COFFEE WITH BS > KARTHIK MURALIDHARAN | TATA CHANCELLOR'S PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
which policies could make a difference, larger problem: India’s elite had tank, Central Square Foundation (CSF), you can’t think about anything else. completely seceded from being recipients Ashish Dhawan, who decided to fund the The Shinkansen Singapore also piqued his curiosity in of public services and built moats around new effort. the private sector enough for him to themselves that left them oblivious and With no time to be lost, CEGIS has hit delay his PhD at Harvard and head to indifferent to a “hollowed-out” state. His the ground running and started work with work at Bain Consulting’s Singapore deep commitment to India, sown in him the Telangana government even as the economist office for two years in 1999 in an attempt by his grandfather and father who had search for a CEO is on. Meanwhile, to understand what drives private capital been engrossed in the frenetic nation Muralidharan is rejigging his own life to AnjuliAnjuli BBhargavahargava races to keep pace with with a view to apply his learnings in building post-Independence, wouldn’t see how he can give this new baby the public interest. The experience allow him to turn a blind eye to this. undivided attention he thinks it deserves, Muralidharan’s breakneck speed train of inculcated in him a set of skills including “Be good and do good,” I learn is his life’s fully cognisant of the fact that there is no thought on effective governance working at a scale with governments that motto, with the latter possible only after guarantee of success. doctorates typically don’t. An unabashed one achieves the former. Two hours have flown eeting Karthik Muralidharan Influenced deeply by Amartya Sen’s work, overachiever, he even made time to take That was the seminal by on this mind-boggling over Zoom is like running into he followed in his footsteps in the fall of classes in Chinese at Harvard and is now moment, sometime in 2016- By 26, Muralidharan express train as I glean Mthe Japanese Shinkansen (bullet 1998 as the Eben Fiske scholar from fluent in five languages. 17, for the birth of the Centre was the youngest many other aspects of his train) at full throttle. I have in the past Harvard to Trinity College. Sen won his By 26, Muralidharan was the youngest for Effective Governance for invitee at the personality, including his come across a few others like him: People Nobel Prize within six weeks of them both invitee at the annual Neemrana Indian States (CEGIS) of annual Neemrana ability to look upon the whose brain works at a pace the rest of landing at Cambridge! jamborees that connected India’s top which he is founder and jamborees that positives and a never-say- their faculties fail to match, but most Muralidharan repeatedly insists it technocrats and policymakers with scientific director. The seed of connected India’s die disposition. I end by jumble up some thoughts in the process. was “luck” that played a role in his economists from around the world. This that idea would catapult him top technocrats and asking how his family, his Muralidharan is an exception. destiny but I take that with a fistful of allowed him to introduce his own deeply from a thinker to a doer. policymakers with wife in particular, keeps After a few niceties, he plunges straight salt: How many are lucky enough to top researched findings into the country’s Professors of top research economists from pace. If this is what two into his life story, taking me on so many every class they’ve taken or to be in education landscape, many of which universities can be, to his around the world hours entail, how do those roller coasters that I struggle to remain corridor conversations with no less found their way into India’s 12th Plan mind, a bit like “start -up who face this daily cope? He steady. I am relieved to see he does than five Nobel laureates? His PhD document and more recently the National entrepreneurs” working with “ideas” laughs uproariously and says as far as occasionally pause to catch his breath as advisor was 2019 joint Nobel prize Education Policy, 2020. instead of a product but going through possible he now attempts to separate his I worry he will choke on his thoughts, winner Michael Kremer; he’s taken Through this period (2006-2015), he the same motions: Raising grants intellectual and professional pursuits which are diverse, insightful and quite classes with Abhijit Banerjee and continued to function from his strictly instead of funding, hiring researchers from his family life. His wife, who he fascinating. It’s 9.30 pm when I log in from Esther Duflo; he’s currently co- non-partisan academic perch at the (HR), doing the research tried to draw into every aspect in the Dehradun, blissfully unaware of what chair of the education programme of University of California, peppered with (manufacturing), publishing papers initial days, no longer makes a pretence awaits me over the next two hours. He’s the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action regular visits to India. “I knew by then (marketing) and finally communicating of keeping pace! The lockdown gave him with his mug of coffee at 8 am at his home Lab (J-PAL); and his present office at that one’s ability to get anything actually the findings through different mediums a breather and an opportunity to hike in in San Diego. the University of California in San done in government — even as chief (sales). The academic perch offers a San Diego’s pristine environs with her After Class 10 in Ahmedabad, Diego was occupied by Clive Granger, economic advisor — was rather limited “stability” that entrepreneurs are bereft and their two small children, precious Muralidharan, at 16, won a scholarship to the Nobel Prize winner for economics but you could, for instance, veto a truly of and the “luxury of time” that fire- time with many moments to treasure. study a mix of the sciences and economics in 2003. hair-brained idea more easily,” he laughs. fighting bureaucrats lack. Having It’s 11.30 pm India time and I get a sense at a school in Singapore. Armed with a Albeit short, Muralidharan’s stint in Holding an honorary additional secretary reached a sort of inflection point at 45, that he is finally winding down. Finished? lethal combination of his father’s love for Singapore was transformative in many ILLUSTRATION: BINAY SINHA rank allows him to engage with policy- he felt he had invested 20 years Wild fantasy on my part as we chat for “facts, figures and precision” and his ways. The rise of the young nation gave was here that he came to another makers at a more intimate level without “building his own capacities” and could another 15-20 minutes. When we finally mother’s love for “words, images and him an insight into what sensible conclusion, one he read later in Nobel losing his freedom. now spend the next 20 years “delivering call it a day, I realise here is someone who descriptions”, the young Indian topped economic policy could achieve when prize winner Robert Lucas’s 1988 paper: But even as some of his key ideas made on that”. has lived the first part of his life’s motto – his Chinese-speaking class to secure a seat strategic government intervention Once you start thinking about the their way into India’s education circuitry, His thoughts resonated closely with “be good” — to perfection. The “do good” at Harvard to study economics. combined well with market incentives. It disparities in per capita income and Muralidharan was forced to stare at a the founder of India’s education think bit is to now follow.