On Tuesday September 11th I was visiting my aged mother in a village in northwest India, at her guru's ashram by the banks of the river Beas, when my son called from China. “Turn on the TV,” he said, and we began to watch in stunned disbelief the barbarous tragedy unfolding on the other side of the globe. The second tower of New York's World Trade Center came down before our eyes. After the initial horror had passed, I felt like many Indians that perhaps now the world might begin to understand what we have been going through. For over a decade we have been victims of Taliban trained terrorism that has taken hundreds of innocent lives.
Ironically, the same dreadful Tuesday was the deadline given by faceless terrorists to force women in Kashmir to cover themselves in veils. Tailors in the valley had been busy for weeks, but they could not catch up with the demand for burqas. An innocent 15 year old girl, whose tailor failed to meet the 11 September deadline, found acid sprayed on her face as she was rushing home from school. She lost an eye and her pretty face was disfigured for life.
Two years ago Osama bin Laden had announced from his hideout in the mountains deserts of Afghanistan, “India and America are my biggest enemies and all mujahideen groups in Pakistan should come together to target them.” Why are India and America the prime targets of Osama and the Taliban? It is because they are the most pluralistic societies and share the same ideals and liberal values. America is the oldest modern nation, and India is one of the world's oldest civilizations. They are the two largest democracies in the world. They are also the only two nations, as far as I know, where democracy has preceded capitalism.
Migrations of diverse people have created both America and India. America is a nation of immigrants and the historic wanderings of many peoples and tribes of Asia over thousands of years created India. America dealt with its diversity historically through the “melting pot”; India accommodated its migrant minorities through the caste system, which made it possible for a vast variety of people to live together in a single social system. Today, India and America have emerged as unusually open pluralistic societies and diversity is their most vital metaphor. Both present a challenge to fundamentalists, who are only comfortable in monolithic states with one religion, one language, and one mind. Indeed, India faces this problem with its own Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists. These societies are vulnerable to terrorists because they are so open.
The U.S. got democracy in 1776 but it did not embrace full-blooded capitalism until the early 19th century with the industrial revolution. India became a full-fledged democracy in 1950, with universal suffrage and extensive human rights, but it was not until 1991 that it opened up to a freer play of capitalist forces. For the rest of the world it has been the other way around. Suffrage and rights were gradually extended in Europe and they altered the capitalist institutions that had come up after the industrial revolution. This historic inversion has made all the difference, and it goes a long way to explain these two noisy targets of terrorism.
In the past half-century, Indians went to the school of democracy. They learned to change their governments periodically and peacefully; they gave free reign to their litigious natures and pushed the courts to the limit; they created a vigorous free press and more recently a lively electronic media; and they began to internalize the rule of law. As a result, diverse voices have risen, backward castes have come forward, a more pluralistic middle class has developed, and there is a greater balance of opportunity.
While they were at the school of political liberty, Indians however gradually lost their economic liberty to a domineering socialist state. Hence, they failed to create an industrial revolution, though the farmers did manage to create a green revolution. But this changed in 1991 and since then India's economy has grown 6.4 percent a year (and 7.5 percent for three years in a row), making it one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world. More recently, population growth has begun to slow, and in 1998 it was down to 1.7 percent compared to an historic 2.2 percent growth rate. Literacy has climbed to 65 percent in 2000 compared to 52 percent in 1990, with women and the backward states registering the biggest gains. More than 120 million Indians have pulled themselves out of poverty in the past decade as the poverty ratio has declined to 26 percent. And India may have finally found its competitive advantage in its booming software and IT services.
If the economy continues to grow at this rate for the next two to three decades, then half of India (that is, the west and the south) should turn middle class in the first quarter of this century and the other half should get there in the second quarter. If growth accelerates to eight percent with greater reforms, then this happy day will arrive sooner. At that point poverty will not vanish, but the poor will come down to a manageable 10-15 percent of the population, and the politics of the country will also change. By 2025, India will see its share of world product rise from 6 to 13 percent, making it the third largest economy in the world. By then India and China will account for 39 percent share of global output, which is about equal to the present share of United States and Europe combined.
The curious inversion between democracy and capitalism means, however, that India's future will not be a creation of unbridled capitalism, but it will evolve through a daily dialogue between the conservative forces of caste, religion and the village, the leftist and Nehruvian socialist forces which dominated the intellectual life of the country for 40 years, and the new forces of global capitalism. These “million negotiations of democracy,” the plurality of interests, the contentious nature of the people implies that the pace of economic reforms will be slow and incremental. It also suggests that India might have a more stable, peaceful, and negotiated transition into the future than say China. Equally, it will avoid some of the deleterious side effects of an unprepared capitalist society, such as Russia. Although slower, India is more likely to preserve its way of life and it's civilization of diversity, tolerance, and spirituality against the onslaught of the global culture.
Despite appalling governance, corruption, and the indecisiveness of their democracy, most Indians believe that their plural, democratic and capitalist society is worth fighting for, because it offers the promise of preserving and enlarging human freedoms, creating prosperity, diminishing poverty, and upholding the dignity of a human being, and it does it better than any other system that human beings have tried so far. Because India is unique in this, like America, it is vulnerable to terrorists.
Jagdish Bhagwati, In Defence of Globalization, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004, 308 pages, $28.
This book has arrived not a day too late. A lot of rubbish has been floating in the air ever since May 13, when our election results came out. Silly ideas, discredited years ago, have been revived and assiduously marketed by the left, creating the illusion that India's centre of gravity had shifted against the global market system. To those who are undecided in this battle of ideas Jagdish Bhagwati's charming and highly readable, In Defence of Globalization, offers well thought out answers to the questions that have been raised over the past six weeks.
Jagdish Bhagwati is a distinguished economics professor at Columbia University, a former Adviser to the United Nations on Globalization, and one of the world's authorities on international trade. He was one of the first persons to raise serious questions about the premises of Nehruvian socialism in the sixties. In his book with Padma Desai, India: Planning for Industrialization (OUP, 1970) he described how India was steadily degenerating into a “license raj”. A generation later, the same sorts of do gooders are blaming global capitalism for worsening poverty, for child labour, for degrading our environment, for cultural homogenisation and many of the world's ills. In this book Bhagwati seriously takes on the bogus arguments of the anti-globalization movement and shows them for what they are--a threat to human development. He argues that globalization is not the problem but the solution, and he does it with wit and humour.
In recent weeks the Left in India has stridently argued that the economic reforms need a human face. Bhagwati shows that global capitalism does have a human face and he demonstrates its beneficial effects on poverty, child labour, women's rights, and host of social issues. The left argues that growth by itself will not create enough jobs or alleviate poverty. Bhagwati shows that growth is the principal means of reducing poverty. He illustrates this with the examples of China and India.
Since 1980, China and India have been among the fastest growing economies in the world and both have reduced poverty spectacularly. China's poverty ratio declined from 28 percent in 1978 to 9 percent in 1998, according to the Asian Development Bank. India's poverty fell from 51 percent in 1978-79 to 26 percent in 1999-2000, according to official Indian data. In contrast, for a quarter century before this, when our growth was an abysmal 3.5 percent poverty, poverty had obdurately hovered around 55 percent. China had the same experience in its pre-reform period. As a result of high growth in Asia, Sala-I-Martin's huge 97 country study, concludes that the poor in Asia as a whole declined to 15 percent of the world's poor in 1998 (from 76 percent in the 1970s) while they rose in Africa from 11 percent in the 1970s to 66 percent of the world's poor by 1998. Surjit Bhalla's and Dollar and Kraay's recent work has come to the same conclusion.
I had a sense of dÃ©jÃ vu as I noted Bhagwati demolishing the same arguments of the anti-globalizers that India's reformers had faced in the early nineties when India began to seriously reform its economy. When we liberalised the rupee, the left warned us about a flight of capital, as rich Indians would run away with their money. The opposite happened, in fact, and our reserves shot up from $1 billion to $117 billion today. When our tariffs began to come down and import licensing was scrapped, the left prophesied that India would be flooded with luxury goods, and there wouldn't be any foreign exchange to buy capital goods for our industry. Again the opposite happened; with declining tariffs, India became more competitive, and our exports grew.
When we lowered tax rates, the left forecast that our government would be reduced to a pauper; instead, government revenues shot up and income tax has consistently grown faster than our GDP since the reforms. When we liberalised foreign investment, the left predicted that predatory multinationals would swamp Indian businesses and our industry would be destroyed. None of this has happened, and Indian brands are thriving in many product categories. In fact, our worry is that we are not getting enough foreign direct investment. Forget China, countries much smaller than us—Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Poland—attract far more foreign investment.
Given this terrible track record of the left, why should we should we now listen to it? It has been consistently wrong. It has always led us astray, and it now wants to bring back the sort of policies that made India, “the world's greatest under-achiever” in the words of the Economist. Is it surprising that the markets continue to be spooked by the Common Minimum Program? I sometimes don't know who is more likely to destroy our future--the lunatics of the left or the fascists on the right.