Pankaj Mishra's recent column in the Guardian is a curious piece which claims that globalization should not be credited for the recent economic rise of India and China. It is a sort of teaser for his book Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond. I am tempted alright, but also somewhat puzzled by his viewpoint.
He opines that, in view of the recent failure to impose globalization and democracy on Asia, the West should understand that their idea of globalization cannot succeed as is in India and China. This is true, but it is not a new thing and has been pointed out by many critics of globalization, Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy being eloquent examples. But, Mishra's claim that India made her best progress between 1951 and 1980, – and by implication, has gone downhill since – is a strange one.
Certainly, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened since then. Indigenous farmers have been driven to suicide at an alarming rate because they are unable to pay their debts, while multinational seed and fertilizer companies flourish. These must be acknowledged as failures of the globalization effort. Likewise, the growth of the software industry and the burgeoning of the middle class and the creation of a more confident go-getting generation of young Indians should be acknowledged as partial successes of the enterprise. I am puzzled not just because Mishra refuses to acknowledge the benefits accrued from globalization, but also because he suggests that India and China were better off when the former was more overtly socialistic and the latter was less overtly capitalistic.
I take the rather obvious-seeming position that globalization reform ought to be customized to the country in which it is attempted. In this, the recent governments of India have failed: in implementing a strategy that includes her poor and in divining the ulterior motives of multinationals and funding organizations. Everyone picks on Enron today, but not many were paying attention when the company oiled its way to the politicians' hearts and wrecked the electricity infrastructure of the state of Maharashtra. But to take this failure as a basis for rejecting the free market would be too extreme – a case of replacing one faulty ideology by another faulty ideology. I am not sure whether Mishra is advocating the closed markets of the 1960s and 70s or if he favors a more controlled opening of the markets. I guess I will have to read his book to find out, which must have been his idea all along!
To his credit, Mishra is dead on target about the threat of the energy crisis that will be caused when India and China join the US and Europe as major consumers of the world's resources. His ending excerpt is worth much more than – and seems slightly orthogonal to – his earlier arguments:
In any case, the hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth – that billions of customers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is an absurd and dangerous fantasy. It condemns the global environment to early destruction, and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots.