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Nigel Harris

Economics and Reality

(Autumn 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.22, Autumn 1965, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Asian Economic Development
Ed. Cranley Onslow
Weidenfeld, 36s

It is difficult to know how Mr Onslow enveigled six Asian economists into contributing the first two thirds of this book, dealing in sections with the six countries, Burma, Ceylon, India, Malaya, Pakistan, Thailand, and their various attempts to stimulate economic growth since the War. Difficult because in the last third of the book, Mr Onslow roundly tells off four of them for being wedded ‘rigidly’ to economic nonsense, and counterposes with equal rigidity his own brand of free enterprise nonsense. Mr Onslow has difficulty both in discriminating the propaganda from the practice of his four ill-doers, and in understanding the total process of economic development, in separating actuality from the propositions of economic theory. Mr Onslow rightly and accurately isolates some of the myths which dominate the economics of étatiste development, but he cannot see why they exist, or at least not in sufficient depth to go beyond his own cosy prescriptions: the result is superficial comparisons between top marks Malaya and bottom marks India; why doesn’t India produce rubber and tin, scrap all this planning nonsense and launch on to the world market? Why don’t the American Negroes paint themselves white?

The main block of the book, despite Mr Onslow and the myths he identifies, is more interesting. Lim on Malaya is very good, and most of the others are useful, even if on occasions a little too removed from economic actuality – in so short a space, perhaps little more is to be expected. V.K.R.V. Rao on India deserves all Mr Onslow’s strictures, for he presents the customary wishful thinking, illusions and platitudes, larded with irrelevant nationalism, which characterises the least intelligent section of Indian economic thinking – there are far better accounts emerging from India that would at least go some way to put Mr Onslow in his place. Overall, in all accounts, ‘planning’ is most praised where it is least possible – where the monsoon and the world market are the two determinants which defy all others. It might have been from these that this analysis could more fruitfully have begun – which would have saved us some of the ideology.

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Last updated: 14 April 2010