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« The "Unacceptable" Presidency of George W. Bush | Main | "This is the hell that we have forced upon the Iraqi people." (Joe) »

October 15, 2006


I look forward to reading this. It sounds like a great antidote to Thomas Friedmans recent book. I read that one and it's selective amnesia regarding globalization was disgusting. He points to India as an example of how benevolent globalization is, but fails to mention that it has only improved living standards for a small percentage of the population. I guess he does mention this, but only at the end of the book, after several hundred pages of empty-headed cheerleading.

I'm being a tad tangential; this does sound like a wonderfully constructive book, thanks for the post.

I am going to check out the book.
Nice blog though!

Thomas Friedman is one of the worst offenders because he is considered an influential "American" media personality. But I suspect that even most Indians don't take his cheerleading seriously any more.


Rejection of Friedman will not change the facts. Bloomberg reports that an estimated 100,000 Indians are entering the middle class each and every day. Something similar is happening in China. During my trip to India last month, I was accompanied by an American who was exploring tier II cities in which to set up an operation there. And this was just a small NY company. Visiting a Mumbai I.T company, I noticed a large group of young white folks working and living there full time. With all these momentous changes happening, you either get on the bus or risk falling behind.

Saying that globalisation does not work because "there are still poor people in India" is like saying that policing should be scrapped because crime still happens.

My complaint here was not directed so much at globalization, an issue on which I hold an open mind, as something entirely more basic. I also do not debate the upward mobility of Indians - I have witnessed it myself.

My question remains the same old tired one. Why are there not the "happiness" inducing utilities to keep pace with the economic boom? I don't have to go into the gory details about water, electricity, telephone and sewage with you. You know very well what I am talking about.

Just yesterday I spoke with my sister and my mother-in-law in New Delhi. There were at least half a dozen complaints between the two of them regarding the failure of some utility service or the other which had disrupted their routine living in the past few days. My mother-in-law is now nearly 77 years old and she said resignedly, something to this effect: "My life is almost over. It is a pity that much of it was spent in a state of low level anxiety about routine things not working around the house and outside." My sister and M-I-L are well to do people. It is not money they lack. But the inability to purchase dependable public utilities with their money is what they were bemoaning. Exactly the point that Mr. Kenny makes in his book.

I also wouldn't suggest that globalization "does not work". The problem with Friedman's book is it's one-sidedness. It's an incredibly nuanced, layered issue, but Friedman presents it in very black and white terms. Saying "it does not work" would be overly simplistic, but saying "it works" would also be wrong, and this is basically what Friedman does.

I thought his book contained too many broad generalizations to be useful.

(I'm probably also bitter. He goes to Arkansas in one chapter...where I live...and he's actually shocked to find a sushi restaraunt. He literally expected to find cave-dwelling red-necks everywhere and he made a big deal out of how Arkansans were apparently eating sushi now. What did he attribute this to? Globalization! Anyway. It was a bizarre deduction, so I probably let it influence my reading of the rest of the book).

I don't blame you for getting upset about Friedman's amazement at sushi eating Arkansans!:-) The man is so pompous and condescending.

Even when he preaches to Americans about the shiny, new cities on the hill like Bangalore and Shanghai, I get the vague feeling that there is a "noble savage" undertone to his astonishment.

It has got to the point that I have stopped reading his endless "open letters" and other mindless blather.

Let me get in on the Friedman bashing for just a moment.;)
I admit to have waited a while before reading it, but read it just about a week ago.
My main complaint is in his tone of breathless eagerness to tie every tiny little observation he makes of the countries he visits an indication of the marvels of globalization.
In fact, his tone reminds me of the ever-dumbfounded (shocked, awed,etc.etc.) Robert Langdon of the Da Vinci Code. I have no doubt that either Mr.Friedman and/or his editors were tailoring his writing to sell to a similar target audience, i.e. selling the wonders of globalization to middle America.

What does "100K Indians are entering the middle class" really mean? By some definitions India's middle class would be the middle two quartiles of India's income distribution, so a statement that it's growing can only be a statement about population growth because otherwise every person entering that class is balanced by one leaving. If we're talking about Indians entering some "global middle class" I'd kind of like to see how that's defined, and I'd also wonder if 100K is really such a big number considering India's population. That would still put India a decade or two from the point where half of its population has entered this global middle class, and that doesn't seem quite like a spectacular vindication of recent policies.

Right now, Sanjay, it looks like you're making exactly the kind of conceptual error/assumption that the article and book are trying to address. Yay, so 100K Indians are entering the middle class every day. Are they happier for it? What effect does each 100K's progress have on the other nearly-a-billion, in material or other terms? Is such "growth" really growth, and if so is it sustainable? Without answering these questions, focusing on the 100K figure looks a lot like selective observation.


In one sense, the answer to your question is relatively straightforward, imo. That section of Indian society (civil society, for lack of a better term) for whom piped water, electricity, telephone and sewage etc. are an important part of the "happiness quotient" - that desperately wants all these services - are simply not represented when it comes to political power sharing. Civil Society tends not to vote and, when they do, it is for the major centrist, non caste-affiliated parties that have a very broad platform. In effect, the specific needs of Civil Society for modern, efficient public services is mostly invisible when it comes to power sharing & divvying up the money.

For those in Civil Society that actually want to effect change, I cite the example of Lok Satta (LS), a civil society NGO with over a million members. For the longest time, the LS approach was to try and influence, lobby, cajole, threaten, shame, prosecute etc. from outside - if politicians were made less corrupt, more money would flow into sewage; if governance was improved, there would be less money wasted and more of it made available for piped water. LS forgot the simple lesson - a minor leader from U.P. state wins power & is able to divert massive funds to his own rural district - for an international airport, sports stadium, medical college, 6 lane highways, bridges, olympic size swimming pool etc! Meanwhile, Lok Satta, representing the "rich & powerful" elite civil society of India cannot get enough funds to fix a pothole in mumbai ;-) It was a gross miscalculation of how the Indian system really works - the old fashioned way. You have to snatch your share of the power!

Civil Society needs to first intellectually de-center itself, think of itself as just another "identity-based" group with its own special needs & wants, form a political party, fight for votes and win a share of power.

There is a bit of a happy ending. LS leadership has finally come to its senses. One of the LS chapters has just announced that it has re-invented itself as a political party & will contest the next elections.


There is a difference between "entering" and "growing". I interpret that statement to mean 100k new entrants into the middle class income/ consumption bracket. In fact, from the single stat I cited, I'm unclear how you deduce that "every person entering that class is balanced by one leaving"? how do you know that those leaving the class are not going to a higher one? after all, the number of indian millionaires is increasing rapidly. If they're going to a lower class, how does that reconcile with stats showing that the number below the poverty line is decreasing by 10% every year?

Btw, 100k per day translates to 36 million a year entering the middle class, joining the 300 million already there. Will it take a decade or more? Perhaps. I wouldn't want to put a time limit - it's not everyday you get to see a billion people getting themselves out of poverty.

I admire your upbeat projections and suggestions for solutions. But neither of the two last comments alleviate my long held suspicion that the Indian elected leaders DO NOT really consider a "civil society" their responsibility. So the increasing riches of the citizenry becomes the source of personal satisfaction for Indians who are moving out of poverty. But I see no indication that the rising prosperity is likely to contribute to an increase in the collective happiness quota or civic pride of the society at large. You and I are focused on completely different definitions of progress.

I understand what you mean by the "reality" of local politics. The sad thing is that Indians are so resigned to accepting that unsavory reality.

Amartya Sen ("Rationality and Freedom", Ch. 1 or Ch. 2) Has pointed out that reported subjective well-being is not a completely reliable guide. Many well-off, healthy people are grumbly, and believers in mystical religions of submission and resignation often report happiness even if their conditions are miserable (e.g., even though half their children have died in childhood). Sen has developed culture-neutral indexes of welfare which can be objectively applied as a check. ("Culture-neutral": There are no cultures, no matter how mystical, which think that child mortality, blindness, and arbitrary imprisonment are really good or neutral things. They just say that resignation to the inevitable is a good thing).

Sen also stresses that a degree of freedom, equality, and security under the law are both good in themselves, and also contributory to economic development.


I'm actually a bit surprised that you think that we might have a difference in the definition of happiness. Before coming to that conclusion, I would think it entirely possible that the difference is not in the definition, just that we might have chosen different paths to getting there. After all, the theory of utility merely specifies an ideal, not the path to getting there.

Precisely because no path has been specified, there have been several harsh critiques, ranging from: if slavery or torture is beneficial for the population as a whole, it could theoretically be justified by utilitarianism; if a global scale world war can help reduce the population, then it might be benefical for those that remain alive; a single man might achieve such pure ecstasy from killing 100 people so that his positive utility outweighs the negative utility of the 100 people he murdered etc.

Quite frankly, that was the first thing I did in this article - a quick "find" for keywords on critique to see if they had been addressed. Maybe I need to look again.

Wrt your observations on Indian politicians, I agree that there are some bad apples. Just a quick question to you though: faced with a stark choice (1) allow 1 member of each village hut to come to the city so s/he can earn income to repatriate back to the family (2) forget a 1,000 huts and use the money to provide uninterrupted power to the rich.

Who is the better politican? the better person?

Thanks for trying. But I am not falling for your "zero sum" trap. It is not a question of hut dwellers being able to come out of poverty versus the comforts of the urban rich.

All one billion people in the huts and mansions of India should have access to water and electricity. Can't be done? Well how about trying at least? Too utopian for the "reality" of India, you say? Well, I will give a Quixotic answer. When has anything big ever been achieved without dreaming the impossible dream?

Actually, I don't even believe that it is an impossible dream. Rather, it won't happen because of the utter negligence and lack of will on the part of politicians who believe that winning elections is a means to enriching themselves and their own. Public service is at the very bottom of their priorities.

"Zero sum trap" Ruchira? A GoI national survey released today said 237 million people live below the poverty line.

The good news is, if 100,000 people are enterting the middle class every day, there won't be any poor people in India in 2,370 days --give or take, by 2012. One wonders...


Of course, India remains a poor country. The key question to ask is, why?

And I ask you this question, why?

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