NCAER invited a talk on “Trends in India’s Income Distribution” by Dr Surjit S. Bhalla on February 15, 2018. Dr Bhalla is Senior India Analyst for the Observatory Group, Chairman of Oxus Research & Investments and a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and of NCAER’s Governing Body. Dr Pronab Sen, Country Director for the International Growth Centre was the discussant.
While much is known about how the distribution of consumption in India has changed over time, the evolution of income distribution in India is still a relative unknown. Household surveys at the national level with data both on consumption and income have been conducted in India, primarily by NCAER. The known limitations of consumption and income surveys (not able to capture the consumption/income of the top 1 to 5% of the income distribution) have led Thomas Piketty and colleagues to develop a data base for evaluating trends in income distribution for many countries. Dr Bhalla discussed his paper which evaluates the Piketty methodology, and the resulting data for India. In particular, the paper examines trends in consumption and income distribution using several different methods and sources. The paper’s estimation approach stays as close as possible to the Piketty methodology of integrating and matching three sources of data—consumption, income, and tax returns. Bhalla does not obtain the Piketty results for any consistent set of assumptions about consumption, income, or tax payments.
Surjit S. Bhalla is the Senior India Analyst for the Observatory Group, a New York-based macroeconomic policy advisory firm, Chairman of Oxus Research & Investments in New Delhi, a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council and a member of NCAER’s Governing Body. Bhalla has taught at the Delhi School of Economics and was the Executive Director of the Delhi-based Policy Group. He has worked as a research economist at the Rand Corporation, the Brookings Institution, in the research and treasury departments of the World Bank, and as a consultant to Warburg Pincus. He worked on Wall Street at Deutsche Bank and at Goldman Sachs. He is the author of several academic articles as well as of Imagine There’s no Country (2002), Devaluing to Prosperity (2012), and The New Wealth of Nations (2017). His first book, Between the Wickets: The Who and Why of the Best in Cricket (1987), developed a model for evaluating performance in sports. Bhalla is a regular contributor to Indian newspapers, magazines, and television on financial markets, economics, politics and cricket. He is a contributing editor for the Indian Express. Bhalla has a PhD in Economics from Princeton University, a Master’s in Public and International Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, and a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Purdue University.
Pronab Sen is the Country Director for the India Growth Centre’s India Central Programme. Most recently he was the Chairman of India’s National Statistical Commission, Secretary in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, and Principal Adviser, Power and Energy, at the Planning Commission. He received his PhD in Economics from Johns Hopkins University.