Karela Fry

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No gilded age

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Starting from the murder of the unlamented Ponty Chadha, an opinion piece in Wall Street Journal makes some very valid comments:

As the argument goes, like Mark Twain’s America, India is a rapidly industrializing country marked by deep chasms of inequality, and the likes of Chadha are the approximate equivalents of America’s robber barons. The large number of Indian billionaires—61 by Forbes magazine’s count, up from none before the advent of reforms in 1991—underscores the unsustainable glitz of the times.

The emergence of dazzling wealth in a country that was long a byword for poverty is certainly noteworthy, but the “gilded age” metaphor can potentially mislead. To begin with, in per capita terms late 19th century America was already one of the richest countries in the world. The International Monetary Fund ranks India 130th of 185 countries on this score.

Similarly, in terms of technology, 19th century America gave the world the telephone, the electric bulb, and much else. Even the loudest India booster can’t claim that it occupies an analogous place in the front ranks of innovation.

The worst part about the supposed resemblance between 21st century India and 19th century America is that it could inadvertently send policy makers the wrong message. To wit, that India’s march to U.S.-style prosperity is more or less preordained.

The lack of innovation in the Indian industry is matched only by the degree to which the country is held hostage to crony capitalism.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

December 1, 2012 at 4:49 am

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