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Nurksian Contributions and Development Economics Curriculum

With the passing of the birth centenary of the great development economist, Ragnar Nurkse, it is time to examine the curriculum of development economics in Indian universities, and particularly, Nurksian contributions to the subject matter.

NOTESEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 12, 2008187Table: Features of Development Economics SyllabiName of the University Nurksian Theory Appearance of Name of the Paper Course NurksianTheoryNorth-Eastern Hill, SL, BG Approaches, Development and Environmental BA Pass and Shillong PartialTheoriesEconomics HonoursShivaji, Kolhapur VCP, BG Approaches, Economic Development MA, BA Partial Theories and GrowthPune VCP, BG, SL Obstacles, Development and Environmental BA and MA Characteristics,Economics,Economic Partial Theories Development and Growth Rajasthan, Jaipur VCP, BG, SL Modern Approaches Development Economics BA Honours to the Theories of and MA Development, DevelopmentPlanning Bharatidasan,Trichy VCP, BG Obstacles, Strategies of Development Economics BA EconomicDevpt Punjab, Chandigarh VCP, SL, BG Explanations, Resources Economics of Development MA and Economic Devpt, and Planning Strategies North Gujarat VCP, SL, BG Approaches Economics of Growth and MA Development Mysore, Institute VCP, BG, SL Capital Centred Development Studies MA of Development Theoretical Constructs, Studies DualisticExplanations Gujarat, Ahmedabad BG, SL Approaches, Economics of Growth and MA PartialTheoriesDevelopment Nagarjuna VCP, BG Characteristics, Theory of Economic Development MA StrategiesandPlanning Osmania, BG Strategies Economics of Growth and MA Hyderabad Development Abbreviations: VCP, SL and BG stand for Nurksian theoretical concepts of vicious circle of poverty, surplus labour as a saving potential and balanced growth strategy.essay (2005) mentions about the main-streaming of empirical work in develop-ment economics and says that the “challenge is to turn these explanations into a theory”. This statement shows the current sad state of development eco-nomics backed by the Washington Con-sensus. As Jomo and Reinert (2005) say, a “physics-based economics” with equili-briummetaphor came into prominence, cutting all relations with other social sciences and making development eco-nomics an isolated world.However, development economics of the 1950s and 1960s stood aloof from the main-stream economics and its “marginal condi-tions” upholding the principle that low out-put in backward countries is attributable to the non-fulfilment of marginal conditions [Meier 1977]. Instead, early development economists focused their attention on imperfections and issues like unemploy-ment, and attempted to design strategies of development which were led and managed by the state itself. They believed that the task of development economists is macro and involves much more studies and as Bardhan (2005) says has to do a lot with “process, relations and dynamics”.Teaching through Controversies: The subject of development economics has been an essential component of graduate and undergraduate courses in economics in India. There were differences in the naming of the subject earlier and still it continues. Some universities prefer the name “economics of development”, cer-tain others “economics of growth and development”, some others “theory of eco-nomic development”, while others simply “growth and development”, and recently, it seems that many have accepted the name “development economics”. Side by side, a detailed paper on Indian economy is also a part of the curriculum. In this paper, the “vicious circle of poverty” is discussed as a focal subject in the intro-ductory section and in the section on plan-ning strategy, balanced growth theory makes its own appearance coupled with merits of alternative plan strategies.The clean threefold division of economic curriculum in India has encouraged young students to draw inspiration from the teachings of the development economists of the yesteryears and to engage in creative discussions and exchanges of view-points on development. The accepted theory of the old vintage became an inevitable tool box to train new generation of develop-ment economists. Rather than confining oneself to the narrow framework, it demanded the interaction between the stu-dent and the society and the country in which she lives. This pluralism of economic curriculum and teaching familiarises the students with the existing knowledge of various issues in economic development and the course contents in majority of the universities in India provide detailed infor-mation on the economic problems of the third world in a societal background. On these lines Raveaud (2005) says ...plurality of approaches was a central fea-ture of many economic curriculum, not so long ago. In those years – when I was a stu-dent – economics students were exposed to, among others, the works of the classics (Smith, Ricardo), then neo-classics (Walras, Menger, Jevons) as well as those of Marx and Keynes. Then, teachers did not hide the permanency of conflicting views within eco-nomics. But these days are gone. It may appear that this statement is true as we see the application of “hardcore microeconomics” to study the issues of development. So long as the “modernists” in the academic bodies of universities do not demand for the incorporation of experimental microeconomics (as is done in foreign universities’ curriculum) devoid of societal connections, the system of curriculum and teaching of development economics in India is sound and foolproof.Traditionally curriculum of development economics in India welcomed a plurality approach. The students were given a course scheme of theories, approaches and strate-gies. Most often a political economy frame-work is used to analyse development issues and it is respectful of viewpoints from other social sciences. It is only recently, as men-tioned above, a micro framework was intro-duced in the syllabus contents of some elite institutions. Plurality of approach broadens a student’s outlook and equips her to embrace diversity and to discard the “equilibrium metaphor”.Nurksian ContributionsIndia has a large number of universities. In these universities development economics is taught as a compulsory subject exceptin a few ones. In the table, syllabi and course contents of a sample of 11 universitiesin India offeringBA andMAdegrees are sorted outand some important aspects are listed in connection with Nurkse’s contributions.
NOTESjuly 12, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly188Appearance of Nurksian theories in char-acteristics of underdeveloped countries (characteristics), obstacles to economic development (obstacles), approaches to economic development (approaches), strategies of economic development (strat-egies), partial theories of economic deve-lopment (partial theories) is given in the third column. In the University of Rajasthan, for ordinaryBA, development economics is not taught while for BA Honours and MA courses it is a distinct paper. An overlook of the course contents in the syllabi of these sampled universities shows that Nurksian contributions appear as major theoretical arguments, that is, his concept of the vicious circle of poverty, his views on balanced growth strategy and his theory of utilising the surplus labour in the agricultural sector. But surprisingly, his views on international economics do not find a place in the syllabi. It is also surprising to note that not a single book by Nurkse is recommended in the syllabi of the universities, rather the syllabi prescribe popular textbooks.The concepts appear together or in groups in the course contents of the uni-versities out of which the balanced growth argument is an integral part in all sampled universities’ syllabi. Vicious circle of poverty remains the second common theme while the explanation of utilising the surplus labour for capital formation is treated as third major theory in many university courses. In this third case, majority of the universities give first preference to the Lewisian model. International demonstra-tion effect arguments of Nurkse is studied as a related topic to his surplus labour argu-ment. It is interesting to note that in Mysore University’s Institute of Development Stud-ies, the interdisciplinary paper on develop-ment studies treats the theories including that of Nurkse under the section ‘Capital-Centred Theoretical Constructs and Dualistic Explanations of Development’.These important theoretical constructs in the syllabi of various universities have different venues of appearances. A glance through the table shows that there are many backgrounds on which the topics of vicious circle of poverty, balanced growth and surplus labour are taught, mainly under approaches to development, strat-egy of development, partial theories of development and the like. Within the three categories of contributions, vicious circle of poverty enters under characteris-tics of underdevelopment, obstacles to development or explanations of underde-velopment. Balanced growth appears in approaches, strategies, etc. As mentioned earlier, a variety of names are used to des-ignate the subject like development eco-nomics, theory of economic development and planning, economics of growth and development, etc. Most curriculums are based on the model syllabus of the Univer-sity Grants Commission (UGC) in the undergraduate level and some universities have clubbed development economics with environmental economics as per the scheme of theUGC. Approaches to Indian EconomyAs one traces out the evolution of planning in India, we can see that approaches to Indian economy and planning have a strong correlation .There are mainly five major planning proposals in the evolution of planning in India. They are the “Engineer’s Plan”, the “Bombay Plan”, the “People’s Plan”, and the “Gandhian Plan”. Similarly, there are different approaches to Indian economy. Indian economy, in an early period, was viewed as a truncated but linked entity, as a system with capital-istic or competitive features, a system to be integrated on socialist lines, as a dual economy, a system which should completely “isolate”problems like rural poverty from its own operations (isolationism), the economy as an entity having a “structure” (structuralism) and as a mixed economy [Kurien 1978]. Likewise, policies in the Indian economy have been categorised into three. That is, those meant to change the structure of the economy, those policies meant to influence the working of the economy and policies meant to reach directly the “weaker sections of the popu-lation” [Kurien 1978].There are various approaches to rural development too. For example, Gandhiji’s grama swaraj concept, the technocratic approach, the institutional approach, the community development programme approach of the 1950s, the production- oriented programme approach, the target group approach of the 1970s, the program-matic approach during the Sixth Plan and the present democratic decentralisation approach [Varma 2002]. To which of these approaches to planning, development policies and rural develop-ment can we fit Nurkse’s theoretical argu-ments concerning vicious circle of poverty, balanced growth, surplus labour utilisation, and type of policies? The fact is that all these are influenced by Nurkse’s arguments.Regarding planning, during the early period of independence the conservative nationalists in India viewed planning as an aid to capitalistic development. Com-munists and left economists treated plan-ning as a strategy to build up a socialistic state in India, an example is M N Roy’s “People’s Plan”. Side by side, we have an approach to national planning based on non-violence, that is, the Gandhian Plan. The Bombay Plan prepared by some lead-ing industrialists designed planning as an aid to capitalist development; however, they gave graciously considerable freedom to the government to control and regulate the economy. There is absolutely no con-nection between Nurksian theories (which appear in a later time period, that is, in the 1950s) and these different approaches to planning in India. But, surely, there is a close connection between the “Engineer’s Plan” prepared by the master engineer and visionary M Visvesvarayya and the Nurksian theories. The Engineer’s Plan argued for closer interdependence between various parts of India which has a resemblance with the balanced growth strategy of Nurkse. In actual planning, glimpses of Nurksian approach can be seen in the First and Second Five-Year Plan periods (1951 to 1956 and 1956 to 1961). The First Five-Year Plan document says, The programme of investment that can be undertaken at any particular time depends primarily on two factors: the rate of saving in the community, and the volume of unutilised human and material resources whichcan be used for direct investment. In the earlier stages of development, as already mentioned, though the unutilised resources would be considerable the scope for using them for stepping up the rate of capital for-mation might be restricted by either lack of technical skill or shortages of specific com-modities and services. In this period, there-fore, the reliance on savings has to be cor-respondingly greater. As capital formation getsunder way and the basic framework of services like transport, communications, irrigation and power is built up, the scope for utilising underemployed resources will

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