Tag Archives: India

Amartya Sen on Quality of Life in India and China

In the New York Review of Books, Amartya Sen describes several ways we can assess the differences in quality of life in China and India. He points to China’s economic and public goods strength, but argues that other values, including freedom of expression and democracy, should be considered in the comparison. Sen argues that democracy and pluralism need not inhibit economic growth, and that GNP growth should not be the sole indicator of improving conditions.

Here, some interesting points, one on China’s strength in health care compared with China (striking for those of us who hear more about China’s health failings), and another on the value of freedom of expression (emphasis added in both). Below, a quibble.

For example, government expenditure on health care in China is nearly five times that in India. China does, of course, have a larger population and a higher per capita income than India, but even in relative terms, while the Chinese government spends nearly 2 percent of GDP (1.9 percent) on health care, the proportion is only a little above one percent (1.1 percent) in India.


Freedom of expression has its own value as a potentially important instrument for democratic politics, but also as something that people enjoy and treasure. Even the poorest parts of the population want to participate in social and political life, and in India they can do so. There is a contrast as well in the use of trial and punishment, including capital punishment. China often executes more people in a week than India has executed since independence in 1947. If our focus is on a comprehensive comparison of the quality of life in India and China, we have to look well beyond the traditional social indicators, and many of these comparisons are not to China’s advantage.

I agree that any reasonable account of welfare across countries (or among other groups of people) should include factors apart from economic growth and production. This is probably unsurprising for most non-economists or those outside the discourses of development, but it’s an important point nonetheless.

Sen is weakest, however, in underplaying the role of pressure from “below” on China’s leadership. He is right to say that there is “very little democratic pressure from below,” but this is not the same as saying there is very little pressure from below. Indeed, the very precariousness of authoritarianism that Sen points out is based in the challenge of handling pressures from below, above, outside, and every which way. Just as democracy is not necessarily incompatible with rapid economic growth, China’s form of government is not necessarily incompatible with responsiveness to broad interests in the population.

No country has a perfect government, but any persistent government short of a thoroughgoing coercive and repressive state will be responsive in some way. In its period of rapid development especially, China has had various forms of non-democratic “input institutions,” that Andrew Nathan argues have contributed to an “authoritarian resilience.” The puzzle of how to assess material and non-material welfare remains.

Asia in the State of the Union: Diligent competitors, trade partners

This post is based on the advance speech distributed by the White House and published on CNN.com.

Over all, tonight’s state of the union speech appears to be light on foreign affairs. Here is a summary of the mentions of Asia. Overall, my quick read is that Asia is set up as a land of diligent, hard-working people who value infrastructure, education, and economic development; a land that the United States needs to emulate.

China comes in early in the speech, during a passage laying out the need for the United States to plan its economy for the future.

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

It comes up again when the president takes up infrastructure.

The third step in winning the future is rebuilding America. To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information – from high-speed rail to high-speed internet.

Our infrastructure used to be the best – but our lead has slipped. South Korean homes now have greater internet access than we do. Countries in Europe and Russia invest more in their roads and railways than we do. China is building faster trains and newer airports. Meanwhile, when our own engineers graded our nation’s infrastructure, they gave us a “D.”

And once more during the increasing exports section.

To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 – because the more we export, the more jobs we create at home. Already, our exports are up. Recently, we signed agreements with India and China that will support more than 250,000 jobs in the United States. And last month, we finalized a trade agreement with South Korea that will support at least 70,000 American jobs. This agreement has unprecedented support from business and labor; Democrats and Republicans, and I ask this Congress to pass it as soon as possible.

Notice that China is not singled out. It is either paired with other important economies, or with India.

Likewise, India is mentioned three times, twice with China. First “China and India.” Then “India and China.” Then in the context of one of the two mentions of “Asia.”

This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

The other Asia mention is in the context of trade again.

Before I took office, I made it clear that we would enforce our trade agreements, and that I would only sign deals that keep faith with American workers, and promote American jobs. That’s what we did with Korea, and that’s what I intend to do as we pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia, and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.

South Korea comes up in the context of the Korean War trade agreement with Korea, standing with the South against the North, and in plugging education.

Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as “nation builders.” Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. And over the next ten years, with so many Baby Boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Etzioni on wrongheaded US views of India and China

At World Policy Journal, which I have just discovered has an interesting blog, Amitai Etzioni in July argued that mainstream U.S. views on India and China are deeply flawed. When people talk about balancing Chinese power with a democratic ally in India, Etzioni argues, we buy into a long-discredited ideology of international relations.

An excerpt:

The very concept of balancing does not stand close scrutiny. What does it mean for India to balance China? China is developing a major navy and a string of ports of call in the Indian Ocean. India is doing the same. Most likely both are wasting precious resources because in the age of missiles and drones, ships are sitting ducks for low-cost smart bombing. …

About the only reason I can see that some are demonizing China is that some of our agencies need an enemy to justify their forces and budgets, which are still focused on conventional warfare rather than on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and asymmetric warfare, and to stay the misbegotten course in Afghanistan.

This is far from uncontroversial, but it’s an argument conspicuously missing from the U.S. public debate on China.