With someone you know well but don’t see too often, the shock of their passing is not diminished by the distance of time and place.
I had known Deepak Lal principally through our mutual membership of the Mont Pelerin Society. In fact, he succeeded me as President of the Society in 2008. He had visited Australia on several occasions too and I had heard him speak here at universities and elsewhere. He was a visiting fellow at the ANU in 1978.
Principally known as a development economist, he was one of India’s intellectual exports who — had he been listened to more carefully — could have helped that country on a more certain path to prosperity. After school and undergraduate studies in India, he left for Oxford and it was an ideal intellectual cauldron for a man so curious about everything.
His intellectual and personal legacy is immense, with a prodigious output covering more than just economics. His interests and writings also ventured into history, culture, political philosophy, strategic issues and more. In development economics, he (like Peter Bauer) usually stood against the orthodoxies of the time.
As central planning began to collapse in much of the developing world, Deepak and others like him — who’d had experience working in planning agencies of various kinds — were vindicated and could point to markets and free societies as the path to prosperity and freedom for so many despairing nations. It’s a pity that some are yet to follow that prescription.
In his latter years, he began to turn his mind to some big issues like the rise of the West and whether it could continue and how societies with different cultures might modernise without affecting their own cultural roots. In that he was a cautious optimist, though a couple of his books over the last years of his life do hint at that caution, namely, Reviving the Invisible Hand: The Case for Classical Liberalism in the Twenty-first Century and Lost Causes: The Retreat from Classical Liberalism.
He and his wife Barbara were wonderful company and many hours could be spent discussing a list of issues that seemed to have no end. Those hours can’t be retrieved, but will be long remembered.