Why India will beat China

The economic battle of the 21st century is between India and China, with the US and Europe on the sidelines and South America and Africa outside the stadium. Mark Steyn, among others, thinks India will win because China is still too embroiled in the fascist/communist mindset:

Mao, though he gets a better press than Hitler and Stalin, was the biggest mass murderer of all time, with a body count ten times’ higher than the Nazis (as Jung Chang’s new biography reminds us). The standard line of Sinologists is that, while still perfunctorily genuflecting to his embalmed corpse in Tiananmen Square, his successors have moved on – just as, in Austin Powers, while Dr Evil is in suspended animation, his Number Two diversifies the consortium’s core business away from evildoing and reorients it toward a portfolio of investments including a chain of premium coffee stores. But Maoists with stock options are still Maoists – especially when they owe their robust portfolios to a privileged position within the state apparatus.

The internal contradictions of Commie-capitalism will, in the end, scupper the present arrangements in Beijing. China manufactures the products for some of the biggest brands in the world, but it’s also the biggest thief of copyrights and patents of those same brands. It makes almost all Disney’s official merchandising, yet it’s also the country that defrauds Disney and pirates its movies. The new China’s contempt for the concept of intellectual property arises from the old China’s contempt for the concept of all private property: because most big Chinese businesses are (in one form or another) government-controlled, they’ve failed to understand the link between property rights and economic development.

China hasn’t invented or discovered anything of significance in half a millennium, but the careless assumption that intellectual property is something to be stolen rather than protected shows why. If you’re a resource-poor nation (as China is), long-term prosperity comes from liberating the creative energies of your people – and Beijing still has no interest in that. If a blogger attempts to use the words “freedom” or “democracy” or “Taiwan independence” on Microsoft’s new Chinese internet portal, he gets the message: “This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech.” How pathetic is that? Not just for the Microsoft-spined Corporation, which should be ashamed of itself, but for the Chinese government, which pretends to be a world power but is terrified of words.

Does “Commie wimps” count as forbidden speech, too? And what is the likelihood of China advancing to a functioning modern stand-alone business culture if it’s unable to discuss anything except within its feudal political straitjackets? Its speech code is a sign not of control but of weakness; its internet protective blocks are not the armour but the, er, chink.

India, by contrast, with much less ballyhoo, is advancing faster than China toward a fully-developed economy – one that creates its own ideas. Small example: there are low-fare airlines that sell £40 one-way cross-country air tickets from computer screens at Indian petrol stations. No one would develop such a system for China, where internal travel is still tightly controlled by the state. But, because they respect their own people as a market, Indian businesses are already proving nimbler at serving other markets. The return on investment capital is already much better in India than in China.

Roger Simon, who’s been brilliant lately, takes Microsoft to task for playing along with China’s new speech code, forbidding the use of such terms as “democracy” and “demonstration” on blogs:

How pathetic is Bill Gates – what a moral weakling. I didn’t realize he was such a coward.

BTW, I can’t imagine any self-respecting blogger would even consider using MSN Spaces while this policy continues. That would be cooperating with totalitarianism, obviously the antithesis of what we are trying to do. (hat tip: Wichita Boy)

Here’s your Financial Times account of the censorship:

Microsoft’s new Chinese internet portal has banned the words “democracy” and “freedom” from parts of its website in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing’s political censors.

Users of the joint-venture portal, formally launched last month, have been blocked from using a range of potentially sensitive words to label personal websites they create using its free online blog service, MSN Spaces.

Attempts to input words in Chinese such as “democracy” prompted an error message from the site: “This item contains forbidden speech. Please delete the forbidden speech from this item.” Other phrases banned included the Chinese for “demonstration”, “democratic movement” and “Taiwan independence”.

China: unrepentant worship of the world’s worst mass-murderer; perpetrator of genocide in Tibet and mass murder of protesters at Tiananmen Square; thief of intellectual property and suppressor of political speech.

Who can defend this mess?

28 thoughts on “Why India will beat China”

  1. Richard, for an interesting account of the joys of neo-liberalism in Kerala, read Alexander Cockburn’s “How Coca-Cola Gave Back to Plachimada” in Counterpunch.

  2. More Cockburn:

    “Remember, India has a billion people in it. Maybe 2 percent of them get to fly in a plane or go online. Around 10 percent are well off, another 10 percent doing OK. On the most optimistic count we’re left with over half a billion of the poorest people on the planet. You can build call centers every mile from Mumbai to Bangalore, stuff teenagers with basic American slang in there working Friedman’s stipulated 35 hours a day servicing American corporations, and you wouldn’t make a dent in the problem, which is that you can’t dump an agricultural economy, build a couple of Cyberbads and say with any claim to realism that a New and Better India has been born.”

  3. What do you mean?

    PS: I don’t know if the Coke essay is on the web or not. A friend sent it via email.

  4. PPS: From what I’ve read by him, it seems clear that, in some respects, he knows more about Kerala than some of the folks we share mutual acquaintence with.

  5. Way more than 2% of Indians get to fly on planes or go on-line; they have cheap airlines now and Internet tea shops all over the place.

    Cockburn is one of these Western hippie romantics who think that a short life of back-breaking physical labor in the service of the marginal existence afforded by subsistence agriculture is just fine for the colorful savage of the third world, and we don’t need to go around corrupting their noble poverty with any of that fancy education or antibiotics or modern capitalism. People like that make me sick. The poor Indians that I’ve known — the same ones you’ve known — want the same things that Americans want: comfortable lives, labor saving devices, good health, prosperity, education and opportunity for their children, and these evil Humboldt County hippies who want to keep them in chains deserve nothing but contempt.

    I’m also offended that this idiot thinks he’s a fucking expert on India after a two-week vacation. If I ever see him, I’ll kick his ass.

  6. Nope, I checked the stats. Cockburn’s right.
    Don’t go by your prejudices.
    Lots of stats out there on India. Do some reading other than Friedman et al. Your (& my) experience of India extremely limited.

  7. You speak of Indians wanting prosperity, health, education…Kerala has been doing just fine without the “help” of global corporations. 100 percent literacy, a life expectancy rate similar to that of the U.S., widespread & inexpensive healthcare, easy & inexpensive domestic travel, a lower crime rate than most developed nations…all this was part & parcel of Kerala life before neoliberalism. Your suggestion that Cockburn wants Indians to live in poverty, sickness, ignorance because he recognizes the importance of India’s agricultural economy & doesn’t quickly buy into Friedman’s Cyberbad “vision” (granted him on a golf course in Bangalore) is hyperbole.

    Is this the main point I ignored?

  8. I still don’t see any links, and given that the High Court of Kerala has ruled in favor of Coke, there’s obviously more to this story than meets Cockburn’s eye.

    Kerala has a 100-year tradition of high literacy, but that’s the only fact in your broad set of assertions about life in that state. Standard of living, employment rate, and life expectancy are way lower than in the West, of course, which is the point behind the indigenous push for development.

    The issue isn’t what imperialists like Cockburn or Friedman want for the Malayalees, it’s what they want for themselves.

  9. My response to your last sentence: Exactly.

    I share with John Berger his notion of democracy:

    “Democracy is a political demand. But it is something more. It is a moral demand for the individual right to decide by what criteria an action is called right or wrong. Democracy was born of the principle of conscience. Not, as the free market today would have us believe, from the principle of choice which–if it is a principle at all–is a relatively trivial one.”

  10. Who is John Berger and why is he so sanctimonious? Democracy is born out of the principle of voting, which encompasses choice and whatever criterion you have for exercising choice. Berger makes a false dichotomy.

    When asserting statistics on the Internet, it’s considered polite to give a link. What is your source?

    This one says that Keralites live longer than other Indians due to coconut oil in the diet, but life expectancy is still below the West and the modern East (Hong Kong, Japan, etc.)

    The actual figures are 70 for Kerala, 56 for India generally, and 77 for the US and modern Asia. That’s a large difference.

  11. I think highly of John Berger. He’s a writer.
    I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t like him.

    Stats are funny things.

    Arundhati Roy’s non-fiction books always have copius notes, & her sources range from all over the spectrum–from government & economic reports, scientists, as well as “opinion” oriented stuff (which is to be expected in any case)–but she’s still criticized by her detractors for having “faulty information”.

    People on all sides draw their conclusions. The parable of the blind men & the elephant ever timely.

  12. Kim, that’s weasely. I don’t care what Arundhati puts into her non-fiction, I care about the claims that people post on this blog. If you’re going to assert things with her as your source, then please do so, but don’t just pull numbers out of your ass and expect anybody to believe them.

    According to the CDC, America life expectancy is 77.2 years, and according to the Centre for Development Studies in Trivandrum, Kerala’s literacy is somewhere between 80 and 85%: “According to rough estimates by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, at least 12 lakh neo-literates spawned by the 1990 campaign have lost their ability to read and write. Kerala has at least 28 lakh illiterates now. That makes Kerala’s literacy rate around 80 to 85 per cent instead of the 95 per cent achieved through the campaign, and claimed by the government. “Lakhs of neo-literates have lost their skills and rejoined the ranks of illiterates. A six-month gap between the first and second phases coinciding with a change of government in June 1991 has proved fatal. Lack of political will and non-availability of the Continuing Education Programme (CEP) are the other reasons,” observes Dr Michael Tharakan of CDS.”

    As to your other claims. who provides the health care and education in Kerala and why do they do it? (hint: not the government)

    BTW, John Berger is a Marxist art critic.

  13. Richard, I’ve never accused you of lying or pulling numbers or anything else “out of your ass”. I’ve never spoken disparagingly of you. Disagreement, argument is stimulating, but not this.

    Yes, John Berger is a Marxist, novelist, art critic, essayist, & sometimes painter.

  14. Asserting statistical facts without support is “pulling numbers out of your ass” no matter who does it. Don’t assert as fact things that you can’t prove.

  15. Well, we agree on Kerala: age 70

    On the U.S.:

    SupraLife International: 75
    National Center for Health Statistics: 77.2
    About.com: 77.1

    UNDP rates Kerala at 74.4

    Why do the numbers differ? I don’t know. You may, though. And probably do!

    Kerala at any rate is closer to the U.S. life expectancy than the rest of India, or from what I can tell, most “undeveloped” countries. That was my point. They’ve done pretty well for a place where the average per capita income would be considered dire poverty here in the U.S.

  16. Oh, yes, Amartya Sen rates Kerala at 74.

    I’ve never asked you: What do you think of Sen?

  17. The general method of computing life expectancy is to average the ages of all the people who died during a certain period of time. This leads to some distortion because of accidental deaths and infant mortality, so the figures below a certain age are thrown out. There may be some additional fudging if things are changing to try and project life expectancy for younger people.

    The female life expectancy in Kerala is 74, and that would be the figure you cite from Sen. He didn’t conduct a study on his own, of course.

    He’s pretty boring but does bring some interesting things to the surface. India is generally behind China in all measures of “freedom” that Sen uses, but Kerala is slightly ahead. He wants to figure out why Kerala is the exception to India, so more power to him.

    At the end of the day the Christian missionaries will play a large part in the equation, because they built the schools and the medical clinics in Kerala. Rainfall is also part of the story, and the Nair concept of women’s status is also important.

  18. Interestingly, one of the biggest, most well-equipped (if not he biggest, most well-equipped) hospitals in Kerala is the one run by the guru Amyrita Ananadamayi (sp?), or rather her disciples & devotees. It’s full of American equipment & is quite “modern” in its approach (ie: the nursing staff functions more like an American nursing staff; it’s relatively efficient, very clean, etc.). In a way you could say it’s like a missionary hospital in reverse–some of the staff are Hindu (as it were) converts from the West. Among them are medical specialists, technicians, & nurses. And much (most? probably) of the money to run it comes from foriegn offerings.

  19. Owing to its location Kerala has been a marketplace of ideas since Biblical times, birthplace to some remarkable fusions. Shankara, for instance, was largely a reaction to Muslim ideas of social equality.

    Sects have always competed for members there with schools and hospitals.

  20. Kerala a marketplace of ideas: very true.

    I heard once that Sabrimala (now the fastest growing pilgrimage site in South India–drawing millions of Hindus [of course], but also Christians & Muslims [hedging their bets?], & even Marxists each year) was to some extent a reaction to Buddhism. I don’t know how far it’s true. Wouldn’t surprise me.

    Yes, Muslim ideas of social equality (no caste system) would certainly have been a threat to Brahminism.

    I understand that the first converts to Christainity in Kerala were high caste Hindus. If this is true, it may explain (in part) how Christianity took root there.

    The Chinese too have left their mark on Kerala.

  21. So getting back to Amartya Sen, it seems that his conundrum is how to make the rest of India more like Kerala. I don’t think it can be done because the whole confluence of historical factors can’t be recreated.

  22. I don’t know much about Sen, but fully agree with you that the confluence of historical (& physical) factors that made Kerala the place it is can’t be recreated.

  23. Along a similar line to our last two comments: check out an essay by Jacques Barzun titled “Is Democratic Theory for Export?”. Interesting food for thought. It’s in “A Jacques Barzun Reader” if you ever happen to see it (I came across a used copy, very inexpensive). Good essays on education too.

  24. The democratic form of government in the West was originally developed in the Protestant churches and is today strongest in predominately Protestant countries. In the Muslim world, the Sufi taluk is organized in a representative/democratic fashion, so there’s no question of export.

    Similarly, the Indian panchayat is the pre-existing democratic institution that serves as the foundation for the parliamentary democracy. Again, no question of export, but you can’t expect a Frenchman to understand.

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