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Saturday, Jun 03, 2006

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The many Galbraiths

To some he was an academic in the classical mould who enjoyed delivering his brand of economics from the exclusive Harvard pulpit — the lofty perch seemed to make him the economists' economist; to others he was full of quotations ("the chaos that works," describing India; "they make astrology look respectable," commenting on economic forecasting models). To some he was the erudite scholar who "bestrode the world like a Colossus," advising Presidents endlessly on public policy and affairs of state; to others he was the voice of wisdom who added to the credibility and lustre of even people like Kennedy.

To some he was the tallest Keynesian around who wanted the whiplash of state intervention every now and then to sort out the inherent imperfections of free market economies; to others he was the meanest economist of his time who had ideas about capitalism that were clearly dated.

To some he was a social scientist well-versed in political journalism, who had accidentally strayed into economics; to others he was the only economist of his time who had a Toynbeeian grasp of history.

To some he was an unhealthy sceptic about the consequences of growth; to others he was a capitalist with a social conscience troubled by the widening inequalities consequent to untrammelled growth.

To me, and my generation, he was a great visionary who explained succinctly how the `dismal science' worked, articulating new insights with a freshness that was intoxicating. He was also the great `wordsmith' who transformed the way economics was written, both for the lay public and the initiated.

To most of us, his writing was a joy to read (especially as he used numbers sparingly); with his perfect fusion of style and substance, form and content he could not only educate but entertain too. Seemingly, he wrote so we could quote!

(The author is President, Telekonnectors Ltd, Chennai.)

R. T. Narayanan

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