Arnold Kling  

The Indian Economies

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Timothy Taylor has a nice summary of a very long article on India. (Another article in this issue of the Journal of Economic Literature, on labor supply elasticity, clocked in at over 100 pages. If you are looking for an easy journal to read, look elsewhere.)

The ironic outcome is that India is typically referred to as a development success story, while at the same time the country has a larger number of the world's poor than any other. Indeed, there are concerns that India is not educating much of its population nearly well enough for it to have any hope of participating in this form of economic growth. In a phrase I once heard, India is part southern California, and part sub-Saharan Africa.

I wonder about this uneducated population. Are these people who are too cognitively impaired to be educated, or is India's notoriously bad primary education system the problem? If the latter is the issue, could American entrepreneurs help? The Internet does go both ways, you know.

Incidentally, Taylor seems a bit concerned that his page views are not higher. I never go to his page--I use an RSS reader to view his blog. I think it is pretty hard to start a blog these days and get people to read it other than through RSS. In any case, I consider his blog to be right up there with Mark Thoma's and Marginal Revolution as the most valuable economics blogs out there.

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COMMENTS (7 to date)
mike shupp writes:
In any case, I consider his blog to be right up there with Mark Thoma's and Marginal Revolution as the most valuable economics blogs out there.

Considering they're competitors, that's most magnanimous of you! Yes, those are good blogs. But I also find, no day's complete without a visit to Econlog.

John Thacker writes:

Remarkably high gaps between rich and poor are fairly common in a number of countries. I found it striking in both Thailand and Brazil, for example. Both are viewed overall as success stories, the upper middle class is basically indistinguishable from that in the US, but the poor are very poor. The biggest way that the latter impacts the upper middle class is that manual labor is used where capital would be in the US.

allen writes:

I've come to think that this hand-wringing about the education is either self-serving or uninformed.

First, there's ample evidence that good policy, in trade, property and securities law, is vastly more immediately important then education. China, as an example, hasn't made changes to their education system that can in any way be related to China's economic expansion. The same can be said of India. Yet both nations have seen very substantial, even unprecedented, economic growth.

Second, even revolutionary changes in the education system would necessarily have only gradually increasing impact on the economy. After all, a much more effective education system could only effect the economy gradually, through its graduates which are a pretty small part of the population, rather then the very-nearly explosive nature of the economic expansions that have occurred in both China and India.

Not that I'm saying education is unimportant although the shortcomings of the education system can, to a significant degree, be made up by a "brain drain". Longer term though a nation ought to be able to produce an educated citizenry capable of competing with other, well-educated people. But the importance of education is hardly a factor of which I'm uniquely aware. Quite un-educated parents seem to, almost reflexively, see education as the route to a better life for their children and are quite commonly willing to sacrifice their own comfort to proved that good education for their children. That suggests that, without impediments to this perfectly natural desire, parents will, by choosing the best school available to them, force improvement on the education system.

But when education is part of the political system that perfectly natural desire is frustrated and therein lies both the problem and the solution. To the extent an education system more closely approximates the functioning of a free market it will inevitably provide a better education at a lower cost. As it moves away from the dynamics of a free market an education system will take on the dreary, politicized trappings of an authoritarian regime.

That doesn't mean a government education system can't successfully educate a broad range of children to a high standard but like dancing bears the marvel doesn't lie in the expertness of the footwork but that they can dance at all. So it is with a government education - the most that can generally be expected is that it works at all.

Brian writes:

For what I have heard and read I think it is a lot of issues contributing to this gap. One India is still very much a Federalist country. Some Providences are womb to tomb socialist governments, were others are fairly free market. I would be interested in how this rich to poor gap varies on a regional bases.

Secondly, there is still a strong prejudice and class structure in India. I don't know what the upward mobility figures are but I think class discrimination is a major hindrance from the various stories I have heard from missionaries over the years.

Finally the education system is really bad. When there is a robust industry for Private Schools 100% funded by the poorest population. One knows the public schools are almost worthless.
These are three issues I am aware off that I think contribute to this. I would be interested in seeing some hard data to see if it supports any of my above premises.

Becky Hargrove writes:

Does Taylor know the count of his RSS page views? Someone said recently that they could not figure out how to calculate them. His blog is actually my first RSS feed as I bounce around through the Economics Roundtable and branch off from that.

Jack writes:

The JEL is the Journal of Grad Student Buoys... Very useful for grad students looking for a way into a literature. For the rest of us, not so much.

Daublin writes:

What is the Internet access like in India?

I would expect that so long as children can get an Internet connection, the rest of the important stuff they can learn on their own.

Really, I expect this in the West, too. Already the public schools are mostly just elaborate day care centers. The kids that want to learn are often better off looking on the Internet than asking the teachers at the school. Meanwhile, the kids that don't want to learn are probably going to succeed in their goal no matter what.

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