Crouching Tiger, Lumbering Elephant

In Crouching Tiger, Lumbering Elephant, an essay which recently appeared in a collection, Pranab Bardhan of UC Berkeley (one of my advisors during my doctoral work there) compares India and China while leading up to the main thesis of the paper. He concludes that

By most criteria of standard economic measurements of levels of living and their growth, China has clearly won the race.

To support his conclusion, he notes

Over the last three decades official data suggest that the average annual rate of growth of per capita income was about 7 per cent in China1 and 2.5 per cent in India. Productivity per hectare in agriculture (say, in rice) has been much higher in China for centuries, but the relative progress in manufacturing in recent decades has been phenomenal. In the early fifties the total GDP in manufacturing in India was slightly below that in China , in the late nineties it was less than a quarter of that in China. In 1999 the manufacturing share of GDP was 38 per cent in China, while it was 16 per cent in India. Indian labour productivity in manufacturing was about 71 per cent of that in China in 1952; in 1995 it was 37 percent2. Compared to India, total electricity use per capita is twice as high in China and teledensity (the number of telephones per thousand people) is several times higher. In 1999 the share of world trade (exports plus imports) in goods was 3.3 per cent for China, 0.7 per cent for India; in services the corresponding percentages were 2.1 and 1.2. The total amount (in dollars) of foreign direct investment in China was 18 times that in India in 1999. In the same year gross domestic saving as a proportion of GDP was exactly twice as high in China as that in India.

… The social or human development indicators all indicate the superior performance of China. The life expectation at birth is about 70 years in China, to India’s 63. Under 5 child mortality (per thousand live births) was 37 in China and 90 in India in 1999. Female illiteracy for above age 15 was 25 in China and 56 in India in 1999.

Dismal reading if you are an Indian wondering what went wrong. Bardhan’s thesis is that China has been better able to resolve collective action problems.

I have been convinced for many years that both at the macroeconomic level of political economy and the micro level of management of public space in general and of common property resources in particular , one of the most serious problems that Indian society faces is that of collective action. At the macroeconomic level collective action is necessary in formulating cohesive developmental goals with clear priorities and avoiding prisoner’s dilemma-type deadlocks in the pursuit of commonly agreed upon goals.

He had analysed India’s fiscal crises and development gridlock as an ‘intricate collective action problem in an implicit framework of non-cooperative Nash equilibria’ nearly two decades ago. In his judgement, Indian reform would lumber along, clumsily and haltingly. It is a despiriting conclusion reached by one who knows something about India and economics.

What interests me particularly in the paper is his identification of China’s township and village enterprises (TVE’s) as an important institutional innovation that has changed China’s fortunes. These are non-state industrial enterprises under local government (and sometimes semi-private) control.

Take the TVE’s which formed the leading sector in the industrial economy in the last two decades. I believe that the clue to their dramatic success particularly in coastal China lay in three major elements of this unique institutional experiment: (1) there was intense competition among the TVE’s run by different local governments; (2) this competition had teeth (unlike , say, in the case of the competition of public sector banks in India) in the sense that there was a “hard budget constraint” imposed on them, so that by and large a failing TVE could not expect a bailout by the provincial or central government (although there was some cross-subsidisation between enterprises within the same township or village); and (3) when the TVE made money, the local authority was largely allowed to keep most of it (residual claimancy without private ownership was the novel institutional feature).

Institutional innovation is what India chiefly needs. Like China’s TVE’s, we too have to find our innovation that would transform India’s economy. Since rural India is demographically larger, we need to focus on rural India seriously. Some of us are convinced that something like the RISC model is the appropriate innovation that needs to be implemented.

Author: Atanu Dey


3 thoughts on “Crouching Tiger, Lumbering Elephant”

  1. The fact that manufacturing accounts for such a small percentage of India’s GDP is not a minus but a plus. All the industrialized nations have seen manufacturing as a percentage of GDP shrink.

    In Hong kong infact, services are 85% of the GDP. US, it is in and around 80% and growing.

    Manufacturing is a volume game. A country gains precious little by being a manufacturing major. Mexico was one a while back. Now china is and mexico is struggling.

    Manufacturing is a low tech activity which can be replicated in any country. The fact that it involves a huge investment upfront is the reason behind china’s huge FDI figures. But ultimately there is little value addition.

    On the other hand, a 50 million that intel or texas instruments invest in India goes further since it adds to the knowledge of the employees which is priceless.

    China’s is an FDI driven inorganic growth. Atleast half of china’s manufacturing factories are in foriegner’s hands. This has made many to remark that china is nothing but america’s economic colony.

    India on the other hand is a domestic oriented country wherein exports as percentage of the GDP is little. This virtually shock proofs the economy from external factors.

    The collective leadership that is fueling china’s growth today will have to go away in the future. Communism is not going to last long enough for china to become a developed nation. Once communism collapses and democracy begins to form in china, there will be a prolonged period of little or zero growth in the country’s economy.

    That is when India will overtake china.


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