The Lord Desai
Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai
10 July 1940
|born and raised in India; naturalised British
|University of Mumbai
University of Pennsylvania
|London School of Economics
Meghnad Jagdishchandra Desai, Baron Desai (born 10 July 1940) is an Indian-born naturalised British economist and former Labour politician. He stood unsuccessfully for the position of Lord Speaker in the House of Lords in 2011. He has been awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in the Republic of India, in 2008. He is a Professor Emeritus of the London School of Economics.
Born in Vadodara, Gujarat, India, Desai grew up with two brothers and one sister. He is said to have gone to secondary school at age seven and matriculated at 14. He secured a bachelor's degree in economics from Ramnarain Ruia College, affiliated to the University of Mumbai, and then pursued a master's degree in economics from the Department of Economics (now called the Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy) of University of Mumbai, after which he won a scholarship to University of Pennsylvania in August 1960. He completed his PhD in economics at Pennsylvania in 1963.
Desai has been active in the British Labour Party, becoming chairman between 1986 and 1992, and was made Honorary Lifetime and President of Islington South and Finsbury Constituency Labour Party in London. He was created a life peer as Baron Desai, of St Clement Danes in the City of Westminster, on 5 June 1991. He was a member of Labour Friends of Israel. Desai quit his Labour Party membership of 49 years over antisemitism concerns in November 2020, following the readmission of former Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn as a member.
Early in his career, Desai worked as an Associate Specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics, University of California, Berkeley, California. He became a lecturer at the London School of Economics in 1965 and professor of economics in 1983. At the LSE, he taught econometrics, macroeconomics, Marxian economics and development economics over the years. In the 1970s, he taught an idiosyncratic version of economic principles to freshers at the LSE (starting with Piero Sraffa). From 1990 to 1995, he headed LSE’s Development Studies Institute and lead LSE Global Governance from 1992 to 2003, the year of his retirement.
Desai wrote his first book Marxian Economic Theory in 1973 followed by Applied Econometrics in 1976 and Marxian Economics, a revised edition of his 1973 book in 1979. He wrote Testing Monetarism, a critique of monetarism, in 1981.
Desai has written extensively publishing over 200 articles in academic journals and had a regular column in the British radical weekly Tribune during 1985–1994, in the Indian business daily Business Standard (1995–2001) and in Indian Express and Financial Express. From 1984 to 1991, he was co-editor of the Journal of Applied Econometrics. A selection of his academic papers was published in two volumes as The Selected Essays of Meghnad Desai in 1995.
In 2002, Desai's book Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism stated that globalisation would tend toward the revival of socialism. Desai analyses some of Marx's lesser known writings and argues that his theories enhance our understanding of modern capitalism and globalization. His work was well received, with The Guardian stating 'If only socialists had studied Marx properly, they would have known all along that capitalism would triumph. Meghnad Desai gets behind the slogans in Marx's Revenge'.
Desai also published a biography of Indian film star Dilip Kumar entitled Nehru's Hero: Dilip Kumar in the life of India (Roli, 2004). He has described the book as his "greatest achievement". Examining Kumar's films – some of which Desai has seen more than 15 times – he discovers parallels between the socio-political arena in India and its reflection on screen. He discusses issues as varied as censorship, the iconic values of Indian machismo, cultural identity and secularism, and analyses how the films portrayed a changing India at that time.
He is (2023) chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) Advisory Board, an independent membership-driven research network. It focuses on global policy and investment themes for off the record public and private sector engagement and analysis. He was also chairman of the Trustee's Board for Training for Life, Chairman of the Management Board of City Roads and on the Board of Tribune magazine.
Since retirement he has published Rethinking Islamism: Ideology of the New Terror (2006), The Route to All Evil: The Political Economy of Ezra Pound (2007), a novel Dead on Time, (2009) and The Rediscovery of India (2009).
Lord Desai serves as the founder chairman of the Meghnad Desai Academy of Economics in Mumbai (MDAE). MDAE offers a one-year post-graduate diploma in economics, offered jointly with Department of Economics (Autonomous), University of Mumbai. MDAE focuses on applied learning and case studies rather than on rote learning. Students participate in workshops and seminars with top economics and finance professionals from around the world.
Main article: LSE–Gaddafi affair
In 2007, Desai was asked by the University of London to serve with Tony McGrew of the University of Southampton as one of the two examiners of the PhD thesis of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the then leader of Libya. They did not immediately accept the thesis, as it was found to be weak. The candidate was subjected to an oral examination for two and a half hours and Gaddafi was asked to revise and re-submit it. The revised version was subsequently accepted.
As Desai had already retired from the LSE he had no involvement with the donation from Saif Gaddafi's charity to the LSE. Learning from the press of these links between LSE and Libya, Desai demanded that the money be returned to the people of Libya. He expressed disappointment at a speech Saif Gaddafi subsequently made on Libyan state television declaring the Gaddafi family's willingness to "fight to the last bullet", observing that "he was not behaving as if he had had an LSE education."
In 1970, Desai married his LSE colleague Gail Wilson, his first wife. She was the daughter of George Ambler Wilson, CBE. They had three children.
During the course of writing Nehru's Hero, Desai met Kishwar Ahluwalia (now Kishwar Desai), his second wife who worked as an editor for this book. On 20 July 2004 the couple married. Desai and 47-year-old Ahluwalia were both divorced and married at a registrar's office in London.
Desai is an atheist and is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. He is also a member of and an advisor to the 1928 Institute.
Literary criticism and novels
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