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A View From The Outside - Why Good Economics Works For Everyone

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A View from the Outside, by P. Chidambaram, is a collection of columns that assesses the promises and performance of the NDA government in the period 2002 to 2004. The columns, originally published in the Indian Express and the Financial Express, reflect the views of Chidambaram, finance minister between 1996 and 1998 and again from 2004 onwards, on a range of issues that remain important regardless of the government in power. They also provide snapshots of the Indian economy in good times and bad. Far more than mere reactions to developments during that period, Chidambaram provides the reader with an extraordinarily clear understanding of the problems underlying the Indian economy - and its politics - and ways of solving them.

372 pages, HardCover

First published January 1, 2007

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P. Chidambaram

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Eskay Theaters & Smart Homes.
431 reviews22 followers
January 16, 2023
PCs role as a Finance minister (among other portfolios in the UPA) is well known.
It's always been a mystery how someone as erudite and lucid as PC could also be accused in so many scams and money laundering/hoarding cases.
Profile Image for Srinath.
53 reviews13 followers
July 21, 2016
This collection of articles written by Palaniappan Chidambaram is like a ready-reckoner on indian economy, politics and governance of recent times. These articles were written between 2002-04 as columns for the newspaper Indian Express. Most, if not all the articles, are perfectly relevant even now. As the Indian Express editor Shekhar Gupta notes in his foreword, austerity and no-nonsense demeanor always have characterized this impressive politician. So it is with his writing.

The sub-title of the book is "why good economics works for everyone". It is not difficult to see why that subtitle. Everyone knows that Chidambaram is a believer in market economy and the need for a tide of economic growth to lift all boats. He does make a wonderful case for that approach.

In this age of turbulent, chaotic, intolerant politics there is no space for sane and civilized debates on issues of importance. We have become so cynical that nothing ever catches our fancy. Everything looks suspicious and we go looking for the dark clouds even when we see a silver lining. All our idols are turning up with feet of clay. In this enviroment of gloom, a bit of enlightenment on the basic issues and the available options is not a bad idea at all.

It is interesting that during the time that he wrote these articles Chidambaram was not in the government. It was just as well, that he could take this view as an outsider.

Google Books site provides a sample of this book. Here is the link- http://goo.gl/hzdoO

Here are some of the articles in the book that I found really interesting. The articles are grouped under various heads.

Foreword by Shekhar Gupta - in which Shekhar calls Chidambaram the "most prominent, persistent, committed -and successful of instinctive reformers" in our political system.

Farmers Deserve a Better Deal (Agriculture) August 9, 2002- In this article is Chidambaram's much-debated statement about our attitude to food prices, how we complain loudly about rice, milk or sugar price going up even by 1 rupee whereas we do not hesitate to pay rupees 15 for an ice-cream.

Forex: Too Much of a Good Thing (Foreign Investment) August 25, 2002- Those were still early days in our Foreign Exchange saga, when the Forex was still around 60 billion. The article argues about putting the reserves to good use instead of merely hoarding.

A Tax By Any Other Name (Monetary Policy) April 27, 2003 - An article about inflation. By the logic in that article, Chidambaram should not have been unhappy about the recent RBI's decision not to lower Repo rate.

Building Ethics with a Strong Economy (Ethics and Governance) June 15, 2003 - The grinding poverty and the slow rate of growth witnessed in the first three decades after independence are ascribed as the reasons for an all-round decline in ethics. The article observes the phenomenon of one standard of honesty when it pertained to money matters and another when it pertained to other aspects of life. In the same article is the famous quote from Indira Gandhi, "Poverty is the greatest polluter".

A Case of Guilty Till Proved Innocent (Ethics and Governance) Feb 15, 2004- An article about Rajiv Gandhi in which Chidambaram laments the mudslinging, calumny and trial by the Press that Rajiv was subjected to, in spite of there being no evidence that an Indian minister or official had received money in the Bofors deal. Rajiv's wit, the warmth and the transparent honesty are recalled in the article. It is ironic, that Chidambaram himself has been in recent times subjected to a relentless trial by the media.

India Lives In Her Villages, And How (Policies and Governance) Oct 06, 2002- The article takes on the votaries of swadeshi and "socialism" who support policies like labour-intensive development and protection against imports. The article calls attention to the fact that an average Indian village is a place with little capital, low technology and limited market access, with limited opportunities for growth.

Neither Civil, Nor Serving (Policies and Governance) August 10, 2003- The article does not object to the larger size of the civil services, but suggests to revise the structure, abolish some categories of jobs, redefine each job, retrain existing personnel and ensure each government servant contributes value.

The Four Imperatives For Faster Growth (Policies and Governance) Oct 19, 2003- The imperatives listed are Education, Electricity, Infrastructure, Investment, Information Technology and International Trade.

Is Anyone Listening to Mr Stiglitz (Policies and Governance) Jan 18, 2004 - Attention is drawn to the Nobel laureate Joseph Stigliz's quote on globalization. Stiglitz said globalization was good as it had the potential to enrich everyone in the world including the poor. He also warned that the management of globalization needed to be rethought and the policies imposed on the developing countries needed to be radically rethought. Chidambaram applies that quote from Stiglitz to the economic reforms undertaken in India and warns that unless economic reforms enrich everyone in India, particularly the poor, more and more people will lose faith in it. Lots of statistics are also provided in the article. The investments in agriculture in the period Chidambaram was in the government are compared to the investment during the years he was out of it.

People and the Rule of Law (Policies and Governance) Feb 22, 2004- In this hard hitting article (excerpted from a speech delivered in Nehru Centre, Mumbai) on the state of democracy in India, the author calls to question the political parties and civil servants forefeiting the trust of the people, the urban voters showing apathy about the electoral process, history-sheeters, accused, undertrials and accused persons becoming legislators. The article ends with the rather resigned observation "we have miles to go before we can call ourselves a civil society under the rule of law".

Try To Sit, He'll Tax Your Seat (Taxation) Nov 17, 2002 - The author comments on the report by the Task Force on Direct Taxes headed by Vijay Kelkar. Some of Kelkar's recommendations are criticized as they are seen as resulting in further complication of the tax structure and narrowing of the tax base.

Wake Upto The State of States (Politics and Governance) May 18, 2003 - Argues why it is not a bad idea to heed to the demand of a bifurcation or trifurcation of a state based on size, population and geographical characteristics. Interestingly, in Dec 2009 the statement made by Chidambaram as Home Minister on the issue of Telangana led to a controversy over the division of Andhra Pradesh. The issue still remains unresolved.

An Uneven Tale of Two People's Republics (Politics and Governance) June 29, 2003- Whenever one is talking about economic development in India, a comparison to China is inevitable. This comparison appears in several other articles in this book too. In this article, it is argued that India missed the bus to a faster development as we did not open up our economy at the time China did at the end of 1970s. The article takes objection to the excuse that is often cited for India's poor performance, that India is a democracy. Chidambaram argues that the problem is not with the institutions of democracy, namely the elections, the elected parliament or legislature, a free press and so on. He questions the quality and effectiveness of these institutions and says that the poor quality of the institutions is the real reason for poor performance. The article concludes with a hope- "A true democracy, with all its institutions in robust health, may actually accelerate growth and take India past China."

In the introduction to the section named Politics, Chidambaram states that the section is purely political and that he was implacably opposed to the basic tenets of the BJP as he felt that any liberal democrat would be opposed to the BJP.

Why Modi Is Too Mythical To Be Real (Politics) Dec 08, 2002- The belligerently argued article expresses the view that Modi was enacting a dangerous role in liberal democracy. A liberal democracy must celebrate diversity, encourage pluralism and respect differences. The article reminds the readers that it is not an accident that the developed countries of the world have embraced liberal democracy as the political basis of their nation states.

Chidambaram exhorts the reader in his introduction to the book, to go on and read the articles and feel free to agree or disagree, and says that it is the reader's right. What is indisputable at the end of reading this book is, whether one agrees or disagrees with the arguments the author is making, one is bound to end up with a better understanding of the problems underlying the Indian economy and politics.

Link to my blog-
Profile Image for Nikhil Mulley.
2 reviews
September 10, 2013
I never thought and knew Mr.Chidambaram had a strong view on the idea of small (as in yet size-able based on area, geography, population) states in Indian union. I think he stuck chord with me in the article 'Wake up to the state of states'. Came across this article at http://www.indianexpress.com/oldStory... and then started to read more on this book. Looking forward to get more perspectives on his thoughts which seem so contemporaneously relevant.
Profile Image for Prab Juneja.
109 reviews
January 4, 2021
Read it long time ago, was a great read specially the thoughts on agricultural reforms and ensuring fare prices for framers. Unfortunately when in power the guy didnt implement his own ideas.
Profile Image for Arun Pandiyan.
139 reviews31 followers
September 15, 2020
P Chidambaram is astute, articulate and most importantly rational in his opinions. He is business-like, methodical, clinical and no nonsense. Always.

Between the year 2002 and 2004, P Chidambaram wrote an article every week in the Indian Express and his friend-editor Shekar Gupta had compiled those pieces into a book. Though P Chidambaram did not hold any office and was not part of the Indian National Congress during those years, his ideology and position of being a 'secular democrat' are reflected in these Op-Eds which he wrote as an outsider. His views on agriculture, world trade organization, foreign investment, finance, budget, monetary policy, ethics, governance, public policy, taxation, elections, international relations, healthcare and welfare are so contemporaneously relevant.

These opinion pieces are marked by its date of publishing, making it easy for the reader to understand the politics and issues sprawled under Vajpayee's government between 1999-2004. For anyone interested in politics and governance, Chidambaram's depth of intellect coupled with his succinct writing on various topics such as TADA, Golden Quadrangle, LTTE, Coffin Scam, regional trade agreements, disinvestment, Iraq war, women's reservation bill and global politics, this book is a page-turner. At end of each topic, one is bound to end up with much better understanding of that particular issue.

Personally, P Chidambaram's views on disinvestment and privatization came to me as a surprise. But as Shekar Gupta went on to describe him as, "For Chidambaram, none of the flashiness or flamboyance associated with capitalism. He loves and cheers the markets, but his love of the market is almost entirely philosophical." He made wonderful arguments supporting his stand on disinvestment of non-performing PSUs and bringing in foreign investment, though occasionally taking a dig at communism, swadeshi and regressive policies propagated by the RSS and Sangh Parivar under the garb of Gandhian philosophy and nationalism during those times.

Another column which fascinated me was a lucid write up on setting up a commercial court division withing each high court by training the judges and lawyers in economic and commercial matters as an alternative to regulatory bodies or tribunals. P Chidambaram had good judgement and understanding on the issue of inadequacy in Indian judiciary's knowledge on economic matters. Along with it, the column on Sri Lankan crisis in 2003 as he wrote, "So, India has another troubled neighbor, the possibility of another civil war across the sea border and the near-certainty of its consequences spilling over India" proved one thing, that P Chidambaram was a discerning statesman.

4 reviews
February 18, 2019
I am not much into Economics but surprisingly, I still found it interesting to read.

It is a compilation of columns he wrote between 2002-2004 on different subjects like – why agriculture will continue to remain important for India’s future; or how can it solve our poverty problems; or why not allowing FDA in different sectors without clauses that anyways get manipulated in one or the other way, and similar related issues. Obviously, these columns intend to criticise the Government on what should not be done or could be done in dealing with these issues.

But, because it is dated, some columns might not make much sense (guess, he himself would not agree to some of his ideas today). Nevertheless, for me, the fun was in knowing how these issues sprawled at that time and learning an economist’s perspective on how he wanted the Government to change a few things to create a better system.

But all said, it was not possible to read the book in one go and so I went in slowly and read only few columns – in fact, I still have so many pending ones. Will probably continue to read those as time-fillers.

Overall, it is fun and is not mandatory for you to have interest in Economics or to even agree to his perspective– it is simply a representation of some of our country’s important issues or topics by an economist.
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