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J. C. Kumarappa - An Ethical Economist


Demonstrating social value is the real impact for any government that claims expenditure on 'national interest', claimed  J C Kumarappa in his thesis on Public Finance while in Columbian University in the 1920s. Moving  forward he claimed that the touchstone of prosperity of the general mass of public rather than profitability or efficiency of public administration.

Today 'national interest' is used as a blanket activity which is not open to public interrogation. National interest as a public discourse is often subsumed under the vague shifting goalpost herd behaviour of national'ism'. As a blanket nationalism is used to cover anything from refusing to divulge the connection between a corporate and political party to rationale for providing contract to a certain company or means by which a decision is made. 

Transparency and accountability on policy decisions made to public is national interest. Masking the same in slogans of loyalty is cultish nationalism. 

Affordability and accessibility of services by mass of public is national interest. Exclusive rights over services at higher costs and provided with class centric names and labels is divisive nationalism. 

Power to engage with the State and share concerns is national interest. Stymie all dissent through slander campaign and intimidation is bully nationalism. 

Kumarappa would have asked the question of how the social value is demonstrated in all platforms before it is accepted as a move aimed at national interest.

He would want us to measure the benefits of high speed trains in the lives of those few who can afford it as against cheaper more affordable  travel and the impact of the travel on the lives who use it.

He would ask on what basis is India purchasing such huge amount of arms and whom will it be used against? He would ask how many Indians benefit from such arms purchase.

He would ask us to reflect on how the industries that are identified as ''sunrise'' sectors by the governments across the country by diverse political parties do not change with their ideologies. 

He will point out that it is UnEthical Panel if an elected women Parliamentarian by 600,000+ people can be dislodged by a handful of other members with perverted questions because she dared to challenge a prominent corporate.

JC Kumarappa today is celebrated globally as the first ecological economist, and probably the only Indian economist that tried to Indianize economics. On his birthday (Jan 4th) it is good to remember his framework to interrogate public policy, industrial focus and what we call 'growth' or 'development'.   

- Ram

featured image courtesy: Baskar Manimegalai photography