Our courses and research seminars are often steeped in a kind of technique fetishism, and marked by a deplorable oversight of history and systemic issues. The latter, for example, made many economists in their zeal for financial deregulation in the US oblivious of the corrupt influence of the financial oligarchy (described in vivid terms by Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the IMF, in a widely noted article, ‘The Quiet Coup’, The Atlantic, May 2009). One can detect similar systemic obliviousness among the over-enthusiastic liberalisers in India of the corrupt grip of the industrial oligarchy in the political life of the country.
The complicity of the academia is reinforced by the fact that the beginning courses in major graduate schools of Economics in the US often succeed in weeding out students with lively minds still curious about general structural problems of an economy in the larger context of history and society, and mainly allow those who have the stamina and the manic perseverance to follow the current technical fads in their narrow groove. The premium is on cleverness, not on balanced judgment or wisdom. We can serve our profession (and the policy world) better if we don’t take our findings and formulae too seriously or lose sight of the big picture, which historians and sociologists grapple with in a less precise, but often more insightful, fashion.