Three words of advice before we move onto the reading list.
1) Importance of reading. Reading broadens one's horizons and so on. I can't emphasize this more and I believe most people agree with this. A consistent feature that I have been noticing about great writers, thinkers and leaders is that they are voracious readers.
- Benjamin Franklin, the great polymath was a voracious reader. He had no formal education. He ran away from home as a child, did various jobs to sustain himself, and in between all these he self-taught himself a wide variety of subjects. Maybe reading his autobiography is a good place to start with, to get inspired.
- Shashi Tharoor once had taken a new year resolution to read 365 books in a year. He completed his target by Christmas.
- Dr Jayaprakash Narayan (Lok Satta) says he used to read at least one book per day when he was a student. He still reads crazy.
- Arvind Subramanian, the current Chief Economic Adviser to Govt. of India with his tight schedules, read 150 books last year, as mentioned in one of the newspapers that profiled him. His Goodreads profile says that he read 200 books in 2012.
- Gulzar Natarajan, an IAS officer, currently the director of PMO, religiously writes a blog post a day with commentary on contemporary issues and list of interesting readings for that day.
- Great innovations and ideas are often at the intersection of different fields. In this context, I would strongly recommend www.edge.org, the most amazing website ever made. Go through the website to know the beauty.
- One can appreciate complex issues only if they have a comprehensive perspective, which requires an understanding of a variety of issues.
- Reading across fields will make you realize the insignificance of the knowledge that you have, which will make you humble.
Often, we tend to view individuals as the subjects of policies but it's not the case often. Sociological factors also have an important effect because the problems are embedded in a context. Thus it is important to be able to analyze policies through a sociological lens.
- Prof Sandel's lecture series called 'Justice'. OR Prof. Sandel's book "Justice"
- Western Political thoughts - From Socrates to the Age of Ideology: Brian R. Nelson
- Fountain Head - Ayn Rand
- Capitalism and Freedom - Milton Friedman
- The Wealth of Nations - Adam Smith
- The Communist Manifesto
- What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets - Michael Sandel
- The idea of justice - Amartya Sen
- The Burden of Democracy - Pratap Bhanu Mehta
- Any good introductory textbook on Sociology
- The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values - Sam Harris
- Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond.
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind - Yuval Noah Harari
- The Origins of Political Order - Francis Fukuyama
- Political order and political decay - Francis Fukuyama
- The Rise and decline of nations - Mancur Olson
- Why Nations Fail - Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (also read Jared Diamond's review of this book).
- Debraj Ray's talk on the link between growth and conflict
- The Atlas of Economic Complexity - Ricardo Hausmann and others. If the book is lengthy, you can listen to his talk to get a brief idea about the concept.
- The Age of Sustainable Development - Jeffery Sachs
- The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business - Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
- Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology - Kentaro Toyama
- Poverty and Famines - Amartya Sen
- The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future - Joseph Stiglitz
- One Illness Away: Why People Become Poor and How They Escape Poverty - Anirudh Krishna
- The End of Poverty, How can we make it happen in our lifetime - Jeffrey Sachs
- The White Man's Burden - William Easterly
- Poor Economics - Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo
- Scarcity, Why Having Too Little Means So Much - Sendhil Mullainathan
- Let their people come, Breaking the Gridlock on International Labor Mobility - Lant Pritchett
- In Defense of Globalization - Jagdish Bhagwati
- Globalization and its Discontents - Joseph Stiglitz
It is important to understand human behaviour to be able to make sense of some of our problems and to devise solutions for the same. The following book list addresses questions like - Do humans always make rational decisions? What are the biases and prejudices that humans are prone to? When does collective wisdom turn out to be true? Why don't humans act collectively sometimes? When do humans coordinate?
- Nudge - Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
- Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
- The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki
- The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and Theory of Groups - Mancur Olson
- The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
- Public Policymaking in India - RV Vaidyanatha Ayyar
- Biography of Margaret Thatcher
- Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln - Doris Kearns Goodwin
- Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
In case of India, I would strongly recommend
- Constituent Assembly Debates. It is an amazing treasure of knowledge. This is the transcript of discussions that happened while drafting Indian Constitution. One way to read this is - go to Indian Kanoon website -- > search for a particular article of the constitution --> the corresponding page gives a list of Constituent Assembly debates where this particular article was discussed (cited). For example, this page corresponds to Article 1 of Indian Constitution. On the top of the page, you have links to Constituent Assembly debates where this was cited. One gets an in-depth perspective of the context and spirit of the article after reading these.
- Indian Constitutional Law and Philosophy blog
- Working a Democratic Constitution - Granville Austin
At the end of the day, the policy is all about interpretation. While interpreting evidence, we are prone to our own biases and prejudices. It is common for people to fall into logical fallacies. For instance, basing all our judgment based on a single incident that we might have experienced in the past etc. Being aware of such fallacies and taking caution to prevent them is necessary to be objective.
After you get numbers, you need some knowledge and techniques to be able to analyze them. The book list below is in both these aspects.
- How to Lie with Statistics - Darrel Huff
- The Art of Thinking Clearly - Rolf Dobelli
- The Black Swan, The Impact of The Highly Probable - Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Mastering Metrics - Joshua D. Angrist and Jorn-Steffen Pischke
- Mostly Harmless Econometrics - Joshua D. Angrist and Jorn-Steffen Pischke
9) India specific reforms
To understand the problems of India, complexities and solutions, read Dr Jayaprakash Narayan's (Lok Satta) works. Click here. These documents are 'the' place to go for those interested in India specific reforms. It's a comprehensive list covering a wide spectrum.
10) Daily updates
- World Bank Development blog
- World Bank Impact Evaluation blog
- Chris Blattman's blog
- Gulzar Natarajan's blog
- Ajay Shah's blog
- Ideas for India
- The Takshashila Institution dispatch
- Center for Global Development's blog and newsletter
- JPAL, IFMR and IPA newsletters
- Project Syndicate
- Shameless plug - Subscribe to this blog. :D
Identify some top people in the area of your interest and read their famous papers. In the first read, you will understand the gist. In the second read, you will understand the context. In the third read, you will appreciate the nuances. In the fourth read, you will understand the data and analysis procedures. In the fifth read, you link different things and question. In the sixth read, you will come up with your own questions and pursue your own path of exploration.
Following latest research: You can follow the latest research papers in the area of your interest to be updated about the latest developments. You don't need to read all the papers. You can just read abstracts and continue to read the full paper or article only if it looks interesting. I am mainly interested in development economics, so I subscribe to newsletters of NBER and American Economic Association journals. I also get updates on latest research through VoxDev, Ideas for India, and World Bank blogs.
Writing is also important because it helps you practice writing! Writing is a highly underrated skill. All the reading and analysis is not useful if you can't communicate properly. The only way to improve it is to write more. Often, people complain that they want to write but they don't have anything to write. Commenting on the public policy issues is a good way to get that content. With all the above reading, I am sure you will be beaming with ideas.
- Figure out the policy dilemmas of policymakers and try to build an evidence regarding that.
- In the topic of your interest, try to write a comprehensive document on what you understand about that field, problems and your proposed solutions. Just put down all your thoughts on the paper, no need to back them up with data. After the document is ready, try to see if you can find evidence for each of your arguments in the note. All the assertions in the note for which you can't find evidence are your topics for research.
- iPolicy course by Centre for Civil Society, Delhi: 3-4 day residential course. Good for beginners.
- The Takshashila Institution's Graduate Certificate in Public Policy course: 3-month online mode course
- MITx Data, Economics and Development policy Micromasters
- PDIA course by Harvard's Centre for International Development.
15) Other: Want to read more? - Complete Arvind Subramanian's reading list.
Thinking that this is all so much to read, need a shortcut? Sorry. There's no shortcut to knowledge and scholarship except for reading. Hard work is inevitable.
After reading the above, if you are looking to work in the policy sector to bring about a change, here is a framework that I developed to think through such a decision (click here). Hope it helps.