dead by then. Almost all the leaders who thought themselves as Hindus either were silent or mostly overruled by Nehru . You give hinduism a bit more credit that it deserves. 😛

    1. The religious identities/preferences of the movers don’t matter. What matters is how easily the recommendations were adopted and accepted by the “target” population. Compare this with the outcome of Salman Taseer’s mere oral suggestion that the blasphemy law needed reform.

      Note also that Nehru did not even attempt to reform Muslim personal law.

      1. I am always uneasy with Great Man explanations of change/foundation of political institutions involving millions. That Indian constitutional republic and secularism was gift of a few great men like Nehru, Ambedkar, seems too simplistic to me. I think the continuation of British system, India’s huge diversity of states and regions, a English-educated elite-professional class, all these were important factors. Its not that people like Nehru were giants in a land of pygmies. Anyway, I will be first to admit that my readings on academic analysis of foundation and continuation of Indian democracy are limited. Hope to hear from other folks.

        1. You got it right, Great Man explanations are nonsense 99% of time. J Nehru was not that great a man . Ambedkar much less so.

        2. Shafiq, if you are interested in a scholarly take on why India and Pakistan ended up with such different constitutions, I would recommend “The Promise of Power” by Maya Tudor. It emphasizes how critical political parties are to the evolution of a society, as opposed to religion/culture etc.

          Basically the differences are rooted in how differently the Congress was organized in comparison to the League. These differences in turn were rooted in the nature of the social classes that led the creation of these parties, and defined their political culture.

      2. The target population did move its just that they did not have electoral clout to make their voices heard. Also within the target population unlike other religions the numerical majority (Dalits/lower OBCs) and hindu women would have benefited and they had no stake in perpetuating the older rule.

        ” Compare this with the outcome of Salman Taseer’s mere oral suggestion that the blasphemy law needed reform.”

        Blasphemy law in that case is different since the majority of muslims do support such a law(including non Islamist type like Jinnah and Iqbal), whatever their sect is. The most ironic part is Salman Taseer father was one of the major contributor to the the blasphemy law. He was the main funder of the Ilm-u-din janaza during the whole Rangeela Rasool issue. Perhaps Mr Tasser should have looked at his father politics before commenting.

        As its says in the Bible ‘The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.’

        1. Blasphemy law is one of many ways nonmuslims back Islamists against minority and liberal muslims. All blasphemy laws need to be banned immediately. All muslims deserve freedom of art, thought, intuition and feeling.

          One of the proximate reason why Egypt’s former President Morsi fell in 2013 was because he was trying to introduce blasphemy laws against Shiites, Sufis and liberal muslims:

          Blasphemy is haram. Blasphemy is un-Islamic.

      3. Attempting to reform Muslim personal law so soon after Partition doesn’t seem like it would have been a good idea. Pandit Nehru needed to make the Muslims remaining in India feel that they were not the enemy and their rights would be protected.

        1. Strike when the iron is hot . Partition would have been the best time for it. Even after 70 years, even BJP is light years away from such a move .
          Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery during the Civil War – he did not wait for the Confederates to be defeated and their feelings of defeat assuaged and their ego massaged before abolishing slavery.
          Nehru-Congress strategic sense was non-existent.

          1. Muslim personal law is not like slavery so your analogy is misplaced.

            Nehruvian Secularism means the State lets each religious community run its own affairs regarding marriage, inheritance etc. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s just a different model of secularism.

    2. The constitution committee had 4 other members and they were orthodox south Indian Brahmins. They had no problem with the new constitution. The fact is an entire generation of independence leaders and intelligentsia were educated in English legal system and that’s why they went along with it. Even if J Nehru had not lived, Nehruvian Secularism would still be there. You give Hindus less credit than they deserve. That’s the well known “pseudo secular ” ploy – put all the blame on Hindus and Hinduism and explain any achievements with other factors

      1. Please go and look at the constitutional debates and there after , Nehru had so much hard time passing down the whole thing at one go that he had to break the bill into 4 parts and pass it individually. Ambedkar resigned when he saw the bill is not getting passed. Probably that would have been a better time for your “4 other members and they were orthodox south Indian Brahmins” to show a little bit of support, not now. Lets be frank, without Nehru it would have not been passed, not during the term of Rajendra Prasad of all people.

        There are many faults Nehru had and we should/can criticize him, this is not one of them.

  9. I think you are missing the point. Nehru was a great man and India owes much to him. Ask yourself why Pakistan did not have a similarly great man who pushed similar reforms in Pakistan. Instead things have been moving in the opposite direction.

    As Holmes would say the most curious thing here is the incident involving Nehru’s assassination (i.e. that it did not take place. He did not even lose office.)

    1. The funniest thing is that Nehru nowadays is pilloried for totally useless issues(Edwina saga, agnosticism, his desire to become PM) which totally overshadows his genuine faults(Kashmir , China etc)

    2. Quaid-e-Azam died within one year of Pakistan’s formation. Had he lived and continued to govern Pakistan as long as Pandit Nehru governed India, things would have been quite different.

      1. Here’s what Jinnah said in 1947:

        “”Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.
        A man who married a parsi girl in her teens and made her accept islam. When his own daughter did the same, he disowned her. A man who fought the case of a man who killed an innocent hindu man for publishing a book.A man who called for direct action day and responsible for killing thousands of hindus and causing mayhem. He had some grand delusions of future of paxtan.

        1. You are cherry picking and only looking at the negative aspects of Quaid-e-Azam. It’s futile to argue with you.

          But for the record this is the same man who gave the August 11 speech: “You are free to go to your temples or to any other place of worship in the State of Pakistan. That has nothing to do with the business of the State”. This is the same man who used to be known as “the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. He fought the case for Pakistan, like any good lawyer would do and he said a lot of different things at different points. But he was fundamentally a very secular person and a constitutionalist.

          Anyway the point remains that he passed away one year after Pakistan was created and there was no one else who was charismatic enough to carry forward his vision. India was lucky that Pandit Nehru was able to govern and provide some stability for the first twenty years after Independence.

          You can have your own opinion of Quaid-e-Azam but given the choice between Jinnah’s Pakistan and Zia’s Pakistan, most rational people would choose Jinnah’s Pakistan.

  10. Opposition to a reform can arise from various angles, instrumental impact on personal relations, pure inertia or deep rooted conviction that the reform is opposed to some other aspect of one’s identity.

    It is clear that the opposition to the Hindu code bill was more due to the former two rather than the last reason. If Hindus were so convinced that couples being able to divorce and women inheriting the same share as men were fundamentally opposed to their religious beliefs, those laws would have been overturned sooner or later. That nothing of this sort has even been suggested by the most conservative of Indian parties means that Hindus didnt see these conservative positions as central to their religious identity.

    Since there is no idea of a covenant between the ‘Hindus’ and God, Hindus dont think that their spiritual well being is tied to the conduct of other Hindus. Such collectivized codes in Hindu society applied at the caste level (cant eat certain things, perform certain rituals), rather than the religious/spiritual level which remained focused on individual spiritual success.

  11. Why the internet Hindus have to tun every brownpundits (chowk, sepiamutiny, Bitnet, arpanet, and on and on) post into a discussion of partition, Nehru, Indian government vs. pakistan governing.

    Literally undersytood Razib Khan’s pain

    1. Except “Partition” was first mentioned on this thread here:

      Kabir says:
      July 23, 2018 at 7:05 pm
      Attempting to reform Muslim personal law so soon after Partition doesn’t seem like it would have been a good idea. Pandit Nehru needed to make the Muslims remaining in India feel that they were not the enemy and their rights would be protected.

      1. Except that “Muslim Personal Law” was mentioned before that as was Salmaan Taseer.

        Asides from your nitpicking, Vijay is correct in noticing a tendency of “internet hindus” to turn most things into a referendum on Pakistan.

        1. Taseer, sure, but what has Muslim Personal Law got to do with Pakistan? Surely Personal Law boards are a specific (contentious) feature of the Indian Constitution?

          How/where is Pakistan involved in Indians talking about the features of their country’s legal structure?

          1. It’s all in the context. I won’t insult your intelligence by pretending you’re too naive to get that there is a tendency among “internet Hindus” to bring up Pakistan and/or Islam when it may not be strictly relevant.

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