Sunday, July 09, 2006

More Pankaj Mishra

The man is a hydra. Over at the Indian Economy Blog, Nitin Pai takes him on. Pankaj Mishra tries to use more data than last time, though, and the comments at IE blog bring them out.

the country's $728 per capita gross domestic product is just slightly higher than that of sub-Saharan Africa.

as the 2005 United Nations Human Development Report puts it, even if it sustains its current high growth rates, India will not catch up with high-income countries until 2106.

Nor is India rising very fast on the report's Human Development index, where it ranks 127, just two rungs above Myanmar and more than 70 below Cuba and Mexico.

nearly 380 million Indians still live on less than a dollar a day.

Malnutrition affects half of all children in India, and there is little sign that they are being helped by the country's market reforms, which have focused on creating private wealth rather than expanding access to health care and education.

communist insurgencies (unrelated to India's parliamentary communist parties)have erupted in some of the most populous and poorest parts of north and central India.

He also makes some very strange statements indeed, and Nitin nails many of them.

At the same time, I feel Nitin is far, far too optimistic. "The 21st century will be India’s"? That is far from being the only possible outcome. For example, we are far poorer than Argentina (per capita GDP: $13,600) . Who says we can't do what they did: grow strongly for a few decades (or years), then fall prey to political populism and economic stagnation? God knows our politicians would not mind. And I would call that an optimistic scenario: at least Indian children won't be starving en masse.

In fact, I am willing to concede everything that Pankaj Mishra says about the state of India today. And the role of Cassandra is hugely valuable

Many serious problems confront India. They are unlikely to be solved as long as the wealthy, both inside and outside the country, choose to believe their own complacent myths.

Yes, we are still very poor indeed. We are not spending enough on primary education or basic healthcare, and our infrastructure sucks. Too many Indian children still go hungry, and too many die.
My gripes with Pankaj Mishra are simply these. That he refuses to compare the state we are in with where we were 10 years ago. That he sees some sectors thrive ("Only 1.3 million out of a working population of 400 million are employed in the information technology and business processing industries that make up the so-called new economy") and seems to feel that this is a defeat for other sectors. That he never states what he would like to see being done, nor why he believes it will work.
Our literacy rate is the result of 60 years of policy- beginning well before the Economic reforms of the 1990's. It is not the case that "facilities for primary education have collapsed in large parts of the country". Those facilities were never put in place. If its the case that "In the countryside, where 70 percent of India's population lives, the government has reported that about 100,000 farmers committed suicide between 1993 and 2003", then its at least partly because our farms are too small to be economical, and farming methods are antiquated, and government policies don't help. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange was established in 1898, as a means for farmers to manage their risks. Where is our equivalent? The private sector in India is dynamic in ways that the government simply cannot be. They have the right incentives. Again, what does he mean when he says "Unlike China, India still imports more than it exports"? How is that relevant?
In aggregate, we are better off than we ever have been, but some of us are doing very badly indeed. I would like to think the Gummint will take the necessary steps to help those who are suffering, but something tells me thats a futile hope.


Anonymous said...

Most Indians will agree that our state has not gone backwards and each decade has been better than the previous one--but we are slow ,very slow,with a huge population- not fast enough in any field--it is the result of being a third world country + a practicing democracy.
Rajeev, you say we are better off than what we were a decade ago,but then, we were better off in 70s than what we were in 50s and 60s.But the rate of progress was never at the maximum.We cannot really blame the political leaders for not opening up the country to west --after the experience of years of struggle--that too---involving native people at all levels of society against the Brits for freedom.Indian society struggled against not only povery but caste and problems of multiple religions and the tensions that go with it.
Also remember the father of the nation was for'self sustaining village economy'.:-).I must say the political leaders of the day were bold to go in for planned economy under the surcomstance.Can you blame them for wanting to have as little to do with the west --when the leaders there were busy meddling in the political affairs of the lesser countries--CIA etc were real then you know:-).and it is well known now that they meddled in the affairs and ellections of even a small state like Kerala.Cannot blame our slowness on others but cant blame us for being very suspicious too.But I suppose we should be confidant enough now .

Nitin said...


I think it is excellent for people to hold a mirror; For example, the recent India special in the Economist did that, for example, but with facts and analysis.

Btw, you don't write anything about the choice of NYT, IHT or the Guardian to make these points. I would think that if you want to hold a mirror to Indians, you'd do so on a platform that most of them read.

Rajeev Ramachandran said...

Gad. Caught out. :-)
Nitin, I am sure he is just doing what the blatherers do- why would they use data? He is our Tom Friedman- all anecdote, and undigested facts. You must have read this: has a new book out, and needs the dollars. Why expect him to write Economist-grade stuff? Chill out, and congrats on keeping your cool. I could not do it.