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Meet the editors of... Indian Growth and Development Review

An interview with: Professor Satya P. Das and Professor Chetan Ghate
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus

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Photo: Professor Satya P. Das. Professor Satya P. Das is professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) in New Delhi. His primary research interest has long been international economics, but lately he has moved into macroeconomics (such as endogenous growth), developmental issues (such as child labour and tax reforms), as well as the economics of terrorism. He has published over 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals and a research monograph, New Perspectives on Business Cycles (Edward Elgar, 1993).

Professor Das has taught at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels in the United States (University of Wisconsin and Indiana University) and at the postgraduate level at the ISI.

Photo: Professor Chetan Ghate.Professor Chetan Ghate, who is responsible for the journal's policy section, is assistant professor within the Planning Unit at the ISI in New Delhi. His primary research interests lie within the field of macroeconomics, particularly endogenous growth theory, and political economy, especially how different political processes and systems affect the formation of economic policies. Although primarily theoretical in nature, his work also has a strong policy orientation.

Professor Ghate joined the ISI in 2003, before which he worked in the United States and Germany (at the German Institute of Economic Research in Berlin, Germany's premier policy research institute).

About the journal

The goal of Indian Growth and Development Review (IGDR) is to be an international journal in the field of development and growth economics. It is particularly appropriate that such a journal should be based in India, one of the Asian tigers emerging over the last couple of decades. There are currently no leading journals specializing in economic development emanating from the emerging economies.

IGDR seeks to publish high quality peer reviewed articles and will comprise three sections:

  1. Research articles which will constitute the core of the journal and which will be on any topic and any area to do with growth and development.
  2. A section on policy debates which will be South Asia based and seek to bridge the gap between research and policy.
  3. A "miscellany" section which will include interviews with economists and a special subsection on the teaching of economics.

This editorial mix will give the journal a unique appeal to its key audience of academic economists, policymakers and educators.

Mission and goals

Your mission is to publish articles on economic growth and development with a special emphasis on emerging economies. What is the remit of "growth and development" and how would you define an "emerging economy"?

Growth would be gross domestic product (GDP) growth or GDP growth per capita. Development is a more all-encompassing term, meaning not only growth, but also social and individual quality of life. So growth and development together means high growth rate per capita, together with rising quality of individual and societal life, and it can be measured by the human development index (HDI).

An emerging economy is an economy that is in transition from a developing to a developed economy. Examples would be India, China, Philippines, Brazil, etc. These countries haven't yet reached developed status, but they have definitely outpaced other developing nations, so they are somewhere in the Second World rather than the Third World.

Although we emphasize emerging economies we are willing to accept articles on growth and development in any region in the world, even developed economies, because the world economy is like a village. So development in the UK or US also affects development and growth in India and China and vice versa.

How will you differentiate yourselves from other journals in the area – for example, Journal of Economic Growth, Journal of Development Economics, and Review of Development Economics?

In the first place, unlike other journals that just publish top tier research, we publish top research as well as a teaching section and a policy section. So what we are offering is a more wholesome package, because we believe that teaching policy and academic research complement one another.

Secondly, our view is that the established journals have a very narrow view of growth and development. They use paradigms that are developed in the US or in Europe, which are good but which draw on the growth processes of those countries. We want to highlight and encourage scholarship that reflects the experience of countries like India, China, Brazil and so on. This is not something to which other journals are very receptive at the moment, and a scholar would have a relatively tough time in publishing a very specialized piece on India or China.

We are unique in that there are currently no top development journals emerging from the developing world – we want to be a top journal that stands out and reflects the complexity of the issues.

Isn't there an endemic problem here in that the academic publishing industry is famous, or notorious, for the fact that many top "international" journals are in fact American. Is there a glass ceiling for researchers from emerging countries such as China and India?

We believe that there is a glass ceiling and our aspiration is to remove it. If authors have done work on India or China, either theoretical or empirical, they should feel proud, and should be able to get promotion or an appointment anywhere in the world. There should be no defensiveness – "I have a piece that talks about the developing process of emerging markets; it may or may not be of considerable interest to developed economies". Removing such barriers will be of benefit to scholars in both the West and the East.

How will you go about this? It's often difficult for new journals to get established.

We will circulate the journal around top tier universities and colleges in the US, UK, Europe and Japan and other countries. We know many of the top researchers both professionally and personally, and have been fortunate enough to get their implicit support.

We also have a very diverse editorial board, comprising co-editors and associate editors from every continent, who are often researching in other continents, and who have a range of skills, both empirical and theoretical.

To establish something that is out of the ordinary or which is not the norm is always a difficult process. But we believe that, through hard work and our contacts, we will be able to succeed. We need to inject to a critical mass of articles over the next few years that people in other countries find interesting and which they will cite, and then things will snowball.

And we're always on the lookout for articles that authors have had rejected from other top tier journals, we will look and see if there is something in that article for us.

Isn't part of the problem that many academics in emerging countries are part of universities that have concentrated on teaching, and they just don't have the necessary training to do research?

You are right, there is a lack of training. In India, for example, there aren't many institutions which are research oriented, which produce scholars who have the scientific expertise to put forward an argument in a way that could be fruitfully developed. On the other hand, there are already a few institutes in India, such as our own ISI, or the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) which is famed for its output of so many top class software engineers, that are well recognized all over the world. These institutions produce graduates who can very readily pick up these quantitative tools and contribute to scientific articles. This process needs to be picked up.

We need to encourage scholarship in India by filling the journal with articles from developed economies with an interest here and that will give a push to our own scholars. There are many Western scholars with a strong interest in India, such as Angus Deaton in Princeton, who is a very well established economist and has regularly published in Indian journals. In our first issue we published a work by a well-known scholar in economics – William Brock – who is actually a member of the American Academy of Sciences.

Such contributions can help us break into the top 50 US and UK research institutes, as well as encouraging scholars here.

Do you have any tool for measuring research at the government level, like in the UK there is the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), now becoming the Research Excellence Framework (REF)?

No, we don't believe that we've got to that stage. That only comes when you have many universities which are good at research and which are vying for funds. At the moment we are only talking about a handful of research active organizations and outstanding individuals in others.

Editorial coverage

You are obviously concerned to publish top quality research. What makes an article top quality?

We are looking for articles that are focused on one or two issues – not like political speeches which try to answer dozens of questions.

And secondly we are looking for scientific merit: the research must be quantitative and authors must ensure that they have appropriate and clear assumptions, explaining the mechanisms with all the mathematics or the formal proofs or propositions. Economics is, after all, a science.

We divide the articles into two kinds – theoretical and empirical. A theoretical article could be about a general aspect of growth and development processes, or how policies or processes work.

Empirical papers have to be based on very sound economic and statistical principles. What we don't want is articles that are merely descriptive. Some suggestive, casual observations may be introduced as a springboard but it must develop from there.

You intend to devote part of the journal to policy formulation for South Asia based on research. What is wrong with existing policy making in this area and how will you ensure that your contributions have an influence?

The basic problem is that there is very little academic foundation to the policy discourse in South Asia and in India in particular. There isn't the healthy interaction between academics and universities on the one hand and policymakers on the other that you get in developed countries. For example, in the US, a professor would be appointed as the head of the Federal Reserve, whereas academics in this country are not really given positions of that level of prominence, and there is no tradition of academics contributing to the debate in a sustained way. This however used to be the case in 1950s and 1960s.

We do have several high profile policy research institutes in South Asia, with strong Western links. These institutes are good at generating supporting materials or foundation work on policy issues, for example large case studies, literature surveys or preliminary attempts to gather large data sets. But they don't go further and analyse the material in a scientific way.

This is the gap that we want to bridge in the journal, tackling prominent policy issues (whether at preliminary or legislation stage) from an academic standpoint with an analytic and scientific approach.

In the first two issues we had two policy papers, the first illustrating the workability of dominance methodology to perform normative appraisal, even when the appraisal concerns the distributions of several attributes or, as examined in this paper, exposures to risk of death. The other looked at monetary policy, an empirical piece examining whether or not the central bank in India should target an inflation rate as its monetary policy regime.

Your reason for including a section on teaching economics is that traditionally teaching in that area has been poor. What are the main problems and what methods would you bring to try and improve the situation?

The problem in India is that there are a few institutions which do very good research, but then there is a huge gap and the remainder concentrate purely on teaching. The lecturers there have virtually no knowledge of contemporary economic research, and have no training in research techniques. So their teaching, in both subject matter and approach, is 30 or 40 years out of date.

At the moment, teaching in India is a very dichotomous or polarized. There are the top class places like the ISI or the University of Delhi, but at most other institutions there is little innovation and teaching is not fun. The emphasis is just on definitions, trivialities and the sort of "cookbook" type of approach, which we want to help the college teachers break away from.

So in this section we want to encourage teaching pieces on things which are not in the textbooks. We are looking for small pieces – some sort of an algorithm or statistical technique that is easy to use. They should be based on recent research and put across in an effective way that makes the learning process enjoyable and relevant.

We are hoping that this section will grow and that we'll get a lot of support. Once this happens, then we can go out to colleges or send them copies of these teaching pieces to college teachers, or use them as part of a lecturing tour.

The publishing process

What are your plans for the journal over the next couple of years?

At the moment, we have two issues per year, but maybe by the third year, 15 or 20 research articles, which means three issues per year. And, in four years' time, maybe four issues, which will become, effectively, a quarterly journal.

We would also like to bring out some special issues, but because they are special we would not want to have too many. We have some themes lined up, for example, understanding and differentiating the growth processes in India and China. That's a very hot topic; both countries are growing and there are some commonalities but, as we all know, the economic systems are very different.

We would also like to do something on environmental issues. Global warming is a special problem for us because India is already a very warm country. There is a lot of top quality empirical research which is taking place here and elsewhere, people picking up data about environmental quality from the Himalayas to South India.

Can you describe your peer review process, and how you intend to overcome the perennial problem of peer review, i.e. that the process is very slow?

That's a question to which there is no easy answer! It's become a well recognized problem in the field of economics, so much so that there's been an outcry and we've hit the bottom of the curve and we are moving up it.

When we floated the journal, we wrote to more than 200 colleagues requesting them to volunteer as reviewers. We told them what the workload was likely to be, and that they could expect to get three or four articles a year. We got some sort of verbal commitment from our reviewers that we would hear back from them within two months. We have been able to turn round articles within 60 days and our maximum time for giving a decision to an author is 120 days.

Won't there be a problem with some of your top quality authors, that people will be afraid to peer review them for risk of offending?

Not really, because well known authors are not going to risk their reputation by sending in something marginal. The problem lies with those articles which are promising, but not yet acceptable.

Sometimes, an article might just not fit the profile of our journal, in which case we politely suggest other journals which might be more appropriate. And once we have built our reputation, and people know that we will only accept certain types of articles, that will act as a screening device.

Some authors may struggle at writing papers because English is not their first language. How would you advise them?

We haven't yet faced that problem, although we will at some stage. It may be less of a problem in economics in that the language of instruction – in India, Hong Kong and mainland China, and Korea – is English.

We are prepared to put in time editing manuscripts if necessary, although at the moment we have no administrative support.

Emerald also has an enhanced copy-editing service for those whose first language is not English, which can work on issues of grammar and style in papers which have been accepted for publication (i.e. not all submissions).This service is available for journals such as IGDR, which have a high proportion of authors who do not have English as their first language.

Some general issues

India has enjoyed a high growth rate of around 9 per cent. How has it been able to achieve this phenomenal rate, and what are the main challenges posed, particularly in the light of the fact that many in India live at or below the poverty line, particularly in rural areas?

India is, generally speaking, a high-growth country, but it also has a lot of poverty: something to the order of 250 to 300 million. But, over the last two decades, it's enjoyed unprecedented high growth. In recent years, it's been the second highest growing economy in the world, after China.

But the way it has grown is very different from China. Largely, high growth has been due to the productivity of the service sector, whereas China's has been due to manufacturing, which is very different. India is also investing much more of its national income – something to the order of 35 to 38 per cent – and that always maps into high growth as well.

Because growth is confined to the service sector, this has led to what economists call "jobless growth". The service sector is not labour intensive, so there's growth, but it's not generating much employment. The manufacturing sector is capital intensive and it is growing, but not at the same rate as China.

The way that growth can impact poverty is by generating employment, and that's not happening to the extent that it should. So, that is the problem and that is what policy centres are trying to tackle.

One way to tackle employment or poverty is to do something about agriculture because agriculture is where 60 per cent of the workforce is employed. So you can have a much bigger impact on poverty if you have high growth rates in agriculture.

So, in a nutshell, the growth is coming from the service sector in India but there are challenges in that the agricultural sector has to grow. The "trickle down" hasn't happened yet. It's not that the poor have become poorer; that hasn't happened. But the poor's lot – or welfare – is not increasing, and the growth is not inclusive.

How do you think India will be affected by the global banking crisis? [NB this interview took place in the same week as the collapse of the American giant Lehman Brothers and the takeover of HBOS by Lloyds Bank.]

Well, it's pure speculation because all these events happened just a few days ago. But, if you want to draw a parallel, look at what happened a couple of months ago when the oil prices all went up. Our stock markets, along with those of the rest of the world, went down, but bounced back up.

The collapse of big financial centres is having an impact, and real estate is particularly badly affected. But, on the other hand, a lot of the growth in India (population 1.1 billion) and China (population 1.3 billion) is domestically driven, by domestic consumption. So the ability to map into a downturn is mitigated.

And much of the current problem arises because of bad credit policy. However, there are no high mortgages like there are in Britain.

China currently has eight universities which are among the top 200 in the world listed by the Times Higher Education. Top universities are crucial to producing research and also to the nation's economic health generally. What would your comment be about Indian universities in this respect?

ISI Delhi has been a centre of excellence in economics, mathematics and statistics research since the 1950s. Our PhD programme in economics is ranked 97th in the world according to a well respected ranking: This is not bad at all. In fact, we were the only institution from India in this ranking as well as the only institution from a developing country in the top 100.

The rankings get even better if we restrict ourselves to fields of economics. In areas such as public economics and trade and development we're ranked number 31 and 29 in the world, respectively, which is pretty good. We are a prolific bunch of researchers, as are our colleagues in ISI Calcutta, Delhi School of Economics and the Jawaharlal Nehru University. So we do have a critical mass.

What are the particular challenges faced by academic economists working in the top research institutions that you mentioned?

Here the problems and pressures are very different to those in the West. People tend to do research through peer pressure rather than being forced to do it by the system. In the Indian system, the top research universities generally have few students so we don't have the pressures that come from the clash of teaching and research.

But we have other problems: like very low salaries, with the exception of the business schools, and lack of a core group. So we can be isolated, although here [at ISI] we have been lucky enough to be visited by colleagues from all over the world. Just now for example we have two or three visitors from Europe and one from the US.

The other big problem is the lack of government funding for research. This makes it very difficult for large scale collaborative research – you have to collaborate with authors abroad. And it's hard if you are a productive researcher – there are very few resources at your disposal. That's the pressure we need to work on.

Publisher's note

Professors Das and Ghate were interviewed in August 2008.

Visit the information page for: Indian Growth and Development Review