Critics and supporters of the country's economic liberalisation make the same error–they forget about pollution and populationby Partha Dasgupta / July 15, 2013 / Leave a comment
A sewage pipe runs into the Dal Lake in Srinagar, India: economists overlook the link between poverty and destruction of the environment © AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan
An Uncertain Glory: India and Its Contradictions by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen (Allen Lane, £20)
Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty by Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya (PublicAffairs, £19.99)
A central message of modern development economics is the importance of income growth. By this, economists tend to mean growth in gross domestic product, or the market value of what a country produces (including services). In theory, rising GDP creates employment and investment opportunities; and as incomes grow, both citizens and government are increasingly able to set aside funds for the things that make for a good life. One of the tasks of government is to establish conditions that encourage this kind of economic development. Its role should thus be active (protecting the rule of law; investing in infrastructure, health and education) and passive (permitting markets to operate). Of course, GDP growth in itself doesn’t guarantee an equitable distribution of incomes, but that problem can be offset by government taxes and transfers. Or so the argument would have it.
But this account is inadequate, as the experience of India shows. In the early 1980s the government of India initiated a programme of economic liberalisation. It is now widely acknowledged that the resulting structural reforms led to the impressive economic growth of recent years. Since 2000 GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 7.6 per cent and been accompanied by improvements in a number of other economic indicators. The proportion of people whose incomes are below the country’s official poverty line declined from 45 per cent in the early 1980s to 28 per cent in 2005. The decline is impressive, but the latter figure tells us that the country still harbours widespread deprivation.
India’s continued inequities in health and education have been much written about. As the World Bank noted recently, 45 per cent of Indian children under five are underweight and 25 per cent of women remain illiterate, figures that are worse than those in a number of countries that are poorer in terms of GDP per head. So, if you look at how figures measuring the quality of life in India have changed since the early 1980s,…