“I studied economics to better understand the world and equip me with better tools to serve society”


Prof Anis Chowdhury, an Associate of the Centre for Future Work, was recently appointed Emeritus Professor at Western Sydney University, in honour of his decades of influential work in progressive macroeconomics and development economics. Prof Chowdhury’s address on occasion of his installment provides an overview of his evolution as a progressive economist and significant impact on global policy:

Installment Address, Emeritus Professor Anis Chowdhury, Western Sydney University, June 2024

Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, colleagues, guests, ladies and gentlemen – and of course, graduands.

Thank-you Deputy Vice-Chancellor for your generous introduction. My sincere thanks to the Board of Trustees for approving me for this prestigious title.

I recognise the Traditional Custodians of the lands where our campuses are located, and pay my respects to all First Nations Elders past and present.

I join my voice to all calls to honour their right to self-determination and development, as enshrined in the landmark 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Incidentally, at the UN, the first report I provided significant input into, was State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples 2009, and drafted, was Report on the World Social Situation 2010.

My passion for human rights, equity and justice is the product of my time. I was born in 1954, a year before the leaders of newly-decolonised Africa and Asia met in solidarity in Bandung, Indonesia.

Indonesia’s founding President Soekarno reminded, “our unhappy world [is] torn and tortured, … because the dogs of war are unchained once again”.

He called for “Moral Violence … in favour of peace”, to “demonstrate to the minority of the world … that we, the majority, are for peace, not for war”.

At school in the 1960s, we were constantly inspired by calls against all forms of discrimination, violence and exploitation in favour of peace, humanity and social justice.

Despite the wave of decolonisation, we remembered Soekarno’s warning: colonialism “was not dead”. Instead, it took “its modern dress … It is a skilful and determined enemy, … appears in many guises… [and] does not give up its loot easily”.

In solidarity with Franz Fanon’s ‘Wretched of the Earth’, I was a student activist, joining protest movements against the Vietnam War, Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor and India’s annexation of Sikkim; condemning the murders of the likes of Che Guevara and Salvador Allende; demanding the end of apartheid in South Africa; and joining Bangladesh’s liberation war.

Today, my involvement in these movements would be labelled as “radicalism”; back then, it was the norm.

I studied economics to better understand the world and equip me with better tools to serve society. My father, a doctor, readily agreed, socio-economic ills are the root cause of many diseases.

In universities in the 1970s, dissent and debate were encouraged as ways to develop humanist and universalist views; to think big; and to become movers and shakers. We were inspired by world leaders like Gough Whitlam, and Tanzania’s freedom leader Julius Nyerere. Of course, Nelson Mandela stood tall.

The 1970s were significant.

  • Bangladesh became an independent nation in 1971.
  • In 1972, the Club of Rome warned of the unsustainability of current consumption and production.
  • In 1974, the UN called for a “New International Economic Order” to end economic colonialism.
  • And the people of Vietnam defeated the US superpower in 1975.

Alas, the 1980s slid us backwards, commodifying everything, including education. Universities turned into mass degree factories, and economics moved from the social science faculty, to business schools.

Unfortunately, it was not just ‘Gordon Gekko’, but a Nobel Laureate economist, Milton Friedman, who promoted the idea that “greed is good”.

Then came wars instigated by lies, against the urging of the UN Security Council; and the gleeful murder of half a million children as “collateral damage” justified as “a price worth paying”.

We started this decade with rich nations stockpiling Covid-19 vaccines and blocking poor countries’ access to drugs, testings and vaccines to protect big pharma profits.

Now, we’ve descended to the lowest point of our post-war history, with the massacre of over 40,000 Palestinians – mostly women and children – and those in high office openly calling for the total annihilation of a colonised people. The ICC and ICJ are threatened by the leaders of the free world acting like a mafioso cartel.

How much lower can we descend?

Has civilization progressed at all?

We cannot resolve our differences with dialogue; and modern killing machines have replaced sticks and stones where might is right.

Have I lost hope? NO.

I look at the bright moments like Bob Hawke’s leadership of the anti-apartheid BDS movement that liberated South Africa and Nelson Mandela.

Student protests and encampments for Gaza all around the world, including at Western Sydney University, maintain my faith in the power of active citizens.

Under this “moral violence” for peace, universities are reconnecting with their essential humanity and their duty of care.

As we celebrate our academic achievements today, we must also remember the students and teachers of Gaza’s razed universities.

We must not lose sight of the real-world impacts of our academic pursuits. My knowledge of economics was enriched by my social and political activism. When I was in Indonesia to advise on the recovery from the Asian financial crisis and to draft National Human Development Report, I lived outside the gated community to understand the daily struggle of those who lost livelihoods.

In 1970, Friedman wrote, “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits”.

Dear new business graduands, as I congratulate you, I also urge you to purge the world of this obnoxious Friedmanite idea that is destroying our planet and tearing our communities apart.

Look instead to the “Social Business Model” of Bangladesh’s Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus.

Work on the right side of history; stand up for justice and liberation; spread the “moral violence” for peace; and put people and planet before profit.


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