From 50 Years Ago: Allergy to Economic Theory.

Editorial from Volume XIII, No. 1, January 7, 1961.

From all accounts, the last Economic Confer-ence was a refreshing departure from previ-ous Conferences... From this highly provocative analysis of ‘Tendencies in Economic Theory’, which formed the subject of his address, Professor Das Gupta moves on to the question, why were economists in this country, particularly of the older generation, allergic to theory? That Indian economists found the prevailing climate of economic thought in the West uncongenial, pervaded as it was by economic liberalism which did not apply to this country at all, is only part of the explanation. Why did the challenge of the economic stagnation in the country fail to provoke adequate response? The ingredients of a growth theory were there in Adam Smith and Marx. Curiously enough, Marx received no attention in this country until after the first World War. Did the class-composition of the intellectuals, then, partly account for the sterility of economic thinking? Perhaps the answer is to be sought in the quotation from Whitehead which prefaces his address: “In any science which has failed to produce any theory with a sufficient scope of application, progress is necessarily very slow”. The laissez-faire economics of the day may not have appealed to the Indian intellectual, and the theory of allocation of resources in a self-adjusting economy may have left him cold. The scholastic traditions of the country had ceased for centuries to react to environ-ment and reality. But it had not ceased to reveal in abstraction. Indeed, it had shown a remarkable capacity in pursuing abstractions and developing logical systems from such abstractions with amazing skill and sustained, life-long devotion. How was it that this tradi-tion of scholasticism did not find a congenial field in the hair-splitting logic and formalism of the value theory of the day? The lack of response of the Indian intellectual to the challenge of reality does not answer this particular question.

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