Saturday, June 24, 2006

All that glitters is not gold Pt. 1

I am, quite frankly, tired of reading and hearing about how India and China are the next global economic superpowers - the cliched contrasts of abject poverty juxtaposed to astounding wealth, how inspite of the education and health sectors being in disarray India churns out "world class" graduates who are spearheading this breakout. But what exactly are these graduates good for? For joining the workforce as customer service agents? For seemingly to shine as part of technical support? Thats the impression I get from reading all thats out there on India's economic boom. I know better than to believe everything I read but in order to improve the abysmal signal to noise ratio I have decided to link to articles/commentary/essays/blogs of eminent scholars who call it like it is.

Tomes have been written about their socio-economic growth and scholars have endlessly exchanged letters and written countless books opining what they see about their (India and China) future. Though all this makes for fascinating reading, most of the recent ones have become rather cliched and often just regurgigate thoughts and ideas that have long since been accepted as the state of affairs. Of course, once an objective effort is made into investigating the claims to superior economic status of the two nations, social indices and a whole lot of other measures of development in industrial and allied areas follow suit. It is in these numbers and their interpretations that the truth lies. Hope follows closely.

In response to Smitha's comment and before I introduce commentary on developmental policies, I reiterate the importance of hanging back a second to take a closer look at various indices of social and economic development will give us a better picture than just outrightly denouncing India's apparent economic advances (whether it is as notable as it is made out to be is a matter to be seen). India is a nation that houses most of the world's poor people, life in India is stained with poverty but when a country makes rapid strides (India's growth being a documented 7% - 8%) it is important that this growth be reflected in all sections of society. Policies that try to ensure that this growth be reflected more or less equally across social strata rein in the growth rates of forward sections and invest more resources (effort, money and time) in trying to improve the lot of the lower classes.But there exist certain drawbacks of equality centric policies as they aim to improve the lot of the masses under the working assumption that the masses can be banded together as a collective. It is my personal opinion that there are deepset inherent inequalities in Indian society that preclude any attempt to address the society as though it was one. Also judging by the sheer mass of Indian society, lifting them collectively out of poverty is a monumental task both effort and time wise. As opposed to equality centric policies there exist progressive policies that recognize that rapid growth first benefits only certain sections of society and only certain regions of the country but they aim to share this growth and wealth by allowing it percolate down to the lowest classes. These policies work on the assumption that no section of sociey is denied access to this growth or denied partaking in it. The reservation I have about these policies is that by ensuring that all sections partake in the nation's growth they might be able to lift the lower sections out of poverty (poverty as defined by world bodies), but since they don't ensure equal access to growth/wealth the more progressive sections, on account of their greater accessibilty to wealth and resources pull away much faster from other poorer sections resulting in greater inequality - greater inequality even though the masses are progressively moving out of poverty. A little irony eh?

[hat tip: The Middle Stage, Pankaj Mishra's resistance to temptation]
With that I introduce few links to some excellent commentary on the very same topic. To coincide with the release of his book "Temptations of the West : How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond", Pankaj Mishra argues that the value system of the free market model that heralds us as emerging economic powers is a western one that assumes that the end result of economic growth is a western lifestyle with its attendant consumerism. Though his arguments get a little less convincing as he progresses, The Middle Stage attributes this to the difficulty of a comprehensive analysis of a topic of this magnitude. In reponse to Mishra's column, Salil Tripathi replies with his own piece arguing for a progressive economic policy. Mishra replies and Tripathi counters. I urge everyone to carefully read these essays/letters and follow up on most if not all embedded links so that you are aware of the complete picture. These essays are instructional to the novice (like me) and showcase opposing theories of India's (and China's) economic explosion.
More articles by Pankaj Mishra and Salil Tripathi.

[cross posted on Frost Bite]

No comments: