A NY Times book review (Hat tip: Pankaj Narula) begins with a classic gambit: “All eyes are on China as it races to become the world’s next great power. Smart bettors would be wise to put some money on India to get there first, and Edward Luce explains why in “In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India,” his highly informative, wide-ranging survey.”
It appears to me that to make a mark, you have to write a book which sort of turns conventional wisdom on its head. The hare is faster? Tell a story that ends with the tortoise winning against all odds. Yet at the same time, use the usual stereotypes. The title of Luce’s book immediately appeals to the prejudice that somehow Hindus (the majority of Indians are Hindus, although it may not appear so) with their mindless worshipping of millions of idols are somehow congenitally incapable of economic prosperity, and implies that that incapacity has something to do with the fact that they worship idols.
India has suffered economically from socialist policies promoted by people who were anything but polytheistic heathens. The socialism that was forced (and continues to be thrust down India’s throat) was decidedly atheistic. Yet Hindus and Hinduism is tarred with a wide brush and India’s dismal economic performance is labeled the “Hindu rate of growth.” The neighboring countries’ even worse economic performances are never referred to as the “Muslim rate of growth.”
I confess that I have not read the book by Luce, only the review. Perhaps Luce’s point is different from what the reviewer summarized. But for the moment let’s assume that the reviewer is accurate in his reporting. He writes: “India’s dizzying economic ascent began in 1991, when the government abruptly dismantled the “license raj,” a system of tight controls and permits in place since independence in 1947.” The last bit is inaccurate, to put it mildly.
The “license raj” was not born on Aug 15th, 1947 any more than all the Indians living in India then were born on that day. Like the people of the independent India, the license raj was born way before independence. The British had created that regime for their own purposes. The purpose was to control every aspect of the economy so that they could extract and exploit the economy as much as they could. After all, colonial powers are motivated not by altruism but by the simple desire to extract wealth.
A charitable NGO the British were not. So they put together a superb bureaucratic machinery with the express purpose of denying economic freedom to the natives they ruled over. The tranfer of political leadership in August of 1947 did not in any way alter the basic structure of the administrative mechanism. The incentives remained the same and the goals were therefore unaltered. Change of name hardly imposes any requirement that the basic character change, both in the case of an individual or an institution.
The reviewer continues: “Unlike China, India has not undergone an industrial revolution. Its economy is powered not by manufacturing but by its service industries.” If Luce has demonstrated that the service industries power the Indian economy, it is a remarkable feat indeed. It would take a much longer article (later, perhaps) to expose that bit of economic nonsense.
I am wildly conjecturing here, of course, but perhaps Luce has read and believed too many media reports. Take, for instance, this bit from the review: “Its excellent engineering schools turn out a million graduates each year, 10 times the number for the United States and Europe combined, yet 35 percent of the country remains illiterate.”
Excellent engineering schools, did you say? And the definition of “excellence” is? Does it mean that only about a quarter of the graduates are employable? If that is what it means, then I can decode what the reviewer means when he writes: “Despite its robust democracy and honest elections, India faces the future saddled with one of the most corrupt government bureaucracies on earth.” I understand. What “robust democracy” means is “a circus where a large number of ill-informed people vote based on which party is able to most convincingly promise them goodies based on caste and religious lines.”
“Honest elections” means . . . Don’t know but I guess it has something to do with the fact that the elected have a much higher percentage of criminals (murderers, rapists, scam artists, blackmailers) among them than the general population.
I have to admit that I take a dim view of any author who regurgitates mindless economic half-truths. I pass it off as mere ignorance. But when someone talks of the “alarming rise of Hindu nationalism,” I am not as charitable. I think it is naked bigotry and prejudice against Hindus. According to them, Hindus are supposed to be passive residents of a land and should not become uppity and talk about national pride or pride in their culture or ethos. Everyone has a claim–a first claim even–to resources but Hindus should take a back seat.
I kind of suspect that there are enough juicy bits in the book to make it into a best seller. People like to read about strange and exotic stuff that idol worshipping heathens do. And then exclaim, “In spite of the gods, India is moving forward. Imagine if they were like us, monotheists, how prosperous they would have been?”
I am out of here; I have to write my best-seller “The Software Programmer and the Snake Charmer.”