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Modern India: Big Growth, Big Problems

India, once a roaring Asian tiger, hits a wall of corruption and poverty.  What’s the way forward now for India and other emerging economies?

Indians protest asking the government to ban the import of gold, in Bangalore, India, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 as India's new central bank chief Raghuran Rajan announced measures to boost confidence as the troubled Indian economy slows and the currency tumbles. (AP)

Indians protest asking the government to ban the import of gold, in Bangalore, India, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013 as India’s new central bank chief Raghuran Rajan announced measures to boost confidence as the troubled Indian economy slows and the currency tumbles. (AP)

For years, the buzzy news out of India was all about growth and wealth and economic sizzle.  India as big Asian tiger, shining star, out-sourcing empire, blazing up-and-comer.  It was never so simple of course.  Remember Slumdog Millionaire?  But it was sizzling.  And now it’s not.  India has tumbled into a growth slump, and a bigger slump of division and self-examination.  On corruption, poverty, inequality, its treatment of women.  On how many of its billion-plus are really succeeding.  Up next On Point:  big questions on “the rise of the rest” in India.

- Tom Ashbrook


Adam Roberts, South Asia Bureau Chief for The Economist and a contributor to the magazine’s Banyan column. (@ARobertsjourno)

Anand Giridharadas, columnist for The New York Times and author of “India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking.” (@AnandWrites)

Arvind Subramanian, Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and at the Center for Global Development and author of “Eclipse: Living in the Shadow of China’s Economic Dominance.” Listed as one of Foreign Policy’s ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers‘ in 2011. (@arvindsubraman)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: Why India’s Economy is Stumbling — “To some extent, India has been just another victim of the ebb and flow of global finance, which it embraced too enthusiastically. The threat (or promise) of tighter monetary policies at the Federal Reserve and a resurgent American economy threaten to suck capital, and economic dynamism, out of many emerging-market economies. But India’s problems have deep and stubborn origins of the country’s own making”

The Economist: How India Got Its Funk — “Not so long ago India was celebrated as an economic miracle. In 2008 Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, said growth of 8-9% was India’s new cruising speed. He even predicted the end of the “chronic poverty, ignorance and disease, which has been the fate of millions of our countrymen for centuries”. Today he admits the outlook is difficult. The rupee has tumbled by 13% in three months. The stockmarket is down by a quarter in dollar terms. Borrowing rates are at levels last seen after Lehman Brothers’ demise. Bank shares have sunk.”

Next City: Waving or Drowning? The Battle for Chennai’s Vanishing Waterways –”In the name of “eco-restoration,” slum residents are being evicted from the banks of the Cooum and from public lands owned by the city’s water utility, and resettled far from job opportunities. In reality, they are simply making way for a global gentrifier’s work-playground – the very sort of real estate development that experts agree is the gravest culprit behind the city’s water scarcity. Even as more Chennai residents turn to private and off-the-books vendors for drinking water, Chennai is undertaking massive, costly infrastructure projects to bring in water – one more element of its bid to be a highly competitive world-class city.”

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  • Wm_James_from_Missouri

    Answer? ———————- > Sex androids.

    Take a good look, the rest of the world isn’t far behind.

    PS. By the way, it was about 2008 that I sold my shares in India Growth Fund. It refused to perform and continuously failed to pay a dividend, despite the fact that it seemed to own everything in sight. The secret to success is not as hard as so many would have you believe.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Vulture capitalism is everywhere and picking the meat from the bones of our civilizations. Actually the term does injustice to vultures who only feed on the dead.

    • AC

      use butcoin or litecoin then. i dare you!!
      i’m too scared to venture there myself…

    • TFRX

      The term is an insult–to vultures, who have a place in the circle of life.

    • hennorama

      MMTCW — it’s not quite right that vultures only feed on the dead. They of course primarily feed on carrion, but when carrion is scarce, vultures will feed on sick, wounded or infirm prey.

      As an aside — if you want to see “vultures in action,” check out the NATURE ‘EARTHFLIGHT’ Episode: Africa. It aired Wednesday evening, and is really amazing. The dancing flamingos alone are worth a look (starting at about 48:00)

      If you watch with children present, be aware that there are a number of predator/prey interactions depicted.


      “Journey to Africa and fly with cape gannets, fish eagles, flamingos, kelp gulls and vultures to see the most animal-packed continent with fresh eyes. EARTHFLIGHT invites us to see the world from a bird’s perspective with state-of-the-art technology and sophisticated camera techniques that take viewers on a breathtaking aerial adventure over six continents. It took series producer John Downer and his team four years to film more than 100 bird species in 40 different countries, capturing amazing viewpoints that have never been seen before.”


  • William

    It is hard to turn a country around that has been under Socialism for nearly 50 years.

    • AC

      ? you’ve obviously never been there!

      • William

        Actually, I have been there and saw first hand the failure of their 50 year love affair with Socialism. It failed so the people have suffered.

        • Ray in VT

          So, how do the current economic slow down issues, following years of boom times, have socialism to blame, when economic liberalization polices have guided the state for the past 20ish years?

        • AC

          we must know very diff indias.
          or, it could be you’re lying?

  • iccheap

    Gee, a eureka moment of recognizing that consumption isn’t the panacea those on top would like us all to believe. Population reduction, large increases in (semi)-sustainability, and increases in personal connection to the communities we reside in – beyond subsistence living. Easily accomplished? No, but the only realistic long term approach to successful, stable societies.

    • Yar

      On my public TV channel last night was a film featuring Wendell Berry and his reflections on 9-11. I think you would enjoy his take on what makes sustainable communities. Here is a link to his points. The film is available through Appalshop.

      • iccheap

        Thanks, love Wendell Berry.

  • TFRX

    Maybe five years ago people started wondering if the economic numbers out of China were reliable. One, because there was not a lot of transparency. Two, because China was a vast place where things changed so fast the information could be obsolete even when properly gathered.

    Any chance that that could be the same in India?

    • Ritu Vh

      Nope. Indain problems are real and India is very transparent so all the bad news is usually correct

  • Jon

    It’s unfortunate a nations success is measured mainly by its economy. Economy is a factor for happiness but not a major factor. and that’s where capitalism and democracy can never achieve.

  • Jim

    India is falling hard.. but don’t forget Brazil.. when interest rates go up, Brazil as well as India businesses will collapse. These companies borrow against the US dollar when interest rate is extremely cheap here. The last i look at the 10 year treasury note… it is 2.92% yield and climbing. Watch out.

    as with the social issues in India, it will never change. I talk with my unbiased India colleague. Until the bloody caste system is eliminated, you will still see the issue of female infanticide. The current ratio between male to female in India is unsustainable. It has two options:
    1. Stop the caste system and Dowery
    2. Fight a war against China.

  • Yar

    We simply off-shored our slavery.

    • J__o__h__n

      That was to China. We off-shored the middle class to India.

    • 65noname

      and government radio continues toperpetuate the myths about india being a political and economic democracy

  • Mo_1981

    The justice system is so flawed in India, that people have little respect for the law. Many officials can easily be bribed, and at times they shamelessly ask for it. I don’t entirely blame them, though. Civil servants aren’t very well paid. Police, even worse. (Two cops asked me and my friends to pay them, or they would take us in for questioning…we were just standing around and chatting..they said there were reported robberies in the area, which was a joke…they didn’t even tell us why they thought we looked suspicious..my friends and I are well educated and from upper middle class families). Improving the justice system would be the first step so officials can be held accountable for their actions, followed by significant investment in infrastructure would be the initial steps in improving the economy and welfare of the people. Many communities, especially in the north have the subjugation of women ingrained in their culture. Good education would be the leveler and swift justice (like China and Saudi Arabia) for crimes against women would also help. There should be little leniency for brutal crimes, especially in a country with a massive population and failed justice system.

  • Jon

    sounds like those Indian scholars learned the rhetoric skill well from the Americans.

  • SuziVt

    Bullies pick on weaker victims that are least likely to defend themselves. Why do they do it, because they have little or no self esteem. Why do some people in the workplace belittle co-workers? If they do it to their face, it’s always someone that doesn’t assert themselves. When they do it behind the person’s back, the criticism & critical comments are directed at everyone & especially those that they feel threatened by. Possibly a co-worker that is well-liked & has earned some recognition for doing a good job. Why do these toxic people bully others, because they are trying to raise themselves above others, make themselves look better. Even when they may suspect that they’re trying to manipulate the people, to whom they are speaking, into believing that they really are better, their hope is that no one will call them on it. If you want to know why the average Indian treats women the way that they do, instead of dwelling on the “random” rapists, you need only to go all the way back into history. It’s been going on forever! No, not all men are bad, but insecure people take advantage of an advantage. Women are usually physically weaker, so they have been the advantage. These men know deep down that they are not all they want to be, or what society wants them to be, but at least they are able to keep the myth going that they are better than women. Imagine their fear that someday women could rise to be equals! It must be very scary indeed. So, I would say that the basic root of disrespecting women is the very same for the wealthy businessman-coworker or husband as it is for those random violent rapists. Insecurity & opportunity.

    • Bluejay2fly

      I was a liberal arts major in college and have worked in a prison for the last 15 years as a guard (pays better than teaching) and I will tell you they have too much self esteem. In fact, like George Carlin said “they think very highly of themselves” the problem is they have no empathy. When they are in pain they do not think how others feeling that same pain would feel. Instead, they get angry at the person hurting them and lash out in revenge. We have had 40 years of the self esteem movement and all we have is sociopaths in Washington or Wall Street stealing everything that isn’t nailed down or people living in domestic sacrificial zones (decaying cities) shooting each other in record numbers. Meism and the self esteem movement is a failure.

      • SuziVt

        You have a point, but whenever I see anyone that acts out in any destructive way, I see people that are insecure. I think they masquerade as confident leaders, but it’s a bluff. They may see it as a game of life or death. Whether it’s the kid from a dysfunctional home with an abusive father, trying to win respect by picking on those that are not so quick on their feet, thereby establishing himself as one to be feared & not to be messed with; or a man that finds it necessary to wear down his wife’s self esteem by verbally belittling her, these are men that need to tear down other people in order to establish a dominating position in their relationship with others around them. Those examples are very common. You are speaking of sociopaths. I would wonder that for much of their life, they felt the same compulsion in order to survive in a society that they can not comprehend. However, I’m not speaking about the sociopathic criminal that exists without feelings. They are not common and I don’t believe every rapist is a sociopath. If men grew up being told by everyone (family, friends, society & the government) that women were not to be respected & that treating them violently was acceptable, they are going to view them as fair game in their insidious little life. There are men that throw acid on their wives, because they want to have another wife. I don’t think India is teeming with sociopaths. It has a very unfair caste system that is extremely important to how they view themselves & other people. Poor people are treated worse than most of us treat our animals. These people in the lower levels of society do have feelings, but when you’ve been kicked around all of your life & it’s what you’re used to, people don’t normally just accept it. They lash out & look for someone that they can make feel lower than they. I see this in every walk of life, it isn’t exclusive to men, children, women, race, or class. It’s human nature, not everyone does it, only certain types, but I’m certain they are insecure with low self esteem. Just as they exist, there are also people raised in such an atmosphere that are painfully shy, gentle, or resilient. But it’s the sexists & rapists of India that were discussed. Are there psychopaths among them? I’m sure there are, but that wasn’t the subject.

        • Ritu Vh

          I agree with you on almost everything but the one thing that I find extremely irritating is that everybody seems to blame caste system for any and every Indian problem. I am a Brahmin woman and that is no guarantee for better treatment when I am walking the Indian roads. I have family friends from the Maali caste (so called lowest rung) and she gets treated no worse or better than me. If you are educated (not just have a degree but really educated) and if you have money then you have better chances of being treated well in India. And if you have money nobody cares what your caste is. I am not saying that its a good thing that having money is the only way you can have a decent life in India but all I am saying is that Caste system is not the same big root cause of all evil that it used to be.

          • SuziVt

            You’re absolutely right. If that was the only reason for the sex discrimination against women, then we wouldn’t have had a sex discrimination against women since the beginning of mankind all over the world, in every single society. I only mentioned the caste system as an example of another way in which society has put in place to keep certain people down & lift themselves up. We had slavery in the south. You would think that once you were treated so badly, you would never want to be responsible for ever treating anyone so cruelly, but many male former slaves went on to treat their wives badly. I read that in China, when a woman marries into a family, she is treated like her mother-in-law’s personal servant. A particular Chinese woman that was interviewed, refused to do the same to her daughter-in-law. She didn’t want anyone to have to go through what she had been put through. Her son & husband found out about the interview & became angry with her & forbid her to speak to the journalist any further. So even women will perpetuate sexual discrimination upon each other because now it’s their turn. This one Chinese woman was a better person for not going along with tradition. In Vermont, it used to be that women were forbidden to own land. When one’s father died, she could not inherit his property. Another way for men to keep power to themselves. I just used the caste system as another example that people use to keep power unto themselves, and I believe out of a deep insecurity about what will happen to them should they lose that upper hand.
            Forgive me, if I’ve left mistakes. I can’t reread what I’ve written just yet. I’m running very late & need to run just now! Thank you for your civil comments.

  • 65noname

    what a (typical) joke!! For years this program and other government radio programs have been puffing India as both being the “largest deomcracy” and for using the new “global economy” to bring Indians up to the middle class. Often, this program used tom friedman, the paid spin artist for unfettered capitialism and the global economy, as the professional spokesperson for these myths. Now, it is too obvious to everyone that we were being fed the big lie.
    So now, the new line is, well mistakes wwere made. Or that the criticism of india for keeping 100′s of millions of people in complete povertyand virtual slavery while corporate entities are making billions of dollars off of those people’s labor is an example of colonialism.
    In fact, and just as in the US, the economic system is designed to marginalize all esc ept those who own the economy. People are earning less and less in terms of real dollars. Any who resist are jailed, assualted and/or killed wiht impunity. Not only are women unable to participate in society without fear of violent assaults, but the government does nothing in response unless there is an international outcry.
    Just as there is an increasing desparity in income in the US. as well as the forcing of working people into lower and lower unskilled jobs (and pay), the indian economy is based on the same model. And, the governjment radio “guests” suggest without rebuttal that we should just wait. It will be self correcting. Just as conditions for US working and middle class people only get worse, the saame is true in India where there isn’t even the pretense of permitting dissent or opposition.
    Isn’t it time for government radio to stop simply saying “oh, we seem to haave been mistaken” and to start take responsibilty for presenting guests who have been correct all along in their analysis? And get their hands out of the pocket of the business interests that have pushing this rot and are not claiming that it is all just a mistake that will be “fixed” by the same people responsible for the problem?

    • andrewgarrett

      Do you want people to stay poor? In the last 20 years a billion people have escaped extreme poverty thanks to globalization and relatively free markets. We now have the lowest percentage of people living in poverty ever. That’s a good thing. Western “progressives” don’t like that, because they want (other) people to live lives of picturesque poverty, as subsistence farmers, for instance. Actual poor people invariably choose jobs in factories, where they can make money to provide for their children, to hunger in villages. You are a conservative nostalgic for good old days that never were

      • 65noname

        Do you actually believe this stuff? And it is tiring to hear people who support unbridled capitalism with the resulting virtual ensalvement of working people, etc, use their neo-con/lib cliches to claim that people wwho object to to what is happening to working people in both the developing world AND the US as prefering that “(other) people … live lives of picturesque poverty, as subsistence farmers,”
        What I and other “progressives” want is for people to be able to live lives with actual economic dignity, with access to adequate health care, with their children having access to a good education, with their daughters (and sons) being able to walk down the street without being assaulted and the police not caring,. etc.
        Anything else that you don’t understand about what I want?

        • Bluejay2fly

          What unbridled capitalism is bringing people is more material comfort (at great expense to the planet) and their is no evidence to suggest that this consumerism equals happiness ( i.e. Jesus or Ghandi) To state that unless people live like Americans they are unhappy is absurd especially when you look at the quality of life in some American nursing homes, prisons, slums and in some cases the streets. Not to mention how unhappy the thousands who commit suicide, violent crime, or drink themselves into oblivion seem to be.

    • Bluejay2fly

      What is even more disconcerting is that if nations as large as China and India are able to raise it’s citizenry to a similar standard of living as the US the pollution and depletion of resources will destroy this planet. We should have dramatically reduced our consumption and sustainability and worked on third world problems like population control. India would not be half as impoverished as it is now if the wealth were distributed more evenly among a population of 250 million vs. 1 Billion.

      • 65noname

        good point

  • HonestDebate1

    Several years ago my mother organized a Thanksgiving dinner for the family which is spread out across the country. We rented a cabin in the mountains. Her instructions were for everybody to dress up like pilgrims and indians. My brother showed up with a red dot on his forehead.

    No point really.

    • jimino

      Au contraire. You have in fact made your usual point.

    • Bluejay2fly

      Since women only wear a Bindi your brother is not too swift.

      • HonestDebate1

        He’s funny that way.

  • MsAbila

    Sadly, the upper and middles classes bought into the feudalistic Western idea of ‘progress’, where the standard of living vastly increased for the wealthy and the rest of society became more and more marginalized and exploited.
    It’s refreshing to talk about the Indian ‘middle class’, how they can now live in nice secluded neighborhoods and have good paying jobs and cars. (Of course, this is very positive.) But it ignores big problems which have existed for centuries during British colonialism and after independence the country was unable to deal with: poverty exacerbated by the caste system, very poor infrastructure, poor urban planning, etc.

    Now with the population explosion, India has a gigantic, unmovable ‘elephant’ of at least 800 million people living in such poverty where running water and outhouses don’t exist, and food is scarce.
    Over the past decades, globalization did nothing for these people, actually it made their problems worse by encroaching on their living areas and stimulating climate change. Poverty in the cities are also horrible and ignored which increases violent outbreaks between various groups and against women.

  • sumbhaji

    One of the problems has been people in India, and some abroad, got excited way too early and disproportionately to the initial success of the India economy. A lot of the initial success in the middle class was dependent on outsourcing in the service industries like call-center and software support, instead of manufacturing, infrastructure and tech (including biotech) which emphasize on innovation, research and development. This is never going to be a recipe for a truly sustainable economy in the long run.

    Second, the premature excitement about early successes has made many, even well educated Indians, loose sight of inherent social and political problems. Basic things like respect for law enforcement is lacking. It is not surprising for young well educated people in India to casually overlook traffic rules or bribe their way out if they are caught. The problem is a somewhat confused notion that, having material success or an appearance therof (shopping malls, bars, fancy cars etc) is the sign of a country’s success.
    Some of this is due to a prevalent culture in India to follow the crowd to a ‘safe’ career rather than risk-taking and innovation. A young research scientist working at a prestigious University abroad is often ridiculed by his/her friends who rushed en masse to the software service industry and also ended up living abroad.

    As for the treatment of women, this has been a historic problem. A lot of this is now getting attention because of greater media coverage. Even now, for every rape reported i there are at least 5 or more cases that went unreported, due to social stigmas and fear of repercussions from a male dominated society. Its shocking that marital rape is still not a crime in India. Perhaps that’s a starting point for change?

    To change all this takes time and serious political motivation. Hence the people playing as cheerleaders for India’s recent progress should be mindful of not overdoing it and risk India loosing credibility in the process.

    • Ritu Vh

      Well said

  • tbphkm33

    Unfortunately, a lot of the hype about these emerging markets have been overblown and pie in the sky. Reality is that a semi-agrarian economy cannot just transform itself into a service economy in the span of a decade or two. The infrastructure and legal framework has to be in place to facilitate a transition.

    It is high time society turns it back on the “get rich quick” financial schemes propagated by the worlds financial markets in the past two decades. The worlds economies need solid basis that are socially responsible in creating true wealth.

  • Ritu Vh

    Indians don’t think that people are created unequal. But we do believe that your upbringing, economic conditions ad general life conditions make people unequal in their capacity to reach the human potential that everybody has !

    • the anti-Emily

      Science suggests that people are created unequal to a large degree. The environment can either amplify or diminish those inequalities.

      • Ritu Vh

        The comment was on the speaker’s comment on Casteism.

  • Ritu Vh

    For God’s sake stop blaming caste system for everything ! What we need in India is a focus on economy, creating infrastructure, reducing corruption and More than anything we need PRIVATIZATION

    • the anti-Emily

      The main problem with India, like all developing countries, is widespread political corruption. Corruption is so bad in India, that fewer Indians want to become civil engineers because of how civil engineers are treated. If India’s government got its act together and invested in basic infrastructure, it would have to raise taxes on businesses and individuals to pay for the construction of infrastructure and maintenance of it . This would be an added cost of doing business in India, and over time, India would run the risk of losing its advantage as a low-cost business environment. In countries with well-developed infrastructure, the cost of doing business is higher, partially because of the cost to maintain the infrastructure, which periodically is in need of servicing.

      • Ritu Vh

        This sounds like you are saying Don’t invest in infrastructure. Is that what you are saying?

        • the anti-Emily

          What I meant to was say is that infrastructure has its own costs which need to be dealt with. Prudent planning is key. Better infrastructure may also also attract manufacturers who may be attracted to India’s improved infrastructure but they may not be, if they will have to help maintain that infrastructure by paying some kind of tax. Some investors have been spoiled by government subsidies and expect governments to pay for everything and tax nothing.

          • Ritu Vh

            You are obviously unaware of India’s situation. Indians are already heavily taxed. Problem is not that the Government is not collecting enough money. Problem is that when it invests in infrastructure projects the money goes straight into pockets of politicians and contractors and roads end up being built only on paper and not in reality. So no Indians will not be taxed more if Government invests in infrastructure. The only requirement is that the Government truly invests in infrastructure and not in building individuals in the govt bigger houses and Swiss bank balances

  • Ritu Vh

    Don’t tell me that its “fashionable” to talk about economy. When people are educated and have money people stop giving a crap about what caste they belong to. Atleast our generation is like that.

    • the anti-Emily

      Education and have good jobs. Without jobs, education is kind of pointless. How many engineers does India’s higher education system produce s and how many of them go on to get jobs after they receive their degrees?

      • Ritu Vh

        Ummm….. Thats why Anti-Emily we need infrastructure projects in India! And once again this comment was in response to the Speaker blaming Caste system for all of India’s problems.

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