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About this book

This book examines the life and work of Ajit Singh (1940-2015), a leading radical post-Keynesian applied economist who made major contributions to the policy-oriented study of both developed and developing economies, and was a key figure in the life and evolution of the Cambridge Faculty of Economics. Unorthodox, outspoken, and invariably rigorous, Ajit Singh made highly significant contributions to industrial economics, corporate governance and finance, and stock markets – developing empirically sound refutations of neoclassical tenets. He was much respected for his challenges both to orthodox economics, and to the one-size-fits-all free-market policy prescriptions of the Bretton Woods institutions in relation to late-industrialising developing economies. Throughout his career, Ajit remained an analyst and apostle of State-enabled accelerated industrialisation as the key to transformative development in the post-colonial Global South. The author traces Ajit Singh’s radical perspectives to their roots in the early post-colonial nationalist societal aspirations for self-determination and autonomous and rapid egalitarian development – whether in his native Punjab, India, or the third world – and further explores the nuanced interface between Ajit’s simultaneous affinity, seemingly paradoxical, both with socialism and Sikhism.
This intellectual biography will appeal to students and researchers in Development Economics, History of Economic Thought, Development Studies, and Post-Keynesian Economics, as well as to policy makers and development practitioners in the fields of industrialisation, development and finance within the strategic framework of contemporary globalisation.

Table of Contents

Frontmatter

The Early Years: Forging the Imaginary

Abstract
Shortly after Ajit Singh was born in Lahore in pre-Independence “British” India, his family moved to Indian Punjab where he studied economics, and encountered Manmohan Singh, to be his lifelong friend and mentor, at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Five major influences shaped his radical youthful imaginary: the uprightness and respect for justice and law imbibed from his father, a High Court judge; a deep affinity and loyalty towards the egalitarian values of the Sikh faith from his mother, a descendent of the third Sikh Guru; rigorous economics from his Cambridge-oriented teachers at university; an immersive emotional belonging to Punjab; an engagement with leftist thinking in the tumultuous political turmoil of the times; and a radical political commitment to the nationalist aspirations and development ambitions of a newly independent and resurgent India. The chapter covers the period from Ajit’s birth in 1940 till 1959, when he left for further studies in USA.
Ashwani Saith

Washington, First Stop: Sikhism, Racism and Steel

Abstract
To avoid a financial burden on his family, Ajit opted for studies at Howard University supplementing a scholarship with work. The Civil Rights Movement was at its height; “both Howard and living in Washington, DC were important formative experiences: direct contact with the black situation made me aware of internal colonialism”. Significantly, his MA thesis focussed on the Indian steel industry, and “I reached the conclusion that to develop properly in the nineteenth century the Indian steel industry would have required protection, a policy which colonial administrations refused”. Ajit’s topic symbolically resonated with the ethos of the era, as steel epitomised the Indian drive for planned industrialisation, and generated resentment against the denial of national choice due to imperial subjugation. This early work initiated Ajit into his future research on industrial economics. Alongside, he encountered Shamsher Singh, another long-term friend, who connected Ajit with the Sikh community in Washington.
Ashwani Saith

Berkeley, The Launch Pad

Abstract
Berkeley was the bridge to the enduring intellectual and political engagements of Ajit Singh’s subsequent career. Alongside his fiery politics and cool economics, Ajit nurtured a rich social network and lasting friendships within the Sikh, economics and activist communities. Politics was a major preoccupation. Berkeley and its environs, where the revolutionary independence Ghadar movement had originated, were steeped in radical Indian and Sikh history. Apart from the new Free Speech Movement, ongoing civil rights movement, and Sikh nationalism which were major influences, Ajit became deeply involved with left-wing anti-Vietnam War campaigns. However, the focus on his studies was unwavering, and he developed as a theoretically and technically proficient applied economist. The serendipitous game changer was his assignment as research assistant on the visiting Robin Marris’s project on managerial capitalism where his stellar contributions induced an invitation to Cambridge UK and catapulted him on to the grand stage of Cambridge economics.
Ashwani Saith

Cambridge: Home from Home

Abstract
Ajit joined the DAE in 1964, switched in 1965 to the Faculty of Economics and became a Fellow of Queens’ College. He carried his Berkeley radicalism to Cambridge; his passionate anti-Vietnam War engagement was manifested on city streets and in Faculty corridors, and famously he systematically demolished Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart’s apologist position at the Oxford Union Teach-in of 1965. Cambridge boasted panoramic India expertise. The flow was two-way: outgoing traffic comprised a bevy of prominent Cambridge economists invited by Mahalanobis to support the Planning Commission’s theoretical exercises underpinning the nascent Indian planning process; while inflows comprised successive cohorts of Indian students including a full spectrum of now-famous names. Ajit was, and remained, closely associated with them all. Ajit successfully led a sustained student–staff campaign seeking curriculum and examination reforms to the Economics Tripos, culminating in the famous Student Sit-in of 1972; Lord Devlin’s Enquiry Report vindicated their stand.
Ashwani Saith

Faculty Wars

Abstract
The Faculty Ajit joined in 1965 boasted a jostling pantheon of Cambridge greats. Rife with divisions, it was an arena of intellectual contestations and gladiatorial jousting, in a state of permanent revolution with continuous orthodox-versus-heterodox battles for controlling Faculty decision-making. Ajit was the linchpin for keeping the left/heterodox groups mobilised. The following 25 years constituted possibly the most volatile period of Cambridge economics. Despite their great history, formidable strength and diversity, these heterodox lineages atrophied and evanesced dramatically as Cambridge economics fell under the control of the orthodox mainstream camp. What explains this remarkable turnaround? How could the fertile, productive intellectual ecology of that great banyan tree of Cambridge heterodox traditions mutate so rapidly into an arid genetically modified mono-strain culture? How were relevant and radical imaginations and curiosities lobotomised? How could this powerhouse of fabled heterodox economists wind up losing the Faculty war? There are many answers but little consensus.
Ashwani Saith

King of Queens’

Abstract
Queens’ College, where Ajit was successively Fellow, Senior Fellow, and Life Fellow was more than just a nominal affiliation: it became his permanent base, fortress and gurdwara, and he was devoted to it. He was “Mr Economics”—as Director of Studies, he assembled a team that projected Queens’ into the top echelon of economics teaching. An inspirational and pluralistic teacher, he enabled students how to think, not what to think; not to follow his leftist beliefs but to formulate and argue their own; he taught and demanded theoretical clarity, methodological rigour and policy relevance. Ajit’s unabated support for students’ rights and Vietnam made him unpopular in some official circles. He was the fulcrum for cross-border gatherings for South Asian students. Significantly, he initiated the weekly Queens’ Economics Seminar, a congenial debating chamber for the heterodox personages and lineages of Cambridge economics. A grateful College honoured its favourite son in several ways.
Ashwani Saith

Economics as Concentrated Politics

Abstract
Ajit’s economics was theoretically and methodologically rigorous, evidence-based and policy-relevant. Initially, his research developed an empirical refutation of key tenets of the neoclassical theory of the firm, mergers, takeovers and the stock market. Subsequently, his paradigmatic research on deindustrialisation in the UK simultaneously provided a framework emphasising the vital role of manufacturing in development. His consistent advocacy of state-enabled Kaldorian industrialisation, exemplified by South Korea, brought him into regular confrontation with the uniform structural adjustment and free-market mainstream package applied on developing economies by the Bretton Woods institutions, prominently in Tanzania and Mexico; in opposition, he argued for a strategically selective rather than a close and all-embracing integration with globalisation processes. Later, he began to investigate the limits of export-led industrialisation and recalibrate the Kaldorian template with possibly a lead role for the services sector. He would reject claims that his industrialisation strategy risked mutation into an ideology of industrialism.
Ashwani Saith

Punjab in the Soul

Abstract
Punjab was the iron and fire in his soul—it was where his early intellectual imaginaries were forged, the roots to which he loved to return. He combined rational atheism with a deep personal affinity with Sikhism not as a conventional religion but as an amalgam of the egalitarian, humanist, and communitarian norms and lived precepts of the Sikh community, centred around the gurdwara as a social organisational base; he saw no contradiction in simultaneous loyalty to Sikhism and socialism. After Operation Blue Star, he apparently had a brief flirtation with Sikh separatism. After 1980 his research engaged heavily with development economics. Initially, he advocated the Kaldorian industrialisation strategic template for Punjab Development but later adapted it to the policy-restrictive realities federalism. He was particularly proud at being appointed the first holder of the Manmohan Singh Professorship, named after his teacher, friend and mentor, at his alma mater, Panjab University.
Ashwani Saith

A Man for All Seasons

Abstract
The obituaries were replete with epithets: an “iconoclastic”, “formidable” economist, “Mr Economics” personified; “party whip for heterodox economists”; “a diligent tormentor of the established order”, “a firebrand”, “soul of the left”, “a Sikh Castro”; “a stout defender of student rights”; “the most renowned Sikh academic outside India”; Ajit Singh was all these and a thorough gentleman besides. Sartorially elegant and soft spoken, he was a delightful raconteur of delicious gossip dispensed with naughty humour, devoid of malice, drawing laughter but never red. In intellectual or political exchanges, he invariably fought the idea never the person. He was fiercely competitive in sports; passionate about cricket, with “an encyclopaedic knowledge”; and addicted to his Punjabi cuisine, with the proficiency of an amateur chef. When young, he composed poetry in Sanskrit, which he had studied for nationalist reasons; despite the passage of decades, he remained the proud Indian, irrespective of the colour of his passport.
Ashwani Saith

Cambridge to the End: The Final Battle

Abstract
One obituary writer referred to Ajit as the Professor of Courage, an epithet entirely appropriate in view of the inspiring dignity, relentless determination and unfaltering grace with which he contended with the predations of Parkinson’s disease that struck him at the early age of 42. Ajit refused to let the adversity slow him down, let alone ground his academic travels and pursuits, and he proudly pointed to his greater research productivity during the middle decades of this prolonged battle. In this odyssey with its inescapable and foretold end, he was supported by dedicated bands of caring carers—family and students, personal and professional assistants—who collectively kept him going against all odds. “We were his arms and legs, he was the thinker” were the poignant words of a close associate. Ajit was propped up reading his colleague and friend Luigi Pasinetti’s Cambridge and the Cambridge Keynesians when time ran out.
Ashwani Saith

Backmatter

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