MIT’s Yasheng Huang has an intriguing contrarian essay in today’s Financial Times on the development lessons China could learn from India. No, I didn’t type that the wrong way around. Which is what is interesting about Yasheng’s piece (available to subscribers only).
From April to June 2005, India’s GDP grew at 8.1 per cent, compared with 7.6 per cent in the same period the year before. More impressively, India is achieving this result with just half of China’s level of domestic investment in new factories and equipment, and only 10 per cent of China’s foreign direct investment. While China’s GDP growth in the last two years remained high, in 2003 and 2004 it was investing close to 50 per cent of its GDP in domestic plant and equipment – roughly equivalent to India’s entire GDP. That is higher than any other country, exceeding even China’s own exalted levels in the era of central planning. The evidence is as clear as ever: China’s growth stems from massive accumulation of resources, while India’s growth comes from increasing efficiency.
The microeconomic evidence also casts India in a better light. While India’s stock market has soared in recent years, the opposite has happened in China. In 2001, the Shanghai Stock Market index reached 2,200 points; by 2005, half the wealth wiped out. In April 2005, the Shanghai index stood at 1,135 points. This sharp deterioration occurred against a backdrop of GDP growth exceeding 9 per cent a year. It is difficult to find another country that has this strange combination of superb macroeconomic performance and dismal microeconomic performance. It is a matter of time before the two patterns converge.
Yasheng makes some important points and, like most believers in democracy, I would love it if the world’s largest democracy, India, continued to thrive. But in the interest of polemic, he glosses over some crucial issues.
Here are four, for starters.
1. India’s woeful treatment of women. China is no paragon in this regard, but India is far worse. How long can growth and change be sustained while half the population is underutilized?
2. The caste system. There have been many improvements in India, but caste remains a key issue.
3. Population growth. I don’t particularly approve of China’s coercive policy of one child per family, but it has successfully constrained population growth. India’s growth is comparatively unconstrained. It is not cause for celebration that India’s population will exceed China’s in a few years time.
4. Illiteracy. Last figures I saw, India had twice the illiteracy rate of China (40% v 20%). That’s not a formula for continued economic success.
I truly want India’s current success to continue. But I think there is a far greater danger of complacency about the need for continued reform in India than in China. Yasheng’s article is a useful corrective to unthinking celebration of China’s extraordinary gains over the last 20 years. But he neglected too many important issues to make his polemical point.