Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Independence Day Insights (or Shadows of the Indian Economic Miracle)

I recently came across this article in the Telegraph (UK) about Phusi, a young girl whose poverty kept her from India's economic miracle and eventually led to her murder by her frustrated mother. This is from the prolific pen of Peter Foster (his blog here), the South Asia correspondent of the Telegraph.

When I started reading this I was happy to see the disclaimer that stories trump statistics- a phrase which I thought was meant to caution India and not beat it with. Phusi's story brought tears to my eyes and I grieved for those that in my country the economic resurgence had not touched- until I reached the middle of the article.

Then the author turned to statistics. When it comes to statistics the way he plays around with it is either deliberately misleading or being ignorant of facts. The 1.3 million people employed in the IT industry are direct employees of IT companies- this industry creates a hardware industry, a construction industry, administrative, clerical, managerial and unskilled-labour type jobs that are usually contracted out (I know because I work for an IT company). The IT industry also provides for market capitalization that allows groups like the Tatas to give away just a little equity and bring in billions of dollars to buy firms like Corus. The IT industry also spawns the growth of the airline industry meaning more construction work and several other service industry type work.

While it's true that Phusi couldn't have found work outside of education, we are seeing more and more jobs being funneled out of India's growth industries. The mistake the author makes- and he is not alone in this- is presuming that the $50 billion IT industry is all we are rooting for. IT is only a conduit for growth, an excuse to develop infrastructure if you will, and an example to others that we can do better. In each field- whether politics, defence, manufacturing, negotiating with China, whichever- we get better and better partly as a result of this confidence.

That said, I still grieve for Phusi. Her death was a crying shame and a stark reminder of human sin more than anything else. It was not simply a result of our fast and unequal economic progress (as Foster seems to imply) but clearly of parental neglect. Criminal and dangerous behaviour needs to take the blame for itself and not blame it on poverty or lack of opportunity. Do all impoverished people behave like this? Of course not! I do hope more insightful articles than this come up when covering her story.

Happy 60th independence day, India! You may have miles to go before you sleep, but let noone belittle your accomplishments on this glorious day!

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