210 pages; Rs 295
With internet around can any information escape a few taps on the keyboard? Apparently so, as many millions have figured out. The cyber space is liberally loaded with dead ends or, more plausibly, wrong‘uns. It is a risk that is difficult to shrug off when cruising down this highway. Yet, as a vast nation such as India gets more educated, the demand for easy-to-understand pieces has exploded. It is not a novel demand either. Early in the 20th century, as competing claims of communism, capitalism and even fascism invaded people’s lives in Europe and the US, savants took it upon themselves to write books, which have since become classics, that explained the lay of the land.
Bertrand Russell’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism was another classic of this genre. Even publishers caught on to the trend with Penguin bringing out Pelican, initially devoted to providing entry to key social debates.
In Asia, as even larger millions now begin to chase the “good life”, it is rather difficult to point to similar examples. It could have something to do with the vast array of languages, but whatever be the reason, there is not much out there that has tried to bridge the gap between academia and the multitudes. Yet the risk of this gap lying unattended is huge to fathom. For instance, there are plenty of misinformed tales swooshing about the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill, 2017 that claim how the depositors’ purse in banks will be used to pay for the delinquency of the banks. Sure, there have been columns written to clear the fog. Both, WhatsApp messages and the columns demonstrate the huge pent up demand that exists beyond the informed circles. And then there is bitcoin.
There was a tentative start made by Kaushik Basu, former chief economic advisor in the finance ministry. Using the talent available from the Indian Economic Service and the Indian Statistical Service, he set up Arthapedia as a blog on the finance ministry website. The professor’s masterpiece was of course The Oxford Companion to Economics in India with each entry carefully curated by the best of Indian scholars who were given detailed guidelines to make their pieces gel. Putting an argument pithily is not the same as explaining the same. The latter takes space, since one has to capture a lot of background information before getting up close to the nub. But the effect of the passage of time has shown up on both. The rich entries in the blog have not been updated; the book needs a fresh edition.
Rachna Singh’s Financial Felicity, not in the same league, is, however, an encouraging effort to sign on more readers to financial economics. The book with 54 slim essays is a primer for a reader to get a hang of the subjects. And she covers several topics in this volume, ranging from perennial stock market favourites such as Warren Buffet’s investment advice on to how to read the market charts. She segues into Air India disinvestment, real estate sector regulator and even bitcoins, besides the world of bank financing and fiscal math. Ms Singh, an income tax officer, has eschewed the invitation to overload her book with the stock market, and that helps. None of her essays, as this reviewer saw, slow down the pace with footnotes or references. The author has decided to tilt towards brevity in most of her pieces. In fact, one can cavil that the market-related pieces are rather too brief. But that possibly comes from the position the author occupies as a government employee. There is an invisible line that authors have to tread. It possibly also accounts for her reticence on tackling tax issues even though she has covered them. Naturally, she is much more sure-footed on these topics. To her credit, she has taken the trouble to explain the goods and services tax in detail.
One would suggest that instead of trying to bring all sorts of themes under one cover she would have been served better by a limited menu. It is impossible for one author to straddle so many sectors with the details reader would wish to know, beyond what the newspapers have already served up. It is these which go missing in her coverage of the rupee or that of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
It is given that in a robust sector like the financial sector, there is always much more than what one can encapsulate in one volume. One could also cavil with her position in some of the chapters but she takes pains to explain for the readers each of the themes she sets out to explore, making liberal use of newspaper articles to elucidate. It keeps the readers engaged.