Mostly Free to be Poor

February 15, 2011

Riz Khan hosts a program for Al Jazeera English and in this twenty-two minute segment, he leads a discussion about the possibility that democracy hinders economic growth.

Khan asks, “Is a centralized system, such as China’s one party, better than democracy for growth?”

Both India and China became countries about the same time.  In 2008, India’s GDP was $1.16 trillion and China’s was about three times larger at $4.33 trillion.

There is a debate in India that China’s one party political system has allowed China to modernize and improve lifestyles easier and faster than India’s democracy.

His first guest speaker is Tarun Khanna, a professor of the Harvard School of Business, who does not agree with the argument that India’s democracy is the cause of slow growth.

His opinion is that democracy may be a faulty option but it is the best of the faulty options we have. However, he says it is true that India’s democracy has underperformed.

Then MIT Professor Yasheng Huang says in the last thirty years, the leadership in China has improved its decision-making and made many correct decisions regarding productivity.

A listener to the program sends a message from Facebook.  “All a country needs is purposeful leadership, security, vision, and justice for all. China has demonstrated all this, unlike India.”

Professor Huang disagrees with the Facebook comment.

Kahanna says that China’s strong leadership has been an asset and that even in the Communist Party there is a meritocracy of sorts, which is a system of advancement based on individual ability or achievement—something that India’s political system lacks at this time.

Regarding a dictatorship, Huang says a dictatorship wouldn’t work in India. The culture is too complex.

Kahanna agrees that a dictatorship wouldn’t work in India and says India has to improve its democracy.

Huang feels if China doesn’t change its economic structure and put more emphasis on private companies, India will be the better place to do business in regards to long-term growth.

Kahanna says India’s biggest challenge is to include as many people as possible to share in the economic growth and more than half of its population has been left in poverty.  He says the biggest challenge will be basic health care and education and there has to be more opportunities in India for more people. The caste system in India is also a problem. India’s politicians must stop politicizing the cast system.

Professor Huang then says that democracy is not a solution to solve all of society’s problems. There has to be more than free elections. However, an authoritarian system is also not the answer. He says, take the strengths of both India and China and figure a way to take advantage of them—to make them work.

Learn more at India Falling Short


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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