Basu's Miscellany

Oxford University Press have just brought out a collection of Kaushik Basu's essays and articles that have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the world as An Economist's Miscellany

One set of  resonances that the book's title makes is to the delightful set of writings collected in A Mathematician's Miscellany by J E Littlewood, and Littlewood's Miscellany by Bela Bollobas.  Having read these in the dim and distant past, the announcement of Kaushik Basu's book gave me a chance to refresh my memory of these (not very heavy) volumes.

A memorable quote in A Mathematician's Miscellany,  "The surprising thing about this paper is that a man who could write it would"  applies to An Economist's Miscellany as well... along the lines of "Where does he find the time?!"  Basu is, in addition to being Chief Economic Adviser in the Ministry of Finance, Government of India, the  C. Marks Professor in the Department of Economics at Cornell University. In addition to holding these positions of considerable responsibility, he has also written and edited a large number of books, journals articles and reports on matters economic. The volume of essays showcase other dimensions of Basu's interests.

‘Philosophy has to be deductive, poetry romantic, plays and fiction humorous, and politics intriguing if they are to catch my attention,’ writes Kaushik Basu. All these interests are on display in An Economist’s Miscellany, which brings together an eclectic collection of writings on the world of academe, politics, and policy.

Basu sweeps a vast canvas, from recession and the global economic crises, foreign policy, and financial scams, to art and aesthetics. In this slim volume he offers unique glimpses of his inner world—his excitement and apprehensions on moving from academics to government and policymaking; his thoughts on his mother turning 90; and persons, ideas, and books that have influenced him.

An Economist’s Miscellany also puts on display his literary forays—translations of two Bengali short stories and a four-act play. The stories are hilarious and yet have scathing social content: one illustrates the intricacies of moneylending and the debt trap, while the other provides a critique of religious obscurantism and bigotry. The play, light-hearted and facetious, presents a slice of everyday life in an academic setting. Basu has written extensively on diverse fields of economics and, more generally, the social sciences. This collection displays the full range of his wisdom and humour, and above all his celebration of everyday human follies and foibles. Memoirs, travel writing, fiction, essays, and games—they are all here, and will give readers not just the pleasure of reading but also ideas and riddles to ponder over.

Ashish Nandy observes: What makes economics a dismal science is not only its dehumanized, asocial, antiseptic worldview but also often its humourless, self-sure, pompous practitioners. An Economist’s Miscellany is a charming, playful, self-questioning book that refuses to vend certitudes. Instead it invites the reader to enter the convivial world of Kaushik Basu where the discipline is not an all-consuming, clenched-teeth profession but a more modest, uncertain, human enterprise, contaminated by life.’

In our Essays and Nonfiction section, in hardcover, 240 pages, Rs 345. ISBN: 978019807250