Ideas for India

Ideas for India is a new website which collects academics’ and World Bank staff’s opinions on Indian economic development.  The idea is that Indian policymakers and other decision-makers will visit the site to better understand ideas and evidence on policy issues.  In short, the site’s About Us page states the aim “to inject more evidence into policy debates, and make these discussions more accessible to specialists and non-specialists interested in the issues of growth and development in India.”

Most of the current authors are rich-world educated and many hold posts at North American or British Universities, with a small percentage working in India.  These are very accomplished people.  My first click brought up a contributing author’s profile which included Columbia, Princeton, Stanford, and the IMF – to name a few.  He was born in India and completed his undergraduate work in Bombay.

The Economist published an article on the website, which begins,

Here is a paradox. India churns out lots of brainboxes, including clever economists who thrive at home and abroad. Almost anywhere in the world you can drop into a bookshop, an international development institution, a university or a prospering company and likely as not be confronted by bright Indians offering sharp analyses of how best to fight poverty, create wealth and promote innovation. Yet the performance of the Indian economy itself, over the decades, fell well behind (most of) the rest of Asia.

Why is the economy in such bad shape if there are so many well-trained Indian economists?  The Economist suggests,

Lots of possible explanations exist. Discussing economic ideas is quite different from applying them. India’s stifling bureaucracy, or its demanding politics, or perhaps its troubled universities, have driven bright economists abroad. And perhaps the country’s brightest economists are simply rubbish at communicating sharp ideas to the policymakers, activists, media types, business leaders and members of the public who could make use of them.

The italics are mine.  I am not surprised that many Indian economists would desire a better academic environment abroad.  Yet I wonder how many of them left India with the intention or onus to return to assist in economic development at home.

Moreover, I wonder if sharing opinions via a website – like Ideas for India is attempting – is a more than just a collection of likeminded academics bouncing the ball to each other.  Will this website of policy recommendations be read by Indians?  Be referred to by policymakers?  And can transfer of useful information be done affectively through such a forum?

Finally, I ponder: Are there other similar projects already underway?  I’d be interested to learn more if anyone is familiar with similar models and their impact.

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