Home / Politics / Policy /  What the Economic Survey reveals about Arvind Subramanian’s reading list

New Delhi: Writers everywhere are divided about the literary worth of prefacing a chapter with a hefty quote—not so the Economic Survey 2017. Ignoring stylists who think the device is best left to middle school essayists, this year’s edition of the Economic Survey, which tend to prosaic documents, packs in the numbers as well as the quotes: from the start to finish.

The preface takes off with British economist John Maynard Keynes on the attributes of an ideal survey: “It must possess a rare combination of gifts.... It must draw upon mathematics, history, statesmanship, and philosophy--in some degree. It must understand symbols and speak in words. It must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought."

Full text of Economic Survey 2017

At the launch of the survey on Tuesday, chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian took those instructions a step forward by quoting film actor Amitabh Bachchan: “Thoda drama hona chahiye, thoda tragedy, thoda comedy" (there must be a bit of drama, a bit of tragedy, a bit of comedy.) While the jury is decidedly out on the dramatic potential of the survey, it is quite clear that when it comes to literary merits, this year’s edition stands head and shoulders above its humble predecessors.

Take the chapter names. Until last year, the chapters had no-nonsense headings like Mother and Child, Agriculture, Fertiliser Sector. This time, the titles aspire to be rather more engaging.

First off, there is the economic vision for “Precocious, cleavaged India". Then there is the demonetization exercise, about which the survey asks—alliteratively of course—“To deify or demonise?" The issue of universal basic income is dealt with in a chapter sub-headed, “A conversation with and within the Mahatma."

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As many as 12 out of the 14 chapters open with a quote.

If the Keynes quote was deep, things start to get really interesting later.

Chapter 3 on demonetization quotes the mystic Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s famous saying, “Taka mati, mati Taka" (money is dust, dust is money) and then from George Eliot’s celebrated novel Middlemarch: “Among all forms of mistake, prophecy is the most gratuitous."

Eclectic to the hilt, the Greek sophist Antiphon then makes an appearance in chapter 4 (“the most costly outlay is time") while Mahatma Gandhi follows in the next chapter, which deals with the global fiscal framework and India’s challenges (“I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any").

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St. Augustine and Lee Kuan Yew figure in chapters with subject matter as varied as manufacturing and fiscal rules. The father of the nation crops up again, featuring prominently in chapter 9, which deals with universal basic income.

Nehru, Ambedkar and Tagore make obligatory appearances but, surprisingly, so does the novelist Arvind Adiga. A quote from his Booker prize winning White Tiger kicks off a chapter on Two Indias and the different levels of development seen in the country.

The Economic Survey’s purpose is to reflect on the year gone by and show the way forward for the economy. What this year’s survey also offers is a quick peek into Subramanian’s reading list. It’s an interesting one.

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