Wednesday, November 2, 2005

India's meteoric rise: a fiction?

In China, India Superpower? Not So Fast! (Oct 25, 2005, YaleGlobal), Pranab Bardhan reminds us (ahem, Tom Friedman) that India and China have a way to go before becoming the menacing world powers envisioned by some in the Western press.

On anxiety over outsourcing:
"The total number of workers in all possible forms of IT-related jobs in India comes to less than a million workers – one-quarter of one percent of the Indian labor force. For all its Nobel Prizes and brilliant scholars and professionals, India is the largest single-country contributor to the pool of illiterate people in the world. Lifting them out of poverty and dead-end menial jobs will remain a Herculean task for decades to come."

And on the whole:
"We should not lose our sense of proportion in thinking about the rise of China and India. While adjusting its economies to the new reality and utilizing the new opportunities, the West should not overlook the enormity of the economic gap that exists between it and those two countries (particularly India). There are many severe pitfalls and roadblocks which they have to overcome in the near future, before they can become significant players in the international economic scene on a sustained basis."

I love me some India, but living here has driven home these lessons. Although a certain number of people, primarily in large cities, can afford to live in Western opulence, the subcontinent is more -- nay, much more -- than a conglomeration of sprawling metropolises. Mahatma Gandhi once said that the heart of India is in its villages; it would be wise not to discount the majority of Indians who live outside the bounds of Westernised, homogenised city centres. I can't predict the future, and I don't know enough about economics to formulate insightful opinions about India's chances of becoming a proto-America. But I do know that the myths surrounding India in the US hardly stand up to reality here.

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