Raghuram Rajan : The Indian Economist With A Global Impact

Lakshya Bharadwaj
Source: Booth School of Business (UChicago)

India has had a history of producing articulate and brilliant economists who have engaged in policy and administration work all over the globe. Many of these economists have become celebrities in their fields, switching between India and other countries where they hold and have held academic and other advisory positions. This article discusses the professional and academic life of one such economist who is active contemporarily in the field and has dedicated his life to shaping public policy and the study of economics both in India and abroad.

Many economists have brought recognition to India through their achievements such as the Nobel Prize, the Rhodes Scholarship, and other academic fellowships. In addition to the academic sphere, many economists of Indian origin have also adorned government and administrative posts throughout the history of the Republic of India. This article does not ignore in any way the contributions of famed names in this field such as Dr. Amartya Sen, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Dr. Jagdish Bhagwati, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Gandhian economist J.C. Kumarappa, and many others who may be the subject of future articles. With an acknowledgement of the immortalized contributions of the economists occupying a long list, this article focuses on Dr. Raghuram Rajan, a reputed name both in the academic world, and in the more public spheres of politics and political economy.

Dr. Raghuram Rajan is perhaps the most well-known contemporary banker-economist of Indian origin. He began his academic journey, like many Indian luminaries, in the field of economics and other social and hard sciences, at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Born in Bhopal, Dr. Rajan graduated from IIT Delhi in 1985 with a B.Tech. in mechanical engineering. Immediately after graduating college, he entered the MBA program at Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad, graduating in 1987.

Four years after earning his MBA, Dr. Rajan earned his Ph.D. from the esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, United States. MIT has been known for decades as one of the most prominent institutions in engineering, technology, sciences, management, finance, and quantitative economics. Dr. Rajan’s thesis was titled – “Essays on Banking”, a prelude to his illustrious career as an international banking professional who would go on to head one of the most powerful central banks in the world – Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Before he was appointed Governor of RBI, Dr. Rajan held many other influential positions in the American, Indian, and international banking and finance scenarios. He served from 2003 to 2006 as the Director of Research at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), one of the two most prominent financial entities at the global scale; the other being the World Bank Group. From 2008 to 2012. Dr. Rajan also served as an honorary economic advisor to the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, a distinguished economist himself. The very next fiscal year, the Republic of India benefitted yet again from Dr. Rajan’s expertise when he served as the Chief Economic Advisor to the Ministry of Finance.

Source: Reserve Bank of India

In his most recent role in an administrative capacity for the Government of India, Dr. Rajan combatted inflation as the Governor of RBI, India’s central bank in charge of monetary policy in the country. In just two years, the policies he helped design and implement brought down the retail inflation rate in India by over 100% to 3.78% in mid-2015, becoming the Governor under whose leadership retail inflation came down to its lowest since the 1990s.

After 2016, Dr. Raghuram Rajan has maintained a reputed academic position with the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago, where he is the Katherine Dusak Miller Distinguished Service Professor of Finance. In 2019, he was awarded the Arthur Kelley Faculty Prize for his services to the University of Chicago in both an academic and a research capacity. In addition to his current academic position, Dr. Rajan has also been a Visiting Professor at the MIT Sloan School, the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, and the Stockholm School of Economics.

Academic leadership and research publications are part of Dr. Rajan’s excellent record, making him one of the most prolific contemporary academicians in the field of economics and finance. Not only has he headed academic communities of repute such as the American Finance Association and the National Bureau of Economic Research, but he has also guided established research journals such as the American Economic Review and the Annual Review of Finance. He is the author of five popular books that cover many topics including global economics, central banking, capitalism, and finance. His most recent research recommending banking reform measures especially in the wake of the pandemic is a co-authored (with Dr. Viral Acharya) take on central banking in India, and can be accessed for free here.

Source: Amazon.com

Dr. Rajan’s recognition is not limited to merely academic and professional circles. He has been honored with awards by institutions around the globe. TIME Magazine enlisted him in the “100 Most Influential People of 2016”, an honor well-deserved. Foreign Policy Magazine, a publication providing insights into and opinions on international events of importance, placed Dr. Rajan in their list of Top 100 Global Thinkers twice, in 2010 and 2012. In his country of origin, India, he was recognized with the Yashvantrao Chavan National Award in 2018. NASSCOM bestowed on him the Global Indian of the Year Award in 2011, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences inducted him as a Fellow in 2009.

Dr. Rajan is 57 years old and resides in the United States, and is married to Radhika Puri, who he met at IIM Ahmedabad where they were batch-mates in the MBA program. When he is not teaching finance courses, advising governments around the world on economic policy, or writing a new book on economics, Dr. Rajan likes to play tennis and squash and takes an interest in history as well. Even though his economics advice overlaps with politics given the political core of economics as a discipline, Dr. Rajan has publicly stated that he has no intentions of joining politics himself. For now, the world of economics and finance is better with Dr. Rajan in it, and with the rate at which he has been contributing to research in this field, we still have an impressive amount to learn from him!

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