Book Review | Armchair economics! This room is all elephant

The book's omissions are glaring, leaving critical gaps in its analysis of India's economic landscape

In 2015, Adrian van den Hoven, a Dutch watchmaker, introduced the world to the term, ‘slobalisation’, in a sharp critique of the inevitable backlash against globalisation and the rise of economic protectionism as a means of survival by nation-states. This prescient insight has only grown more relevant, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

In the shifting geopolitical landscape, Amitabh Kant, India’s sherpa to the G-20 presidency, and Amit Kapoor, the honorary chairperson at the Institute of Competitiveness, India, have penned a compelling narrative in their book, The Elephant Moves — India’s New Place in the World. The book boldly adopts the American hypothesis of competitiveness, championed by the legendary professors Michael E. Porter and Christian H.M. Ketels. However, it is a one-trick pony, ignoring alternative frameworks like dependency theory and world-systems theory. But why were these economic theories from the Global South overlooked?

In its vivid portrayal of the figures who orchestrated India’s breathtaking dance with capitalism, too, the book mysteriously omits several pivotal figures. Where are the titans like Neville Wadia, Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Ardeshir Darabshaw Shroff, and John Mathai? Moreover, why are today’s magnates such as Ambani and Adani not discussed?

The book’s omissions are glaring, leaving critical gaps in its analysis of India’s economic landscape. Key figures of the Green Revolution — B.P. Pal, D.R. Mehta, R.H. Richharia — are absent, along with any substantial critique of the Green Revolution itself. The intricate economics behind seed companies like Kaveri Seeds, Mahyco, and ProAgro Seed Company and Monsanto are overlooked entirely. Additionally, the environmental impact of government policies, farmer suicides and genesis of farmer protests are not addressed.

When addressing the license raj during the time of Indira Gandhi, the book fails to mention the pervasive impact of the black market. The authors gush over success stories from other nations like Japan, East Asian Tigers and Denmark, but when it comes to India’s own “missing middle syndrome,” they turn a blind eye. It misses to mention how India has become a ‘laundry state’ for Russian oil and its detrimental impact in the long run for its own economy, energy security, diplomatic relations, or environmental sustainability.

With all the data at their disposal, Kant and Kapoor could have built a coliseum of economic ideas or perhaps, even crafted their own indigenous theory. Instead, they've constructed a comfortable armchair, one that lulls the reader to sleep rather than sparking a fire of critical analysis. Despite its attempt to make macroeconomics more accessible, the book remains somewhat didactic and esoteric, falling short of offering a deep, grassroots-level critique of India’s complexities.

The Elephant Moves — India’s New Place in the World

By Amitabh Kant and Amit Kapoor

Penguin Business

pp. 493; Rs 999

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