Monday, September 12, 2005

India: A Note of Caution

"Until every citizen of India has economic and personal freedom, we should focus on building the road ahead, and not on celebrating the footpath behind."

Thus goes an rather relevant post by Amit on India Uncut. I largely agree, and these are my thoughts on what I've been seeing in, and hearing about, India :

Amidst all the hype and euphoria that surrounds India's progress in the post-dot com economy, we tend to overlook some pretty sobering facts. Some of these facts are obvious, as is the huge strain on infrastucture that is apparent in any of India's metros (more so Bangalore, I would venture to guess). Some of these we are not affected by by virtue of us being born lucky, such as the endemic problems that confront the country vis-a-vis basic healthcare, education and women's rights in rural India. All of this is overlooked in the hype that India is the world's next superpower by virtue of being the backoffice of the world at this point of time.

I am not, in any way, opposed to whats happening in India with respect to market reforms. I do believe that the way forward for us (in the long run) is for us to empower the huge Indian middle class by opening up the market to its own devices and allowing Indians to be masters of their own destiny in creating the best future for themselves. I agree that we are not distributing the rewards of such a venture equally amongst all Indians, but at the same time, we are definitely increasing the size of the economic pie. If the poor only has x% of an economic pie, we can atleast hope that their x% remains relatively stable in the context of a larger economic pie, however small x may be. From that point onwards, it is basic mathematics, with x% (or close to x%) of a larger economic pie being better than the (x+1)% that the Left can optimistically hope for with a stagnant pie. X+1 is optimistic indeed, as is evidenced by their tragic failure to redistribute wealth by creating more 'social' (aka anti-free market) policies. The problem has as much to do with the definition of 'social' within the policy as it is with the implementation of the 'social' in a bureaucracy riddled with corruption (but that is ripe material for another debate).

But, that does not mean that we take India's progress for granted, and assume that we have reached the destination when the journey's just begun. India is on its way to becoming a superpower, yes, but we have to realize that even in terms of areas where we are supposedly on par with the rest of the world, there are some disconcerting facts to face. People say that India is the next IT and healthcare innovation powerhouse, but people forget that it is the *next*, and not the current, powerhouse, as is witnessed by the appalling state of cutting-edge research and innovation in India as compared to much smaller countries such as Sweden. We are on the right path, but the path ahead is strewn with obstacles, and we need to put our current position in proper context, lest we are misled into thinking that we're at a position that is still not attainable in the near future. How can we know where we want to go, if we dont accurately judge where we are now?

My better half and I spoke about a concept over the weekend called confirmation bias, in a different context. The essence of confirmation bias is that people look at the evidence in the world world with tinted lenses. Their view of facts is colored by their view of what they want the facts to mean. Thus, if we think that India has already reached a place that we want it to be at, we will only look at that aspect of the evidence (aka, MNC's research centers in India, increased offshoring, strong manufacturing) that supports our biased view of India's position. And that, in my humble opinion, tends to distract from that fact that our progress is still in its nascent stages, and we need a lot more willpower and long periods of stable, progressive governance to ensure that every step forward isnt too steps backward.

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