Justice Katju: Natural science and social science

By Justice Markandey Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman of, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

There are broadly two kinds of sciences, natural sciences and social sciences.

The former studies inanimate matter ( e.g. physics, chemistry, biology, etc ) and living beings ( except behavior of human beings ) e.g. the apes, other land-based animals, fishes, etc or the theory of evolution ). They also include the medical sciences.

The latter study human behavior e.g. economics, sociology, anthropology, etc .

A long time back when I was a lawyer in the Allahabad High Court ( 1971-91 ), I was one day conversing with two eminent professors of Allahabad University in the Coffee House in Civil Lines, Allahabad viz Dr. T.Pati, Head of the Department of Mathematics ( who later became the Vice Chancellor of Allahabad University ), and Dr Bipin Agarwal, Head of the Department of Physics in the University.

They both denied that social sciences were sciences at all. The reason they gave was that there could be no predictability of human behavior, whereas science was predicated on predictability, once the laws of nature were discovered by scientific research.

Though these two persons were distinguished academicians, in my opinion, they were both wrong, and this only showed the prejudice against social sciences by many natural scientists.

Much of human behavior, though more complex than the behavior of animals, can be predicted, if a thorough study is made. For example, most humans get married. An investigation is therefore called for as to how the marriage institution arose ( there are no marriages among animals ), and whether it will last forever. Similarly, a large number of people are religious. An investigation is therefore called for about how and why religion arose ( there is no religion among animals ) and whether it will last forever.

There have been vast advances in the world in the natural sciences ( in which is included technology ), and will continue to be made.

However, in my opinion, the main issues facing the world today are issues related to the social sciences, particularly economics, much more than to the natural sciences.

About 75% of people in the world ( particularly in underdeveloped countries ) suffer from massive poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, price rise, etc.

These problems cannot be solved by the natural sciences. An engineer cannot solve these problems, however brilliant he may be.

What is the use of sending a rocket to the moon, or making another advance in the IT industry, when the masses are poor, hungry or unemployed? Every day we hear of some new discovery or invention about the natural sciences or technology. But poverty, unemployment and malnourishment remain and may get worse.

For instance, the Global Hunger Index, which is a reputed international agency studying hunger worldwide, has reported that India has slipped from being at position number 107 in 2022 to position number 111 in 2023 among the 125 countries surveyed. Half of Indian children are malnourished, their bodies stunted or wasted.


It also states that over 58% of Indian women are anemic.


We have massive unemployment in India. For instance, if even one peon’s ( chaprasi ) job is advertised by the government, there are often 10,000 applicants, many of them holding Ph.D. M.B.A, M.Sc. or engineering degrees.

It is estimated that 12 million youth enter the Indian job market every year, but only about 140,000 jobs were created in the organized sector of our economy last year. So where do the remaining go?

They end up as hawkers, street vendors, stringers, bouncers, domestic servants, beggars, criminals, prostitutes, suicides, or simply depressed and unemployed.

We have Professors of Economics in Indian Universities, many of whom hold Ph. Ds from Harvard, Yale or the London School of Economics. They are getting huge salaries and perks, but no one has been able to find out a way to abolish our massive poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, etc. What kind of social scientists are these?

The Indian economy is in the doldrums, with no manufacturing growth, negative figures of exports, a sluggish real estate market, skyrocketing food prices, and an alarming level of unemployment.

Ruchir Sharma, the Chief Global Strategist of Morgan Stanley, is the latest economic ‘wizard’, after Raghuram Rajan, diagnosing India’s economic problems and suggesting a remedy.





His statement that the official figure of India’s GDP growth of 7.9% is bogus, is correct. But his remedy for solving India’s economic woes is superficial. He says that there must be an increase in private investment in India.

” GDP is overstated, higher private investment is needed,” says Ruchir Sharma.

But who will invest in India when there is a recession going on ? Where is the demand? And there is a lack of infrastructure, corruption, red tape, etc in many parts of India. Moreover, even assuming that there is GDP growth in India, the question to be asked is : who is getting the fruits of this growth, just a handful of big businessmen or the Indian masses ? By just putting this question we get the answer.


The problem is not how to increase production ( that can easily be done with the large number of competent engineers and immense natural resources we have ) but how to raise the purchasing power of the masses, so that the goods produced can be sold. But how is this to be done ? This is the problem to which all serious thinkers must now apply their minds.

In the Soviet Union which started its massive program of industrialisation following the adoption of the First Five Year Plan in 1928, the methodology adopted was broadly this :

(a) Prices of commodities were fixed by the government.

(b) These prices were reduced by 5-10% every 2 years or so.

(c) This resulted in steadily increasing the purchasing power of the masses, because with the same income people could buy more goods. In other words, the real income of the masses went up steadily, even if nominally it remained the same ( since real wage is relative to the price index ).

(d) Simultaneously, production was stepped up, and this increased production could be sold in the domestic market, as the purchasing power of the people was steadily rising.

(e) This led to rapid expansion of the economy, leading to the creation of millions of jobs and thereby abolition of unemployment.

During the Great Depression which hit the Western economies in 1929 after the Wall Street crash ( it continued till the breakout of the Second World War in 1939, despite the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt ) when about one-third or more people in Western countries were unemployed and factories were shutting down, the Soviet economy was rapidly expanding and unemployment abolished in the Soviet Union by following the above methodology.

Of course, this was only possible in a socialist economy, where the problem was solved by state action.

I am not saying that we must necessarily follow the method adopted by the Soviet Union. We can adopt any other method if thereby we can raise the purchasing power of the Indian masses and thereby rapidly expand the Indian economy, which is the only way of eliminating economic stagnation and abolishing poverty and unemployment in India.

The central point, and therefore the main problem before India, is how to raise the purchasing power of the masses ?

This is the issue that serious thinkers must address.


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