Kanta Ranadive: A Forgotten Indian Political Economist

Alex M. Thomas[1]

This post is part of a larger attempt to document and revive the economic ideas of the forgotten Indian political economists. Earlier, I had written introductory pieces on the economic ideas of Krishna Bharadwaj and K. N. Raj. Like many other Indian economists who have been forgotten, so too has Kanta Ranadive. She is the author of Income Distribution: The Unsolved Puzzle (Oxford University Press, 1978) and The Political Economy of Poverty (Orient Longman, 1990). Besides these two books, she has published several articles in Artha Vijnana, Bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Economics and Statistics, Economic & Political Weekly, and Indian Economic Journal

Kanta Ranadive figures in passing in two recent newspaper articles; the first article by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha (July 28, 2020) contributes to the history of Indian economic thought by focusing on the education and educators at the Bombay School of Economics; the second article by Kadambari Shah and Shreyas Narla (March 30, 2022) provides a brief on India’s women economists and policy makers.

Ranadive’s 1978 book on income distribution is mentioned by Agnar Sandmo as one of the “more recent surveys” on income distribution in the Handbook of Income Distribution, Volume 2 (2015), edited by Anthony Atkinson and François Bourguignon. A similar description of Ranadive’s book—one of the “important surveys on income distribution”—is found in Scott Carter’s chapter ‘Heterodox theories of distribution’ in The Routledge Handbook of Heterodox Economics (2017), edited by Tae-Hee Jo, Lynne Chester, and Carlo D’Ippoliti.

A brief life sketch

Ranadive spent most of her teaching career at the Department of Economics, University of Bombay. During 1976-7, she was Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. In 1987, Ranadive gave the Kale Memorial Lecture at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (GIPE), which was published the same year in Artha Vijnana under the title ‘Town and Country in Economy in Transition’. Ranadive was made an honorary fellow of the Asiatic Society of Bombay in 1991; she delivered a lecture there on 22nd November 1993, which was published in the following year under the title ‘Market, Democracy and Unequal Relation’ in the Economic & Political Weekly.

After her demise on 15th April 1996, Ashok Mitra and Prabhat Patnaik wrote obituaries in the Economic & Political Weekly, and Meghnad Desai in the Times of India. According to Mitra, “[h]er empirical findings led her to one or two important theorems on the nature of social exploitation and income inequalities which were close to standard Marxist formulations. She, in other words, reached to her Marxism along her private route.” But Mitra does not tell us anything more about her “one or two important theorems”. Mitra informs us that Ranadive “was a fiercely private person.” Patnaik’s obituary is the form of a letter to the editor, which is in turn based on the resolution passed by the condolence meeting by the teachers of Jawaharlal Nehru University on April 22. “She”, Patnaik writes, “will be remembered for her pioneering research work on theoretical and empirical issues relating to income distribution.” Sadly, no such intellectual remembrance has been visible.

In his letter, Desai provides a personal account of his interactions with Ranadive, and therefore we get some insight into her persona. Desai, along with Vikas Chitre, belonged to the first batch of economics PhD students who were mentored by Ranadive, who had just joined University of Bombay (in 1960). Desai’s closing remarks are valuable in understanding the milieu in which Ranadive worked: “Not only was she a super teacher. But she was also a pioneering woman economist in the Indian context where even today in India as abroad very few women occupy the top echelon. It would not have been easy to survive in the male atmosphere of the department. She not only survived; she made her mark.” 1960 was also the year that Krishna Bharadwaj submitted her PhD thesis to the University of Bombay.

The Political Economy of Income Distribution

Ranadive’s 1978 book Income Distribution has its origins in the six lectures she gave on ‘Theories of Distribution’ at M. S. University, Baroda in 1968. It “is a survey of the economics of distribution”. As she writes in the preface, “[t]he size distribution of income involves, on the one hand, technical problems of concepts and measurement and, on the other, philosophical issues like justice and equity.” She acknowledges Maurice Dobb, the Marxist economist, for his comments on the chapter on ‘The Ricardo Problem’.

In this book, she critically engages with theories of personal and functional income distribution, reviews the economic ideas of Smith, Ricardo and Marx, presents the empirical behaviour of income shares, criticizes the marginalist production function and the elasticity of substitution, discusses market structure and degree of monopoly in relation to Kalecki’s of income distribution, and ends with a discussion on the investment-output ratio and savings propensities.

Not surprisingly, Ranadive favoured Kalecki’s theory and not the marginal productivity theory of income distribution because the former recognized structural power. As she concludes her critical discussion of Kalecki’s theory, “[t]through explicit recognition of the role of market imperfections, oligopoly agreements and relative bargaining strength of trade unions and employers in determining wages and profit margins, Kalecki’s model makes distribution a function of class conflict.”

Poverty: A Marxian Approach

Her 1990 book The Political Economy of Poverty was put together based on her 1987 R. C. Dutt Lectures on Political Economy. In the first chapter/lecture, Ranadive argues against the narrow approach to understanding poverty, and calls for a holistic approach to understand poverty. As she writes, “[t]he only way to understand the modality of both continuity and change is therefore to have the whole network of closely interrelated concepts, because social phenomena are inherently dynamic in the sense that they are parts of an overall social structure which needs reproduction for its continued existence” (p. 27). After all, as she argues, “[a] realistic appraisal of ‘necessaries’ cannot be made without taking into account the fact that spending habits are socially determined” (p. 9). According to me, such holistic approaches to economics are available in the works of the political economists such as Smith, Ricardo and Marx.

The second chapter/lecture ‘Poverty and Social Formation’ is an application of, in Ranadive’s own words, the “Marxian paradigm”. She employs the Marxian categories of property, production conditions, materialism, labour, among others to situate poverty as a structural characteristic of capitalist societies. In all this, she highlights the need to recognize the nature of power relations. Her references demonstrate engagement with a wide range of ideas; for instance, she cites the work of Braudel, Brenner, Hobsbawm, Kalecki, Kuznets, Leontief, Polanyi, and Titmuss. In this chapter, she critically reviews the economic ideas of the classical economists, especially Smith and Ricardo, and arrives at the conclusion that history “has no role even in classical economics as a closer scrutiny would indicate” (p. 33). Though I think that there is enough primary textual evidence to contest her claim, it does not seem appropriate for this introductory essay on Ranadive’s life and work.

The way forward

To conclude, the account of Kanta Ranadive as a “caring” and “demanding” (to borrow from Desai) teacher is an inspiring one, but also a difficult one to emulate because our universities have succumbed to managerialism. Second, there is much to be done in the history of Indian economic thought. A review article on Ranadive’s 1978 book, which contextualises the questions around the theories and empirics of income distribution would be insightful. Finally, her work offers a social approach to understanding income distribution and poverty, in the tradition of Marxian political economy; consequently, her work ought to be included in courses on Development Economics, Labour Economics, and Marxian Economics. 


Desai, Meghnad. 1996, ‘Kanta Ranadive’, Letter, Times of India, Mumbai, Monday, April 29.

Mitra, Ashok. 1996, ‘Radical in her own Manner’, Economic & Political Weekly, vol. 31, no. 16-17, April 20-27, p. 989. 

Patnaik, Prabhat. 1996, ‘Kanta Ranadive’, Letter, Economic & Political Weekly, vol. 31, no. 20, May 18, p. 1170.

Ranadive, Kanta. 1978, Income Distribution: The Unsolved Puzzle, Bombay: Oxford University Press.

– – 1990, The Political Economy of Poverty, Calcutta: Orient Longman.

[i] Alex M. Thomas teaches economics at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India. His primary field of research is the history of economic thought. His recent book, Macroeconomics: An Introduction (2021, Cambridge UP), is critical of marginalist macroeconomics, provides an alternative by drawing from the classical political  economy tradition, and adopts a critical pedagogy. He has published blog posts on the Indian political economists Krishna Bharadwaj and K. N. Raj.

A Detoxed Heterodox Praxis to Lead Authentic Diversification and Decolonisation of Economics

By Lynne Chester

The mission of D-Econ (Diversifying and Decolonising Economics) is to promote inclusivity within the content and institutions of the economics discipline due to the dominance of Eurocentric thinking. This situation has occurred because of the longstanding exclusion of alternate views — based on identity (gender, race, geography), and theoretical-methodological discrimination — from the teaching of economics in higher education institutions. Thus, D-Econ argues, the knowledge base and debate of issues to be relevant to the world’s majority needs to include non-white and non-male voices as well as heterodox approaches.

D-Econ’s mission is framed at countering mainstream (conventional) economics. I think this ambition needs to be bolder. It needs to extend beyond the mainstream to explicitly encompass the entire social science discipline of economics.


The mainstream is ‘guilty as charged’. I think many within our heterodox community can be similarly charged.

Many sites that determine ‘legitimate heterodox knowledge’ cannot be characterised as always displaying tolerance and respect for difference. Contributions to heterodox conferences, workshops, journals, teachings, and more, are marred — not just on the odd occasion — by one perspective asserted as the ‘truth’, or reluctance (sometimes even open hostility) for constructive dialogue about the contributions of alternative perspectives. These practices replicate orthodoxy’s ills.

Heterodox economic scholars also have an ethical and moral obligation — thus responsibility — to ‘diversify and decolonise’ their teaching, research, and other practices given our own experiences of marginalisation, exclusion, and disregard by the mainstream. To not do so is tantamount to condoning the discriminatory practices that have buttressed the mainstream’s hegemony.

Diversification and decolonisation will not be — but should be — innate to all members of the heterodox economics community. Deliberative actions are required that require more than — as needed with the mainstream — ‘changing the narrative’.

The praxis of many heterodox economists needs to change. By praxis, I mean the activity of human beings (in this case, heterodox economists) that directly shapes both aspects of social reality (in this case, the teaching of economics and its application to explaining social reality) and themselves as producers of knowledge.


Decolonialisation is not about rewriting or erasing history. Nor can it be achieved by academics and students completing an anti-slavery awareness training module. Decolonisation is also more than the revision of curriculum content, assessment tasks, and reading lists to include scholarly works by women and persons of colour.

Decolonisation requires collective critical critique of knowledge creation through an historical lens — by whom, where, why, and how — to illuminate the embedded colonial practices that are the foundations of existing gender, racial, ethnicity, disability, class, sexuality, geographic, and other divisions.

Decolonisation also requires the ‘practice’ of an ongoing reflexive process given the institutionalised nature, and reproduction, of inequalities in the higher education sector, the primary site of knowledge production.

Decolonisation should not be conflated with diversification. Diversification is more than moving beyond the dominance of white heterosexual Eurocentric male voices in the creation and dissemination of knowledge.

Diversification is also much more deliberative than job advertisements stating that ‘women and minorities are encouraged to apply’, much more than an institution providing training in ‘conscious bias’, and much more than special journal issues, editorial boards, conference panels and workshops including women, persons of colour, or scholars from the Global South. These actions are mere tokenism, as is the advocacy and not the overt practice of theoretical-methodological pluralism in knowledge production and pluralism in the topics investigated.

To achieve and maintain substantive and authentic diversification and decolonisation of economics, the praxis of all heterodox economists needs to embrace a conjunction of interrelated actions. A single action is inadequate for the task. Moreover, unending vigilance is required to embed the ‘gains’ so that these become conceived as ‘norms’.

There are, I contend, four key interrelated actions for heterodoxy to ‘detoxify’ and lead the way on diversifying and decolonising the social science discipline of economics.

One key action is transparency about one’s ‘positionality’.  I am referring to a scholar’s social ontology — her ‘world view’ of the nature, character, basic features, structures, and constituents of social reality — and her epistemological views (how knowledge is created by, for example, observation and induction or model building and deduction). Analytical constructs reflect a chosen research methodology which, in turn, reflects ontological and epistemological beliefs. These should be rendered explicit.


The purpose of social inquiry, and the practice of economics as a social science, should be to explain an ever-changing and increasingly complex social reality. The knowledge produced needs to accord with social reality to be relevant to the many and be able to address persistent issues and crises such as the climate emergency, inequality, and global pandemics. The analytical approach of the mainstream denotes reality as a closed system devoid of social, political, and historical contexts. Thus, issues are falsely framed, and the approach is the antithesis of the research task at hand. Positional transparency evokes openness about the ‘methodological position’ the researcher has taken to the problem under investigation and thus, appropriateness to explain social reality.

Positionality reflects a scholar’s gender, race, ethnicity, history, nationality, geographic location, political views and more. Thus, positional transparency is interrelated with a second action — acknowledgement of the social construction of knowledge, and the exclusionary role that language can play.

Knowledge is situated. Any knowledge created is inevitably framed by the lives and experiences of the knowledge producers (and reflected through their positionality). The language of mainstream scholarship presents it as ‘objective’ and ‘scientific’, and thus authoritative, not influenced by the positions and lives of its creators. This is inherently dishonest and should be always called out.

Explicit acknowledgment that knowledge creation is situated in lived experiences — and thus, are arguments/analyses — recognises that a plurality of explanations is possible. As Sheila Dow wrote 25 years ago, ‘no one knowledge system can capture totality because each is partial, reflecting a vision of reality’.  Visibility of the positioned nature of knowledge will mean greater integrity in scholarship.

Further, the rhetoric deployed by knowledge producers plays a significant role in silencing underrepresented voices, and the reproduction of insular communities. Rhetoric can act as a social control mechanism by dismissing the scholarship of others as ‘biased’ or ‘unscientific’. This should not only be revealed but heterodox economists should consciously seek not to replicate. This, in turn, means clear recognition that the English language actively creates, not just conveys, the message.

Acknowledgment of the social construction of knowledge and language use leads to a third action—a transformative approach to knowledge building and learning. With the inclusion of new information and different perspectives, frank, open conversations can expose the realities of marginalisation, discrimination, and power relations, and societal privilege (not necessarily intellectual superiority) resulting in the ubiquity of white, male, Eurocentric voices.  Knowledge creation and learning then become transformative processes of mutual critique and discovery.

Transparency about positionality, meaningful recognition of the social construction of knowledge and language, and transformative processes for knowledge production and learning are the foundations to enable achievement of a fourth critical action — a decolonised economic pedagogy.

As posited by Kvangraven and Kesar, a decolonised economic pedagogy is effectively structured around at least the following: the economy is consistently treated as embedded within the social sphere; explicit acknowledgement of the bias and values inherent to different perspectives, and the repression of some epistemologies by others; not relying on one perspective or approach nor advocating universality of explanation; exposing students to the Eurocentric underpinnings of different theoretical perspectives; the presentation of knowledge within its colonial and post-colonial contexts; exposing the spectrum of power inequalities within communities; and, taking a student-centred approach to pedagogy requiring teacher-student co-responsibility to create a common co-operative learning space and to create knowledge.

Ongoing attention and effort focused on these four interrelated actions as a conjunction — by all heterodox economists, not a few — will drive meaningful change to the practice and teaching of economics through authentic diversification and decolonisation. If not, the praxis of heterodoxy will remain as susceptible to charges of insularity, bias, and discrimination as the mainstream.

These comments extend those I made, earlier this year, as a participant in the URPE@ASSA panel Diversity in Heterodox Economics: Radical Solutions for an Old Problem organised by D-Econ, and the inaugural webinar of the Association of Heterodox Economics series Heterodox Economics Goes Global .

Lynne Chester is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.

Note: This post was originally published at the Progress in Political Economy (PPE) blog and is reproduced here with the permission of the author.

Image credit: Brooke Anderson

Decolonising Knowledge in the Medium of a Monolithic Language

by Farwa Sial

‘If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world.’

– Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Matters of form, usually viewed as ornament, are commonly in fact matters of argument.’

– McCloskey (1992:56).

This short article explores the construction of Economic Neologism in English and its global impact on shaping implicit and explicit policies in countries around the world. I focus on how economic neologisms in English language project an air of neutrality, but in fact have no basis in the socio-economic realities of developing countries. This is demonstrated through explaining 

a) the role of English as an organised system of thought,

b) the nature of academic English in economics and its influence on developing countries,

c) a recent example of the use of Value of Statistical Life (VSL) in Pakistan based on a misguided comparison with the US, and

d) the limitations of interpreting other languages in English. 

English as an Organised System of Thought

One of the great successes of empire, binding its economic and cultural usurpation of the colonies, was the proliferation of English as a global language and as the only ‘official’ language of the world.  The strength of this legacy has defied time; the diverse geographies, languages and cultures of India are more strongly overcome by the use of English today than by any local language, signifying how English, as the language of the colonial state, took precedence over the many languages of India.

Although the Francophone sphere has remained a well-preserved niche, this enclave is no match for the global stamp of English. Outside the colonies, English has very much overshadowed the regionalism of the European Union (EU). International organisations such as the UN, IMF and the World Bank continue to lean towards the ascendency of English, in spite of their charters of multiple languages. The rise of the Chinese language as a formidable opponent, is uncertain.

As the most dominant currency, English is not particular to race, but cuts across class and geography. Its exclusiveness is not so much in the basics of the spoken word but in the intricacies of how it fuels knowledge. People across countries can communicate on some basic level using minimal English, but the source of its inaccessibility lies in the dense articulation of the language as a specialised realm of knowledge production.  This is not straightforward, since many academics from developed countries do not use English as a first language; on the other hand, many in developing countries have learned it from their earliest years of education. Nonetheless, a distinction emerges in the use of English, not simply as a language of communication but as an organised system of thought. The empire’s proliferation of language reproduced a structure of socialisation, which streamlined a linear set of ideas as opposed to embracing diverse and alternative systems of thought.

The Russian linguist V.N Voloshinov, explored the origins of language as an inherently social phenomenon, and saw language as the most efficient medium of capturing the dynamics of material changes. He described the ‘word’ as ‘the most sensitive index of social changes’ (Voloshinov 1973:19). Importantly, for Voloshinov, the significance of words was not just limited to their representational role of capturing change but went beyond the symbolism, enabling a transformation, which added new dimensions and layers to a word’s original meaning.

‘‘[l]ooked at from the angle of our concerns, the essence of this problem comes down to how actual existence…determines the sign and how the sign reflects and refracts existence in its process of generation (ibid:19).

Voloshinov aimed to develop a theory of linkages between structure and agency in the framework of particular semantic frameworks. His emphasis here is on how signs are influenced; refracting the material and social existence of a phenomenon. The socialised impact of English, as an imperial language lies not simply in what it signifies but also in what forms its refractions take on. Patois and Pidgin English are some particular linguistic examples. Additionally, English has also been instrumental in exporting Anglo-American soft power to developing countries. This is visible especially in the formation and the role of media in developing countries (Suleria 2016). These derivative languages and effectively hollowed cultural influences are accompanied by the shaping of the global academic landscape, with English as the monopolistic medium for exploring knowledge. The consumption of the English language, precedes consumption, in any sphere of knowledge. In economics, the refractive role of English lies in how it shapes ideas and economic policies.

The Medium is the Message

As a conduit of pedagogy, the English language has a history of not simply conveying the message but actively creating it. Concepts like ‘western enlightenment’, ‘scientific rationality’ of the market and a consequent linear vision of growth, encompass a message of neutrality because the language embeds an exclusivity, canonising a singular system of thought. This canonisation is fuelled by ideologies, which seek homogenisation across geographies; the ‘Washington Consensus’ for instance was exported beyond Washington but never as a consensus. In addition, compared to other social sciences, economic concepts and neologisms, carry the potential of shaping the entire direction of scholarship. A brief look at any basic course in the history of economic thought verifies this.

The ascendency of neoclassical economics and its impact in transforming the entire discipline to become an imitation of natural sciences had a reductive impact on the scope of economics as a social science. For Mirowski (1993) the pursuit of projecting economics as a ‘science’, borrowing metaphors from physics and resorting to mathematical formalism is rooted in the Western tradition of economics. By imitating natural sciences and giving a central value to empiricism, neoclassical economics transforms how metaphors operate. This is evident in metaphors, which constitute the conceptual basis and pedagogy of economics using natural laws but ultimately bearing little resemblance to the social processes, which constitute an economy. Statistical rigour, and mathematical proofs thus often take a life of their own by validating a seemingly value-free concept.

If economics is considered as a repository of selectivity as well as of careful omissions (McCloskey 1992) the responsibility of exploring the structure of metanarrative behind the curated message is a constant struggle for those outside this thought system. Other languages are inserted in the English language as loan words, strictly tied to culture (such as the Chinese concept of Guanxi or the Japanese business philosophy Kaizen). Words also sneak into English through a shared history of colonial/imperial experiences.  However, ‘foreign languages’ have no power to determine economic methods or produce similar neologisms. Economic concepts in English on the other hand are canonised, refracted and socialised, as the most objective and rational ways of determining other concepts such as efficiency, growth and ultimately, ways of living life.  The usage of the Value of Statistical Life (VSL) in context to the COVID-19 pandemic and its internationalisation as a ‘global policy’ tool is of relevance here.

Interrogating the Universality of Economic Neologisms: The Value of Statistical Life (VSL)

The Value of a Statistical Life (VSL)  is normally used to monetise fatality risks in cost-benefit analyses and reflects the amount of money that a society is willing to pay for the reduction in the probability of the loss of a human life. This human life is generally, a statistical, hypothetical person on a population-average basis and refers to the hypothetical victim of a circumstance or of a policy or the lack thereof, and fully discounts class, ethnicity, nationality, religion or other characteristics that such a person may or may not have. It is designed as an objective, value-neutral concept to be applicable in contexts, where cost-benefit analysis would enable a synthesis or reach an objective resolution, to an empirical evaluation of saving lives. 

As a statistical measure of predicting fatality risks, VSL, like Ogden tables[1] etc. is a construct and subject to the broader operations of how an economy is structured. This method of assessing risks to human lives are ultimately a valuation exercise and the underlying ethical concerns are tied to how capitalist systems perceive value and public utility. This is important since the construction and adoption of VSL in the US has a complex history, rooted in its origins in the Cold War.

These considerations remain unexplored, especially in the internationalisation of the concept. For example, VSL for climate change, calibrated to different contexts of developing countries, is in widespread use. These calculations do not address the fact that climate change in developing countries has been primarily led by accumulative patterns initialised and deepened by developed countries, rooted in the history of colonialism. For those arguing for a long-standing case of climate reparations, such applications of VSL to developing countries would be akin to technical fixes which pay no attention to history. Tailoring the VSL to country-contexts also raises questions about the criteria of implementing VSL based on mitigating fatality risk. Although VSL had origins in the Cold War, it has not emerged as a basis for measuring the fatality risks of soldiers or casualties in recent conflicts, for instance in the ‘War on Terror’ in Afghanistan and the invasion in Iraq.  Needless to say, in situations which  are invariably related to the opportunity cost to human life, VSL is an objectionable measure.

However, the current Covid-19 pandemic has revived the appeal of using economic modelling based on VSL. In a recent paper, Barnett-Howell & Mobarak (2020) used VSL to advocate social distancing policies in some “developed” countries as opposed to others, in the developing world. Pakistan was one of those countries cited in the paper. The Government of Pakistan eased its lockdown on May 9, 2020, with the Planning Minister invoking this paper among other reasons to support the government’s policy stance. As a result of the ease of the lockdown, the infection count in Pakistan increased from 36,000 (April-May 2020) to 165,062 (June 2020).  A full account of the paper, its critique and the situation in Pakistan has already been covered succinctly by Khurram Hussain and also debated by academics and activists here (in Urdu language). Without repeating the details of their critique, I summarise the bases for the largely erroneous use of VSL in this case, as follows.

Barnet-Howell and Mobarak’s estimated country-specific costs of mortality and use of VSL is based on another paper by Viscusi and Masterman (2017). The latter employed an analysis of data from the US Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) to value VSL, “to avoid hypothetical bias.” Referring to low to upper-middle income countries as “economies” as opposed to upper income “countries” Viscusi & Masterman conclude from a base U.S. VSL of $9.6 million, that different countries value human life differently[2].  Following this paper, Barnet-Howell and Mobarak’s used this US VSL of $9.6 million, to then discuss essentially Covid-19 policy recommendations, employing the VSL figures suggested for different developing countries.

A first problem with this analysis is that this value does not in any way reflect the value that the US society places on a human life vis-à-vis the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead it is actually a representation of hypothetical costs to US policy makers and businesses, of making marginal improvements and mitigations to all those risks, be they in the workplace or by the quality of civic infrastructure and so on, which affect human life.  Aside from issues of monopoly pricing across the wider economy, the US has the most artificially inflated healthcare costs in the world. It would follow that VSL (if indeed a normal good as Barnett-Howell & Mobarak seem to be insinuating) would thus be equally over-valuated.

This situation is not true of other countries including emerging economies, in which different systems of goods and services pricings persist. Using this highly (and artificially) overvaluated US base VSL as a concrete foundation for “upper income countries” as the basis for an extrapolated comparison, is thus unjustified.  Alongside having amongst the highest global rates of infection and deaths, the United States also has one of the highest unemployment rates and attendant social unrest, as a result of the pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic, if anything shows that life in the US has become exceedingly cheap, and indeed far cheaper than one would have imagined, merely a decade ago. This application of VSL in this manner, assumes that monopoly-pricing in the US, is somehow a base condition by which to measure the rest of the world. Such attempts at valuation only serve to insinuate a global marketplace for human lives, almost imperialistically conforming to the norms of the American market and economy.

Interpreting Methods

Methodological problems are often also problems of unchallenged ideas. Economic ideas, concepts and textbooks in English are translated and absorbed globally, in effect strengthening the canon as opposed to opening the space, for careful examination. Translations are not interpretations. Describing the third world literature’s feeble attempts at expanding text in other languages, Aijaz reminds us that a

 ‘mere aggregation of texts and individuals does not give rise to the construction of a counter-cannon… for the latter to arise there has to be the cement of a powerful ideology’ (Aijaz 1992:93).

Attempts at counter-ideology are made more complex, by the fact that knowledge production in English reproduces the erasure of knowledge production in other languages; many academics writing in English in fact lose formal writing and speaking skills, in their native languages.

For these reasons decolonising knowledge in economics is a complex process since it entails excavating alternatives, which demand a reimagination of possibilities and limits. Being truly multilingual would mean equal attention to all languages. Separating the objectivity of the language from its message and pluralising and empowering pedagogical practices in other languages is a start.

[1] The ‘Ogden’ tables help actuaries, lawyers and others calculate the lump sum compensation due in personal injury and fatal accident cases.

[2] According to their calculation’s lower income countries value human life at of $171,000, lower-middle income countries at $420,000 to $676,000, upper-middle income countries at $1.23 million to $2.09 million and finally the average upper income countries at $6.40 million. 

Diversify and Decolonise your Economics Reading List- Fall 2020

As the Summer draws to a close, we bring together our list of the best and most interesting books from the first half of this year. Most Economics reading lists that one typically sees from the usual sources are usually stocked with books written predominantly by white men, or those that focus on the US or Western Europe, or approach questions from a mainstream perspective. We include books that we hope not only present a wider selection of books in terms of who writes them, but also in terms of the topic and/or perspective. 

Typically we release our list in the Summer, but unfortunately this pandemic has delayed us on several fronts as well. Hopefully, our Pandemic Reading List kept you busy. And we hope that after six months of COVID-19 related lockdowns, your schedules have become more predictable so that you have some time to peruse some or all of these books. In this list we included books that re-examine digitalization of finance, mass consumption of chocolate, the role of corruption in development, the production of data, modern slavery, and neoliberalism. It reflects our belief that structural racism, sexism, and imperialism shape our lives, and any understanding of economic phenomenon is incomplete without an understanding of structural power. 

The Exclusionary Politics of Digital Financial Inclusion – Mobile Money, Gendered Walls

By Serena Natile

This is important interdisciplinary book ties together the political economy of digital financial inclusion with socio-legal, feminist, financial and political analysis in a very fruitful manner. It critically interrogates how Kenya’s pathbreaking mobile money platform M-Pesa has been built on narratives and institutional arrangements that present M-Pesa as a success, while it is premised on a logic of opportunity rather than distribution. Bringing in a feminist lens to the study of financial inclusion is particularly important and timely as it is becoming increasingly clear that such efforts have gendered implications. Natile also connects the case of M-Pesa to broader development debates about social entrepreneurship and philanthrocapitalism, which makes the book relevant for anyone interested in understanding social policy in development today. 

Planetary Mine – Territories of Extraction under Late Capitalism

Martín Arboleda

In this new book, Arboleda discusses several contemporary phenomenon like mechanization of mining, the emergence of Global Value Chains, especially in East Asia, and the use of state violence to weave an interesting and compelling story of extraction and exploitation of natural resources. However, this is not just a book about the political economy of research extraction in Chile in particular and Latin America, generally, but it uses resource extraction as an analytical entry point to theorize uneven geographical development. This is done in this book in the tradition of the World Systems approach, though it claims to break with the tradition of dependency theory and uneven exchange, especially insofar as Arboleda emphasizes that the processes outlined transcend national economies and are based on a global class antagonism. This book presents an understanding of imperialism as one of the forms in which global value relations assert themselves. Planetary Mines is a must-read for a fresh examination of the global inequality and the asymmetric relationships along the global production assembly line. 

Empire, Political Economy, and the Diffusion of Chocolate in the Atlantic World

Irene Fattacciu

This new book tells the story of how chocolate came to be the product that so many of us love today, while centering its colonial origins and its current structures of production that are dominated by US and European multinational corporations. Fattacciu brings us the uncomfortable truth of how production of chocolate has long been tainted with coerced and unethically sourced labour, by taking us on a journey of how cocoa became the first seed to cross the Atlantic from ex-Spanish colonies to Africa in an attempt by the Spanish colonizers to regain control over colonial trade, and journeying further to Western European consumers. She investigates the key moments of intersection between the various actors involved in chocolate’s successful trajectory over the years to explain the subsequent boom in chocolate consumption at the end of the 18th century. It gives us a great insight into colonial extraction, monopoly capitalism, and the democratization of a formerly exotic and luxury product.

China’s Gilded Age – The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption

Yuen Yuen Ang

This book debunks one of the most popular and strong assumptions about economic development: that corruption hurts economic growth. Therefore, eradicating corruption in the government is generally thought of as a precondition of sustained economic development. However, the Chinese economy that has been one of the fastest growing economies in the past three decades is plagued with widespread corruption. Ang breaks down conventional wisdom about corruption and argues that not all corruption is the same, and that in all instances corruption does not hamper growth. Ang argues that corruption is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and some types of corruption that involves elite political actors and high monetary stakes and the allocation of valuable resources such as land and legislations can actually spur investment, and thereby economic development. However, corruption has other implications for resource allocation, systemic risks, and inequality. 

Tea War – A History of Capitalism in China and India

Andrew B. Liu

A persistent feature of some contemporary economic history is the fragmented study of nation-states as atomistic entities and the ontological premise of inherent, traditional features of societies as teleological explanations for their relative historical success or failure in economic modernisation. Andrew B. Liu in Tea Wars offers an important remedy. He explores the case of the British-Indian and Chinese tea industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, focusing on competitive interdependent ties forged by trade and the historically contingent outcomes. The emergent production systems in India and China came to be based on intensive, unfree forms of çoolie and peasant labour that contributed to immense fortunes for the British and Chinese traders alike and were central to capitalist accumulation. This contrasts with the more euro-centric accounts that placed mechanised production and free labour within the West as the primary mode and site of capitalist accumulation; and the persistence of unfree labour in the South as a cause for its historical backwardness. Replete with interesting historical anecdotes, this book offers a lucid and original contribution to the debate on historical economic divergence and global history of capitalism.

From Here to Equality Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century 

William A. Darity Jr., A. Kirsten Mullen

The current juncture has exposed and magnified the several existing cracks in our social and economic system, particularly those along the lines of gender, race, caste, sexuality, religion. The Black Lives Movement that recently gained momentum is a representation of the discontent with the current unjust economic order. In this context, this book is a timely and powerful intervention that makes a case for economic reparations for the US descendants of slavery. The authors provide a detailed historical evaluation of inequality that is ‘born of slavery’, and examine the intergenerational impact of the racial hierarchy in the social and political sphere on the economic well-being of the black population in the US. They assign a monetary value to these historical injustices and make a compelling case for a reparation program for the US descendants of slavery.

Combating Modern Slavery: Why Labour Governance is Failing and What we can do about it

Genevieve LeBaron

This is an important book that explores the contradiction of multinational corporations, such as Coca Cola, Amazon, Apple and Unilever, positioning themselves as fighters of modern slavery. It goes beyond the study of exploitative labor relations on the ground to trace how they are legitimized through a complex governance network centered in the Global North, despite the involvement of anti-slavery networks and ethical certification schemes. Indeed, the book details how severe labor exploitation is legitimized precisely through futile attempts to implement ‘corporate social responsibility’. LeBaron also presents an alternative way of confronting modern slavery which addresses the prevalent business models head on to enforce the necessary labor standards.  

Nine lives of Neoliberalism

Edited by Philip Mirowski, Dieter Plehwe, and Quinn Slobodian

Given the criticality of the current economic and political juncture, this collection of articles on neoliberalism provides a rather timely intervention. The collection explores the heterogeneities and the various aspects that encompass the ‘neoliberal thought style’. It examines how the project of neoliberalism goes beyond the commonly (mis)understood reasoning of market fundamentalism and homoeconomicus, and encompasses various political, ideological, and other ‘extra-economic’ processes that create and sustain the neoliberal order. The volume, through an evaluation of these different processes, explores the complexity of this project and how it has evolved historically.

Decolonizing the University, Knowledge Systems and Disciplines in Africa

Edited by by Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Siphamandla Zondi

This is an exciting book edited by two giants in the field of decolonial studies,  Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Siphamandla Zondi. It is particularly timely as the questions of what it means to ‘decolonize’ science has started to emerge in mainstream debates. The editors provide an accessible introduction to what coloniality of knowledge means, how African universities have become Westernized, and ways in which it is possible for African universities to ‘de-link’ from Eurocentric knowledge systems. Through 13 diverse chapters, the book delves into the roles of power, epistemology, methodology and ideology in creating and reproducing these Westernized knowledge systems across disciplines. Crucially, as the book makes clear that coloniality of knowledge is in itself a technology for suppression of alternative discourses and new imagination, the editors argue for ‘epistemic disobedience’. 

Data Feminism

Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein

While there is much debate around the biases that underpin theories and tools that we employ in social sciences, this book extends this discussion to lay bare the biases that plague data as well. Using an intersectional feminist lens, the book explores how power shapes the way data is collected, classified, and interpreted. The book focuses on two specific aspects: how the standard practices in data science tend to exacerbate the existing inequalities and benefit the privileged social groups, and how data itself can be used to challenge these hierarchies and inequalities. Recognizing the importance of data in shaping policies, the book recommends concrete ways in which these biases can be challenged. A timely, important, and powerful intervention to expose and reform one of the several biases that plague the process of knowledge production.

Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay

Sheetal Chhabria

This book presents a novel approach to histories of colonial urbanisation and to the study of the cities of the Global South by historically tracing the making of the Bombay slums. It delineates the official discourse on city development which emerged and ossified during times of intense crisis – the recurrent famines and later the bubonic plague – that gripped the surrounding hinterlands and the city and in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Comprising seven chapters, the book sifts through detailed archival records to argue that these crises were the central moments around which the politics of inclusion and exclusion was shaped through a confluence of interests of the colonial administration and those of the local city elites. The project of city making in a colonial underdeveloped context thus became one of defining what the city was by defining what it wasn’t, thus placing the city itself above those who created it. These official classifications problematised and excluded not just a vast majority of the city’s working class but also categorised and excluded industrial, spatial, architectural features that were perceived as “not quite city like”. Through the process of official categorisations and classifications, inclusions and exclusions, the official project of city-making created its “internal other” – the Bombay slums. This, in turn, ensured a poorer working class and higher capital accumulation for the elites. This book is an interesting read for not just those interested specifically in the colonial history of  Bombay, but even those who want to understand the “deviant” development of the cities of the Global South.

This list was compiled for D-Econ by Aditi Dixit, Devika Dutt, Surbhi Kesar, and Ingrid Harvold Kvangraven

Decolonise your Pandemic Reading List

The article originally appeared on openDemocracy as a part of their `Decolonising the Economy’ series.

To understand the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19, it is necessary to draw on insights from a broad range of disciplines and geographies. To this end, D-Econ has put together a list of readings to help you decolonize your reading list about the pandemic. Included in this list you’ll find research based on the West African experience with Ebola, China’s experience with SARS and Zimbabwe’s experience with Cholera, which is all relevant for understanding the present crisis. Furthermore, we’ve included books that unpack the racial inequalities underpinning the American health system, how the World Trade Organization as well as international financial institutions impact and interact with domestic health institutions, and how pandemics historically have shaped all aspects of society. You’ll also find books that present a feminist lens on understanding economies and useful background reading for understanding the risk of new debt crises in Africa.

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D-Econ Statement of Solidarity with Black Lives Matter and Affirmative Action Points related to the Discipline and Pedagogy in Economics

In the midst of the global pandemic, governments all over the world have unleashed a series of violent attacks on people that are protesting the violence inflicted on Black people. The brutal killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black people has once again brought systemic racism and discrimination of Black people in the spotlight.  As we know these are not one-off incidents, but rather what Black people have always been experiencing: unresolved issues of race and discrimination in the US and around the globe are not a single event or a series of recurrent events but constitute historical and institutionalized racism. As a platform which advocates for both decolonizing and diversifying economics, D-Econ joins other organizations in condemning this violence and systemic discrimination.

We are heartened to see the outpouring of solidarity for the Black Lives Matters Movement among economists. However, we believe urgent and comprehensive action is needed to truly ensure that Black Lives and Black voices matter in the profession. In line with our mission statement to reform the discipline of economics, we have issued the following non-exhaustive points for affirmative action for universities, managements, and academic and non-academic policy and advocacy institutions. We believe implementing these points transcend the need for performative alliances with Black academics and activists.

  1. It is imperative that universities and policy research organizations increase the employment of Black academics, policy specialists, and NGO advocates in permanent roles. Without the input of Black people, it is impossible to actually have meaningful change. This will not happen automatically, and university and research organizations need to actively seek out and recruit Black economists, specifically Black women economists. In the meanwhile, it is crucial that the work and voice of Black academics be amplified.
  1. Universities need to make a special effort to recruit and retain Black undergraduate and graduate students in their student body, and to ensure that they create a safe space for them against racist discrimination and violence. This is the only way that departments can become inclusive spaces and contribute to the upliftment of Black people and other underrepresented minorities. Armed police should not be present on university campuses, as they seek to profile, threaten, injure, and arrest Black students. Not only is this deeply unjust and dangerous, it is directly inimical to learning, especially those that are disproportionately targeted by police. 
  1. The curriculum of courses that are taught in economics department need to center racial capitalism, structural violence, and systemic discrimination. It is not enough to relegate this to optional courses. This needs to be compulsory education for all students. The teaching of economic history, specifically that of slavery and colonialism is indispensable to the understanding of present day inequalities and structural violence, and should therefore should also be made mandatory.   
  1. Several institutions within the discipline are institutionally discriminatory. These range from using the GRE and English language tests for graduate school admissions, REF in the UK, which discriminates against non-native speakers of English and non-white people and women by rewarding productivity in publishing while being less concerned with quality, ranking of journals and departments determining promotions and hiring decisions, among others. These need to be re-evaluated in a serious way. 
  1. All instructors need to ensure that they do not exclusively require students to read books and articles by white men. And this should not be limited to courses on racial inequality: Black academics study all sub-fields of economics, and their scholarship, and those of other underrepresented minorities, need to be in all courses. 
  1. All journal editors should periodically publish the race and gender breakdown of their publication and submission statistics. They should also report on the measures taken to increase the diversity within publishing. Furthermore, we need to ensure that journal editors are held accountable for the performance of the journal under their stewardship.
  1. Bullying and policing of minorities based on issues of representation should be scrutinized and investigated thoroughly, especially involving those in positions of power and junior staff members.
  1. Economics is not only a North American and Western European profession, and publishing, hiring, funding, and conferences should reflect this fact. The profession needs to deal with its Eurocentrism, in part by valuing knowledge that is produced outside the usual boundaries of  elite institutions in North America and Western Europe. 
  2. Racism is a structural problem, and therefore the solution needs to be structural. It is not enough for individuals to voice support for anti-racism, which is required but is the bare minimum. In fact, many individuals may face repercussions for speaking up against powerful gatekeepers in the profession. Anti-racism in economics needs to be institutional, with it being the focus in curriculum, methodology, hiring decisions, accountability of journal editors, diversity in conference and seminar programs, among others. Change must be initiated by institutions.

Call for Applications: Workshop on Diversifying and Decolonising the History of Economics

On June 17th in Utrecht, Netherlands, before the 2020 HES Conference

As widely documented, economics lacks gender and ethnic diversity. Women and economists from so-called minority groups face disadvantages and even outright discrimination. Within the history of economics, the topic of diversity has also raised some discussion and it has been acknowledged that history of economics meetings often lack of diversity of participants. This is paralleled by a lack of diversity when it comes to research. Research within the field is largely directed at the few, towering, (male) economists, as recent surveys of publications in history of economic thought journals have shown.

That diversity in history of economic thought is essential can be seen in the fact that male dominated research has tended to “serve male interests” reinforcing gender inequality. At the same time, there is an interest in and a demand of increasing the diversity both of scholars and of research, as discussion within the HES and other organisations such as AEA have shown. The aim of the workshop is to increase the visibility of diversity issues in the field of history of economic thought. We will be joined by two senior scholars working on diversity and decolonisation within economics and the history of economic thought: Dr. Rebeca Gomez Betancourt , and Dr. Sara Marzagora . We aim to address issues both of diversity of thinkers and of diversity of methods. This includes a reflection of how our own research might be impacted by taking into consideration issues of

We encourage especially, but not exclusively, young scholars (including PhD level) researching on history of economic thought or those who adopt historical methods in their research to apply to the workshop. A limited amount of travel stipends for scholars based inside and outside Europe is available.

To apply, please submit a brief description of your own research (100-200 words) and a brief motivation for your application (200-300 words) to diversityhetworkshop@gmail.com If you want to be considered for a travel stipend, please note this in your email. For further information and inquiries, please contact us.

The deadline for applications is February 29th , 2020. Successful candidates will be notified by early March.

The workshop is organised by D-Econ Steering Group members Danielle Guizzo, Ariane Hillig, and Reinhard Schumacher. It is funded by the History of Economics Society’s New Initiative Fund.

D-Econ at ASSA and ICAPE 2020

D-Econ was present at the Annual American Social Science Association (ASSA) Meetings and International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics (ICAPE) Conference 2020 from Jan 3 to Jan 6 2020 in San Deigo, USA. The conferences were attended by several senior and junior scholars in Economics from across the world, particularly by those based in the USA.

D-Econ organised a round table discussion on “Diversity in Heterodox Economics: Radical Solution for an old Problem” at ICAPE 2020. The panelists for the round-table were Hanna Szymborska (Birmingham City University) [Chair], Devika Dutt (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and Surbhi Kesar (Azim Premji University and South Asian University). It was an interactive round table, where several issues relating to the colonized nature of the discipline, and how lack of diversity is intimately related to this colonized nature, were discussed. Devika and Hanna talked about how these biases are perpetuated in the discipline and how D-Econ aims to be a movement to counter such biases. Surbhi briefly talked about how the process of knowledge creation is a political process and, as a part of that process, how Development Economics came to be a colonized discipline. The session was attended by several scholars, who shared their own experiences and insights on these issues. We collectively discussed how to challenge the prevalent sexism and racism in our profession and the colonial underpinnings of our discipline. We are grateful to the participants who encouraged our initiative and expressed a great deal of interest in being involved with D-Econ!

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Diversify and Decolonise your Holiday Reading List

The D-Econ Winter 2019 Reading List

This article originally appeared on openDemocracy, as a part of their ‘Decolonising the Economy’ series.

Get a head start on your New Year’s Resolution to read more, by reading some or all of our recommended reads from our Winter 2019 Reading List! As the previous year drew to a close, we took stock of best books published last year. While mainstream economics publications (e.g. see the FT list or The Economist’s list) have been celebrating a very narrow range of authors and subjects (mostly white men based in the US and the UK, writing within mainstream economics), we have put together a more diverse list in terms of background, training, and perspective.   

This Alternative Economics list includes authors from across the world, with more varied backgrounds – and writing about more wide-ranging topics from a broader variety of perspectives. Our alternative list also reflects our belief that issues such as structural sexism, imperialism, and the politics of knowledge production are central to understanding economics. 

Due to institutional and language barriers we were unable to include as many scholars from the Global South as we would have liked. For example, we would love to read the new book L’Arme Invisible de la Françafrique by Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla on the how the CFA Franc continues to constrain the social, political and economic prospects of its member states, but we are still waiting for the English translation. 

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D-Econ in Hanoi, 2019: Discussing Decolonising Economics with Young Scholars in Vietnam

D-Econ will be present at the Asia Convening of the Young Scholar’s Initiative of the Institute for New Economic Thinking from 12 to 15, August 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. The convening will be attended by a vibrant community of scholars from around 125 countries (full programme here). D-Econ will be at the convening to engage with the issues of Western-centrism and lack of diversity in Economics as a discipline and to discuss possible actions that we can collectively undertake to deal with these biases. We are organising a round-table on this theme at the convening on August 14, 2019 from 10:30 am to 12:15 pm. The panelists for the round-table are Devika Dutt (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Surbhi Kesar (Azim Premji University and South Asian University), Seung Woo Kim (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies), and Jenny Tue Anh Nguyen (University of Oxford). 

Economics as a discipline, while claiming to be the objective social-science, has continued to remain dominated by issues and approaches that are mainly Western-centric and various scholars – and consequently their works – have remained heavily under-represented based on their social identities (gender, race, caste, location – to name a few). In this panel, we particularly engage with these two biases that have been historically produced – and are continuously reproduced – in the discipline. This bias is not limited to the discipline, but is also reflective of the broader society that we live in. In this context, we would specifically engage with four aspects of this issue:
(a) What do we mean by the Western-centrism and lack of diversity in the discipline?
(b) Why is there a need to engage with these and move beyond it?
(c) What does diversification entail?
(d) What can we do towards this end?

We invite everyone to join us at the session for an active engagement on these issues. We look forward to an enriching exchange that can collectively take this important initiative forward.

We are also conducting a survey to understand better what conference participants and economists in general think about the state of the profession. You can take the survey here!

Devika Dutt, Surbhi Kesar, Jenny Tue Anh Nguyen, and Richard Itaman from D-Econ will be present at the convening.