Monday, 6 September, 2010

In 1947, India was ahead of China…

Almost every article on the Indian economy reminds us how far behind India is from China.

But how many articles have you seen that note how we lag France, Germany or the Czech Republic? The whole idea is absurd, given that historically (i.e., in the last 200 years) these countries have been so much ahead of India.

Why is comparing India and China ok? Well, both have over 1 billion people – and, far more importantly, India’s per capita income exceeded China’s in 1947 and 1948 when India became free and China became communist, respectively. Hence, the history of modern India begins from 1947; and that of China from 1948.

Do they?

Because drawing back a few decades shows a quite different picture, and shows just how much difference war can make, even to a colonised country. Why is it so easy to forget that, in relative terms the second world war (which began at least 10 years earlier in China than it did in Europe), hit China and India quite differently, and that was bound to reflect on macroeconomic indicators? (Relative is the operative word here; in absolute terms, India probably lost more people to war than the rest of the Commonwealth combined.)    

Hans Rosling’s TEDtalk Asia's rise -- how and when graphically shows exactly what I mean. What’s happening becomes clearer still if one notices how USA and Japan do during and just after the second world war. The former’s growth parallels India’s; the latter’s plight parallels China’s.

I am not suggesting that Indians should take any comfort from these figures. I am, however, suggesting that leads and aberrations do matter. And to deliberately leave them out is a travesty of both economics and history.

(Incidentally, how did Rosling estimate those numbers?) 

1 comment:

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