AFTER BEING selected for the country’s second-highest civilian award for his contribution to literature and education—the Padma Vibhushan, when asked to react, a very humble American-Indian Professor Avinash Dixit, puts it as simply as an “unexpected surprise”.
Recalling fondly his ‘Mumbai days’ where he was born and stayed till he was 19, Dixit says, “My interest in research and teaching in mathematical subjects, in particular, is surely inherited. My father, Kamalakar Dixit, hailed from Pune and was a professor of Physics at the Institute of Science in Bombay and my great grandfather, Shankar Dixit, was a scholar in the history of Indian Astronomy. His book on this subject Bharatiya Jyotish Sastra was translated into English and helped Lokmanya Tilak establish his theory of the Arctic origin of our Indian ancestors and of the Vedas.”
With a brilliant lineage, one isn’t surprised how Dixit’s journey to fame started in Mumbai, as early as in 1963. Professor Dixit’s cousin, Arun Purandare, who is a structural engineer in Pune, recalls how the family was proud of him when he scored 600/600 in Mathematics during the final year B Sc exam. “It was a record in the history of Bombay University,’’ says Purandare.
In an email interview with The Indian Express, Prof Dixit, who has developed the Dixit-Stiglitz model with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz for analysing imperfect markets in which many firms have pricing power known as monopolistic competition, said that he was honoured to be in the company of distinguished friends such as Jagadish Bhagwati, Montek Ahluwalia, Vijay Kelkar and Raghunath Mashelkar. “But I was very surprised. The award was totally unexpected,” he adds. Professor Dixit, whose name has often come up as a contender for the Nobel Prize in economics, recalls his association with Pune and Mumbai. Calling Pune his favourite get-away, he says, “At that time, my paternal grandfather lived in Pune and we used to spend summer vacations there. I particularly remember the walks up the Parvati Hill in the mornings and evenings. During a recent visit to Pune, I have to say, I was disappointed — it has lost its charm of a small town, and not yet become a real big city. The mounds of garbage and dust by most roadside were particularly disturbing. Perhaps, in a few years, it will improve,” says the economist.
Pursuing higher studies at Cambridge, it was then that Profesoor Dixit fell in love with economics. “I was fortunate to have such eminent economists as Paul Samuelson, Robert Solow, Franklin Fisher, Peter Diamond and Karl Shell as my professors.” Dixit taught at the University of California, University of Warwick and at Princeton before he retired. He has published books on economic theory and game theory, including The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s guide to Success in Business and Life.
Interestingly, when asked on his mantra of success, he denies there is a set solution to success and says the quest is on. “Alas, there is no mantra for success, whether for a person or for a country. It is some combination of effort and luck; I haven’t figured it out, but no one else has either,” says the economist.
‘Less government, more governance’’
Highlighting that ‘less government and more governance’ is ‘in principle’ a great idea, Dixit states that the way forward for any country is when business, consumer communities and civil society groups make their own efforts to improve governance. Reacting to Narendra Modi’s reform ideas, the economist says that a uniform Goods and Services Tax to replace the mess created by the local taxes is, perhaps, the most important.