Baran’s Book

Lewis Coser’s review of Paul Baran’s Political Economy of Growth is tendentious, misleading, and sciolistic. I say this only after re-reading both Coser’s review and Baran’s book.

Invective may be invigorating; it is not a substitute for analysis. Just what is revealed about the argument in Baran’s book by the following phrases by Coser: “crude propogandist’s brief,” “Stalinoid obscurantism,” “claustrophobia,” “the “Fathers,” “pious mumblings”? Clearly, Coser is angry; but about what?

Baran’s thesis is not fairly summarized by Coser. The book is essentially an argument for socialist economic planning which Baran believes to be the most solid and humane basis for national economic development. He points out private economic monopoly—wherever it exists—as the basic obstacle to that development. Coser has not evaluated the book in its own terms; yet, this is a reviewer’s first obligation.

As a social scientist Coser has a special responsibility while writing for a non-technical publication. And it is a difficult responsibility. He must above all be well informed on the subject matter discussed. Unfortunately, Coser is illinformed; worse, he cultivates the opposite impression.

Coser, for example, declares: “A vast specialized literature has grown up; yet one looks in vain for any evidence that Professor Baran has ever consulted it.” This declaration is fantastic. Here are only a few of the scholars in the field whose works Baran uses: Colin Clark, Schumpeter, Steindl, Kalecki, Kuznets, Mrs. Robinson, Neisser, Viner, Domar, Kaldor, Nurske, Wilbert E. Moore, Frankel, Singer, Myint. And despite Coser’s allegation to the contrary, Baran cites a number of these and others in a favorable way.

As for Professors Lewis and Hoselitz. Many specialists will disagree with Coser’s judgment of the first as “the foremost British expert in this area.” Surely Baran’s failure to cite Lewis’ work refleets a legitimate difference of opinion with Coser. Has this become suddenly suspect? As for Hoselitz, he is himself well-enough able to judge whether Baran’s failure to refer to him reflects the narrowness of Baran’s research.

Cosers refers to “an utterly absurd notion” of Baran’s that—in Coser’s words— .,were it not … for the excessive consumption of the upper classes, unproductive hoardings, and the maintenance of a vast bureaucracy and military establishment, as well as withdrawals of foreign capital, the underdeveloped countries could attain high, indeed very high, rates of growth.” It is nonsense, according to Coser, to apply this conception to countries like India.