What If India Had Been an Asian Tiger?
By Bryan Caplan
For decades after World War II, India was a Soviet-wannabe state. While their ruling parties lacked the brutality to fully nationalize their economy, post-war India was an early version of “socialism with a human face.” Well, except for massive ethnic massacres, “population transfers,” (a.k.a. “ethnic cleansing”), and all those forced sterilizations. It’s easy to look humane when you compare yourself to Stalin.
Anyway, how did socialism with Indian characteristics work out? A clever new Cato policy analysis tallies the bad news. The method:
This paper considers what would have happened if reforms had begun in 1971. It projects an early-reform, high-growth scenario in which the per capita GNP growth rate in each decade would have been as high as that actually achieved one decade later. That is, this scenario envisages that the trend per capita GNP growth rate actually achieved in the 1980s (2.89 percent per year) would have been achieved in the 1970s; the trend rate actually achieved in the 1990s (4.19 percent per year) would have been achieved in the 1980s; and the trend rate actually achieved in the early 21st century (6.78 percent per year) would have been achieved in the 1990s. I assume no further acceleration of growth for the 21st century. These conservative assumptions stay well within the limits of what, at the time, was achievable.
The measures: “how many children would have been saved from death by lower infant mortality; how many more Indians would have become literate; and how many more people would have risen above the poverty line.”
[W]ith earlier reform, 14.5 million more children would have survived, 261 million more Indians would have become literate, and 109 million more people would have risen above the poverty line.
This makes me want to see the Chinese counterfactual where Deng’s reforms started ten years earlier. For that matter, I’d like to know where Russia would be today if Kerensky had hanged Lenin and Trotsky. Progress is beautiful to see, but once it’s underway, we sadly take it for granted. In a just world, we’d remember Acton’s admonition: “Suffer no man and no cause to escape the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.”