University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre of South Asian Studies Seminars > National wealth or national poverty? Economic statistics, citizenship and the emergence of Indian democracy

National wealth or national poverty? Economic statistics, citizenship and the emergence of Indian democracy

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The last decade has seen an important shift in scholarly approaches to the history of economics with scholars moving away from a narrative of theoretical revolutions to put greater emphasis on economics as a historically constructed discipline. Yet, the vast majority of these newer works have remained firmly focused on developments in Europe and the United States.

This paper offers a close reading of K.T. Shah and K.J. Khambata’s Wealth and taxable capacity of India, (published in Bombay in 1924) to argue that late-colonial India was also an important site for economic knowledge production. Comparing Shah and Khambata’s work with that of their British contemporaries, it argues that economists in both the metropole and colony grappled with similar kinds of economic questions but the answers they produced were deeply informed by the particular political, social and fiscal contexts within which they worked. One important difference between these contexts was the access British and Indian economists had to data about the respective societies on which their work focused – while early twentieth century British economist and statisticians sought to process a growing abundance of increasingly detailed statistical data about individual members of British society, Indian economics in the same period grappled with problems of data scarcity and a lack of knowledge about individual Indians’ economic conditions. I show that, in seeking to address this data silence, Shah and Khambata produced statistical models of Indian society that emphasised the important relationship between political, social and economic power, rather than the separation of these spheres of government. While this did not contribute to the strand of economic knowledge production that provided the mathematical and theoretical underpinnings of the post-Keynsian economic order, Shah and Khambata helped to produce important new ways of thinking about Indian subjecthood which highlight, more clearly perhaps than the works of their western peers, the ways in which economic thought and practice have shaped the formation of what we now refer to as democratic government.

This talk is part of the Centre of South Asian Studies Seminars series.

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