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  • The Price of Aid: The Economic Cold War in India by David Engerman
  • Swapna Kona Nayudu
The Price of Aid: The Economic Cold War in India. By David Engerman (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2018) 512 pp. $35.00

In The Price of Aid, Engerman brings recently declassified Russian, British, American, Indian, and other archival documents together with an [End Page 529] astounding array of secondary published material to reconstruct India's "foreign economic relations" in the early years of the Cold War (170). Engerman studies the Cold War as an organizing principle of the world, one that remains crucial to the way that the international economic order took shape in the twentieth century, reconstructing how superpowers turned to foreign aid as a tool of the Cold War to influence geopolitics through economic means.

Because Soviet and American aid policies and practices in India had wide-ranging consequences for both the donor countries, too, this book is essentially based on three parallel national narratives, grounded in an international context. Thus, its main conclusion is that none of the national economic policies of the time were purely domestic. Engerman stresses the inherently political nature of these seemingly purely economic decisions. The Price of Aid brings forward the idea that political actors on all sides were "building a national economy into an international enterprise" (3).

While this strategy might have been a large-writ feature of that time, Engerman illustrates through an astonishing accumulation of detail the specificity of the Indian case. Thus, the book engages not just with the concept of India as a recipient of foreign aid but equally with the question of how India shaped superpower practices and theories—indeed, how far donor policies were driven by, and began in, India. The central voice in the book turns out to be that of Indian officialdom; many of its episodes demonstrate the surprisingly robust agency with which personalities like Homi J. Bhabha, father of the Indian nuclear program, and Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, a member of India's erst-while planning commission, sought their own ends. Engerman achieves his worm's eye view in the book through microhistories of "personalities, politics and institutions" (167), conveying a sense of "not just the scale but also the shape of aid" (188). The narrative provokes the idea that foreign donors were often building networks with particular ministries and not the entire government of India, thus weakening the Indian state by encouraging competition between its constituent parts (348).

Engerman approaches questions of economics through historical analysis, but he also makes a significant contribution to the historiography of the Cold War. The framing of the book and the insights that it offers beg the question, how far is economic history from being a history of ideas? After all, as Engerman says, "both sides … portrayed history as an irreversible march to improvement, which (they believed) would lead inevitably to the victory of their ideas" (7). This book's motif may be the politics of economics, but as such, it foregrounds the vital question of what constitutes the study of the Cold War. Economic history has long been plagued with arguments regarding its contributions to both economics and history. Engerman has treated his object of study not just as a sub-field of both disciplines; he has also situated the site of inquiry differently, by introducing the concept of "development politics" (6). By privileging the international over the national, this book has rid itself of the curse of letting "economic history" occupy itself with developed nation-states [End Page 530] while leaving "economic development" to deal with lesser-developed countries.

In addition to introducing this method, the book offers one of the best features of economic history—the creation of a large data bank, a new set of material for both historians and economists. The most celebrated examples of Cold War studies have followed a similar wave of regeneration, combining the materiality of data (in this case, economic) with the more allegorical aspects of superpower politics. More radical interventions seem not too far in the future, as evidenced in Engerman's invocation of Morgenthau, a leading figure in yet another discipline concerned deeply with the Cold...


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pp. 529-531
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