Praying for an External Shock

The world is reaching a milestone – nominally today – 7 billion people are alive in the world. I suppose there must be some uncertainty about that number; perhaps we have to give or take 100 million or so. It has been estimated that the total number of people who have ever lived is around 100 billion. Thus around 7 percent of people who have ever lived are alive today. That’s an incomprehensively large number.

Around the year 1800 CE, the world’s population was 1 billion. It took around 130 years for the population to double. Then in just 33 years (1927 to 1960) it went from 2 to 3 billion. Then it added a billion every 13 years or so, and the world reached 6 billion in 1999. Another 12 years and the world added another billion to reach today’s 7 billion. Wow!

Seven billion people. That means every year humans collectively experience 7 billion years. In just two years, the collective subjective experience exceeds the estimated age of the universe of 13.5 billion years.

Indians constitute around a sixth of the world’s population. India produces a lot of people every year. Sadly, India produces a lot of poor people because of two factors. First, there are a lot of poor people to begin with. Even if the poor people reproduced at the same rate as the non-poor, the absolute number of poor people born would be higher than the number born to the non-poor. Second, the poor breed relatively faster. Together these two factors ensure that India is tops the list of countries that produce poor people.

India is the largest producer of poor people in the world. I stress that point because too often the impression people have is that the poor magically appear as if by divine intervention. That is not so. The poor reproduce, they breed. I know the word “breed” is not very generous or polite. It’s an ugly word generally used in the context of non-human animals but poverty is an ugly thing and dressing it up as something pretty is not going to be very useful.

India breeds poverty. There are various causes of poverty, and a variety of factors affect the incidence and severity of poverty. Natural calamities, for example, could lead to poverty. Bad governance and flawed economic policies also breed poverty. But one of the prime requirements for the persistence of poverty is poor people. Poverty is inherited and it runs in the family.

Poverty, like illiteracy, can be cured by curing one entire generation of the malady. The children of illiterate parents are at a significantly greater danger of being illiterate than the children of literate parents. Having poor parents contributes more to one’s poverty than any other single factor.

Life is a random draw and one cannot choose one’s parents any more than one can choose one’s time and place of birth. No individual can be held responsible for the hand that nature and circumstances deal him or her. But collectively society is responsible for its poverty or prosperity.

The good news is that societies can and do change for the better provided it gets good leadership. Leadership is endogenous to society but in some instances due to some external shocks it can get leaders that it does not deserve.

The best we can do is pray for an external shock. Certainly praying is as effective as not praying. We pray only in the face of all despair. Still, unlikely events do happen. And given sufficient time, low probability events happen.

I think India will have an external shock soon. More about that the next time.

9 thoughts on “Praying for an External Shock

  1. subhendu Monday October 31, 2011 / 4:06 am

    Very good writing. But can you be specific of what types of shock you are expecting India most likely going to face in future. Is it from some external source like any foreign country or from within India mainly deprived and underdeveloped people.

    Waiting to listen you in IISc on 4th november.


  2. RC Monday October 31, 2011 / 6:56 am

    Thats why it is so important that a nation has its priorities straight. Rather than wasting money on few elite advanced college education the need of hour for India is primary upto high school education. That is where the biggest bang for the buck, developmentally, can be achieved. Making majority population literate would automatically clamp down on runaway overpopulation and also add to increased individual productivity which will lead to creation of prosperity which leads to poverty alleviation.
    However, as pointed out in the post, this is impossible without visionary leadership.


  3. Mitchell Langley Monday October 31, 2011 / 9:15 am

    Your insights on poverty, and the vicious cycle of the continuation of poverty, are right on. It doesn’t help when the Indian agricultural sector, which employs over 50% of the Indian populace – again, an outstandingly large number, since that means that around 550 million Indians are involved in agricultural production – is responsible for only 17% of GDP. Doing rough calculations, that accounts for only $426 per year per Indian employed in agriculture, or $1.16 a day.

    We included India’s poor agricultural output as our #5 risk to India’s growth in the fourth quarter of 2011. But the ramifications of the poor performance in this sector of the economy go far beyond GDP, and I think your post grasps that.


  4. tp Monday October 31, 2011 / 9:24 am

    “Life is a random draw” — i.e., a vast fraction of humans ever born are being born right now, in destitute families in India. If “you” are ever born, you are very likely to be born poor and Indian, and the chances are increasing with every passing moment.

    The time to act has long passed (around late 1960s). Now is the time to party like there’s no tomorrow. There isn’t.


  5. kautilya Monday October 31, 2011 / 5:28 pm

    the population growth rate of india is faster than any other country. india adds more people to earth than any other country.

    i remember in 2004 elections mr. advani said we should not give political post to people with more than 2 children. he wanted to De-incentivise the lalus of the world. naturally he was called ‘communal’ because his critics said he was actually targeting minorities (read muslims). thus a genuinely simple and good idea fell flat. god forbid you can say or do anything that hurts muslim sentiments in india.

    some mullahs have been open about asking their followers to procreate more and more for larger battle against infidels. not to say only muslims multiply. large sections of hindus are equally responsible.

    will india survive this? or it’s a train wreck and the question now only is when..

    i think whether india survives or not will largely depend on what political formation rules india for next 50 years or so. let’s say for next 50 years india is ruled by the manio family and it’s off-springs : this means we’ll continue with policy of appeasement, policy of lethargic investment in national security and corruption continues rampant thanks to incessant population growth . it’s simple, we will be doomed and may not last all of 50 years.

    if on the other hand we have a center-of-right formation led by bjp that rules say 35 years of next 50 years, we have a chance. bjp, for all it’s negatives, can have some way of enforcing population control, increase budget for national security and be hard on terrorism, and is less likely to be corrupt than congress; even though it may have a few corrupt elements. it won’t succeed immediately and will face failures on most fronts but slowly and surely it can bring change if re-elected a few times.

    most people who voted bjp out last time, wanted miracles in 5 years. they wanted bjp to prove everything in one shot and undo the great mess of past 60 years.. if india continues with this short-sightedness and continues it’s love affair with one family, there’s no hope what so ever.


  6. Loknath Monday October 31, 2011 / 7:53 pm


    Advani should have said people without minimum of 10 years of school education cannot vote. This would have automatically led to people question the leaders credentials.


  7. Jagadish Tuesday November 1, 2011 / 7:12 am

    The biggest external or quasi-external shocks so far have been wars with neighbouring countries and the 1991 near bankruptcy, i.e., military and economic. While we can’t rule out islamo-fanatic failed countries like Pakistan deciding to chuck a few large bombs across the border, military action from other quarters is a very tiny possibility.

    The economic onslaught is more insidious because it creeps up slow and steady and takes us unaware. China has already won the race in the manufacturing and high tech sectors. They are catching up very quickly in the service sectors too. We have not even opened our eyes to competition from smaller and more agile countries like Vietnam, Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and a whole range of countries that offer services at lower cost and greater flexibility purely due to their thirst for economic growth.

    The impact is clearly seen from the numbers. FDI into China has been steadily increasing and FDI to India decreasing. Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to do business in India, except in places like Gujarat. While this is not a huge problem now, it is fast becoming one affecting both local and foreign companies. This leads to the vicious cycle of more corruption and extortion by the babus and ministers, more waste of money, longer lead times, and less productivity and value for money.

    This too is not a huge blow for India, but one of its side effects could very well be. We are increasingly being viewed as a nation with uncontrolled and growing corruption and a place opposed to doing any business, nation states start engaging other players who are more favourably disposed, life goes on and India gets squeezed at the throat. Another side effect would be unfavourable terms and conditions when dealing with other nations or large players who are in control. We are already seeing this happen.


  8. allwyn Sunday November 27, 2011 / 9:40 am

    “praying” is the most stupidest thing and the biggest waste or time!! people equate praying with action all the time. I prayed for like 18yrs in the roman catholic faith but now i’m an atheist and while religion gives you some good stories and values the fact is its just stories and not real/true events. Maybe atheism will benefit India then people will be more practical and fall into division tactics played by politicians and also take responsibility instead of putting it in some invisible all-powerful “GOD’s” hands!!

    as zeitgeist says : It(religion) reduces human responsibility to the effect that “God” controls everything.


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