Amartya Sen handily beats Jagdish Bhagwati on his own terms: the market

Economists Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati have been trading barbs.
Economists Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati have been trading barbs.
Image: Quartz illustration, AP Photo/Manish Swarup, Getty Images/Matthew Lloyd
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Move over, Keynes and Hayek. The dueling economists everyone’s talking about now are from India: Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen.

In today’s Business Standard newspaper, columnist Mihir Sharma accessibly breaks down the brouhaha between the two, both of whom are India-born, Cambridge-educated, and professors in the Ivy League (Bhagwati at Columbia and Sen at Harvard). Sharma writes:

If there’s anything worth taking away from what has become an increasingly unseemly and uninformative spectacle, it is the sobering realisation that academics continue to be divided over the simple mechanisms of how growth can be achieved–purely through deregulation, as Bhagwati would argue, or with a simultaneous push to education and health, as Sen wants.

That both economists have co-authored competing new books is no coincidence, and the titles lay bare their differing agenda. Sen’s with Jean Dreze is An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions. And Bhagwati’s with Arvind Panagariya’s is Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries. 

While Sharma characterizes Bhagwati as “personal and petty” in his attacks on Sen, the Columbia professor does win points for being “far more an economist’s economist than is Sen.” Despite Sen’s Nobel, Sharma calls Bhagwati a “pathbreaking trade theorist.”

But if this fight were to boil down to competing books alone, it’s pretty easy to pick the winner. Dreze and Sen’s book isn’t even out yet (it’s slated for Aug. 11 release) and it already ranks #8,119 on Amazon. The Bhagwati-Panagariya work comes in far below, at #24,528.

If growth indeed matters, sales figures so far give Sen a more certain glory.