Economist (Ph.D. MIT), Author, Consultant, Professor
Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America (USA)
Q1. Please share your inspirational journey with us?
I was lucky to be born in an educated and motivated family. When I was growing up, education and learning was all around us in our home. Even though we lived in small, remote cities where newspapers came two days late, we were aware of the world. Later, when I went to school in Jaipur, my family thought of itself as world-class. While my father had a high-ranking civil service job, we were a large family. As a result, we never had much spending money, and I inherited many of my clothes from older siblings. Please see https://www.indiaofthepast.org/content/bicycle-my-dreams. But, it did not matter. My siblings and I worked hard to do well academically and intellectually. And, we had fun too, though we did not have the gadgets that are common today.
Q2. What did attract you towards Economics?
By the time I finished my high school, my oldest brother had already topped Rajasthan University in his MA in Economics & Public Administration. Another older brother had enrolled in a BA Economics degree. However, it was no all Arts courses. One of my older brothers was an engineer, and another was studying Physics. I was attracted to Economics, and the family was fine with it.
Q3. You worked in many countries as a Consultant for the World Bank. What kind of projects do you handle as a consultant?
My job has been primarily to help design the economic and financial aspects of innovative rural and renewable energy projects. For example, today Bangladesh has one of the world’s most successful rural solar projects. Please see https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/01/bangladesh-solar-power-energy-grid-rural-life/ The financial system in this project is the same as the system I designed from an earlier World Bank project in Indonesia in 1995. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/979121468051236873/Indonesia-Solar-Home-Systems-Project The Indonesia project was the first World Bank rural solar project, and it had a huge spillover effect. The World Bank then copied the approach in subsequent projects in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. I hasten to say that the success in Bangladesh is mainly due to the hard and motivated work done by Bangladeshi agencies.
Later, I designed some innovative projects in Africa. In 2018-2019, I helped design rural solar systems for Africa. I had a major contribution in this report. https://esmap.org/new_esmap_report_minigrids_for_half_a_billion_people and in the design of this project in Nigeria. https://www.esi-africa.com/industry-sectors/generation/nigeria-electrification-project-commissions-first-solar-mini-grid/
I am no longer working for the World Bank.
Q4. What kind of hurdles did you face in your journey?
I did not face many hurdles. However, we did have occasional cash shortages. I could do my MA in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics only with a scholarship and earning some money by tuitions, and other things. However, in the last few months of my MA Final, I had to focus on my studies. I did not have the money to pay my fees, so one of my brothers borrowed some money from a friend, and that’s how I could appear for the exam. The reason for the cash shortage was that my father was a totally honest officer who could and did stand up to the Chief Minister. So, we did have occasional cash shortages but all of the siblings did well and were proud of our family. For example, my youngest brother topped Delhi University, but he did not have a coat, so he borrowed a coat from a friend to receive his Gold Medal.
It was a complicated situation. Our family had a nice home and a car, and my father had a highly prestigious job. However, we had no spendable money commensurate with our status. But, it was not a hurdle of the type that many young people face because we were all doing well and enjoying life with confidence and gusto.
Q5. You recently wrote an E-book named “Core Economics: Concepts & Applications”. Please share some brief about your E-book and is it beneficial for everyone?
The book is now available in paperback in India https://store.pothi.com/book/subodh-mathur-core-economics-concepts-applications-volume-i and as an eBook https://www.amazon.in/dp/B089T86XYH/.
In simple language, this is Economics for Non-economists. It’s written without mathematics or jargon. It brings out the core principles and their real-world applications. While the book has a worldwide focus, it does bring about some key Indian realities. For example, India has more than 40% of its labour force in agriculture – much higher than in other countries.
But, in India, agriculture’s share in GDP is only about 15%. So, India is faced with a major barrier – 40% of its workers produce only 15% of its GDP. The productivity of these workers is very low. India has to move most of them out of agriculture, but to where? To slums in metro areas? There is no plan to resolve this major issue.
My book reflects my years of teaching experience. More importantly, it reflects my years of real-world experience as a practical economist. Hence, it is not a textbook – far from it. The book is written in a conversational style – it’s like I am talking to my readers. It’s aimed at anyone who wants to learn the principles of economics without becoming a student. You can find more information at www.profmathur.com.
Q6. You are an Author, Consultant, and Professor at the same time. How do you play multiple roles simultaneously in your life?
Actually, there’s only one me. These are just different aspects of the same thing. For example, in my consulting work, my clients have always thought of me as a professor even when I have not been a professor. For example, as a World Bank consultant. once I made a presentation to an African agency with all of its staff present. Twenty minutes. No PowerPoint slides, no handouts, no notes, no paper. No World Bank staff member present. Please listen to me talking as professor! At the end, the Chair said, “It’s clear that you work for us, not for the World Bank.” That was the highest compliment I could get.
And, I write as I used to teach. So, it’s the same academically-oriented real-world-savvy economist who shows up in different avatars.
Q7. What is the meaning of success in your terms?
First, my family has to be happy with what I do. Without their OK and support, I don’t find much meaning in my life. And this includes making enough money. Fortunately, my kids are frugal, and my wife is very careful with money. She has decorated our home with low-cost ($ 10-15) items from around the world. Our home was featured in India’s leading design magazine Inside Outside in October 2018. Here is one page from it.
Second, my work has to help people. I chose World Bank consulting work, which paid much less than my US consulting work, because I could directly help people in rural Asia and Africa. I have travelled thousands of miles in rural Africa where there are no modern facilities – instead of US work in Washington, DC. And I am glad that my work has brought electricity to so many people.
Another group is students. I often say that I don’t teach Economics – I teach my students. I have long-standing relationships with many of my former students.
Q8. You had both academic and industry experience in your long span of career. Which one do you like most and why?
I have enjoyed both equally – mainly because industry let me behave like a professor. However, I knew soon after my Ph.D. that I am not a world-class research scholar. I am good but not good enough by my own assessment. So, I gave up that aspect, and focused on applying academic concepts to the real world.
Q9. Which one thing do you want to change in yourself and why?
People say that I keep going on and on about any topic that I pick up. And that’s probably true. I need to learn to stop because most people don’t want all the nitty-gritty details that are of interest only to specialists.