Lee Kuan Yew on “India’s Peaceful Rise”

Lee Kuan Yew begins an article in Forbes.com with:

Even though the [Indian] economy’s annual growth rate has been 8% to 9% for the last five years, India’s peaceful rise hasn’t led to unease over the country’s future. Instead, Americans, Japanese and western Europeans are keen to invest in India, ride on its growth and help develop another heavyweight country.

He contrasts that with the apprehension associated with China’s rise:

Why has China’s peaceful rise, however, raised apprehensions? Is it because India is a democracy in which numerous political forces are constantly at work, making for an internal system of checks and balances? Most probably, yes–especially as India’s governments have tended to be made up of large coalitions of 10 to 20 parties.

“Internal system of checks and balances” reminds me of a joke. At a particular seaport, they were unloading shipments of live crabs in crates from various countries. The crates from all countries, except those from India, had lids on them to prevent the crabs from escaping. The Indian exporter explained that the Indian crabs have internal checks and balances: if some crabs try to escape, the others pull them down and therefore those crates don’t need to have lids.

Lee Kuan Yew continues:

One example of India’s “checks and balances” at work was the suspension of its talks on a U.S. nuclear power deal. Although this deal is manifestly in India’s interests, 60 communist MPs–part of the Congress Party-led coalition government–opposed the deal. Subsequently, the Communists allowed negotiations to resume, reserving their position on the outcome. India’s development will, from time to time, run into domestic obstruction.

The Indian communists do the job of keeping a lid on the Indian economy and prevent it from escaping the crate of Nehruvian socialism. But the communists are not the problem — they are a symptom of a deeper problem with India. In the broadest terms I think it is Indian culture. Saying this exposes me to all sorts of charges. But unpalatable though it is, it is an inescapable conclusion. LKY goes on:

The speed of China’s change and the thoroughness, energy and drive with which the Chinese have built up their infrastructure and pursued their goals spring from their culture, one that is shared by the Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese, who adopted the Chinese written script and absorbed Confucian culture. The Chinese are determined to catch up with the U.S., the EU and Japan. Fast-forward 20 to 30 years and the world will have to accommodate a more technologically advanced and economically more sophisticated China, whether under a single- or multiparty system.

The drive to excel derives from a knowledge of one’s place in the larger context, an understanding of one’s own worth, a certain confidence and pride in one’s heritage. At least in the Indian policy-making circles, this is impossible as they all Macaulay’s children.

LKY states what India needs to do simply:

India does not pose such a challenge–and won’t until it gets its social infrastructure up to First World standards and further liberalizes its economy. Indeed, the U.S., the EU and Japan root for India because they want a better-balanced world, in which India approximates China’s weight. [Emphasis added.]

So what is social infrastructure and what does “liberalize the economy” mean? I think social infrastructure is the set of rules that govern society. Do the rules allow individuals freedom or do they make the individual subservient to the group? Is discrimination institutionalized in the legal and civil code? Does the system create incentives for groups to fight against other groups?

How can we build social infrastructure if we are stuck with governments that insist on dividing and ruling? Can we at least have an argument about this?

6 thoughts on “Lee Kuan Yew on “India’s Peaceful Rise”

  1. Notsure Thursday December 13, 2007 / 7:52 am

    I checked your rants on the nuclear deal and that wasnt so warm on it either.

    Lee Kuan is a sheepish apologist for dictatorship of course they are his kin. His kinship is with dictators. His view on musharraf revealed more about the blowhard.
    Singapore shouldnt be a model for indians to emulate. If they are they might as well emulate dubai, kuwait.
    Singapore does not create anything, except bad laws limits freedom, Government money is wasted on connected cronies at a larger scale than anything else.
    Indians have to come to grips with their own freedom They ought to enjoy it where they have it and and enhance it where they dont.
    Government and social productivity will increase if you select the right model and framework.

    Indias private sector has done well and will do well compared to the ones under dictators b/c dictators all fall prey to the temptation of central planning.


  2. abhilash.shastry Thursday December 13, 2007 / 9:21 pm

    Notsure, I am surprised at your surprise.

    Admiration for dictatorship is an indispensable part of the package Atanu subscribes to. Hedgewar and Golwalkar had openly expressed their support for “benign” dictatorship in place of democracy.


  3. Amit Thursday December 13, 2007 / 9:55 pm

    Atanu, would you prefer to live in China? I find it surprising that economists (and economists alone – that should tell us something) are quick to point to China as a country to emulate. Do they not have life beyond “growth rate”, ” free market” (such an Orwellian term), “GDP” etc.? Or do they want India to also emulate the human rights abuses and lack of freedom of speech in China? Not that India’s record is exemplary but it can be argued it’s better than China’s. Why this rush to get ahead in this race for development? There are factors in play other than economics, which are equally (or more) important for a country.


  4. Notsure Friday December 14, 2007 / 12:00 am

    Perhaps you are surprised because you have prejudices, and poor analysis and designation abilities.

    You demonstrate that in this post when you describe “indispensable parts of package” that Dey subscribes to and then drop 2 names.
    I dont recall reading any of those 2 names on this blog prior to today.

    I recall a good example of that. It was your attempt at projection of someones worldview. …The one where you categorized that as of a “typical represenative of NRI” … “who forbids their kids from playing with blacks.”


  5. anuj Sunday December 16, 2007 / 3:29 am

    abhilash & amit – from the above post, how did you derive that atanu favors dictatorship over [liberal] democracy for india?
    i would really like to learn.


  6. Amit Wednesday December 19, 2007 / 11:45 pm

    anuj, you’ll have to learn the art of reading tea leaves. Then all will be clear.


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