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03 March 2024

India, China growth race 'silly', says Nobel winner


India's leading economist, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen, dismissed on Monday the "silly" obsession of comparing the economic growth rates of China and India.

In a lengthy critique of the practice, Sen argued that New Delhi was far behind in the growth race, but more importantly it lagged in other criteria that showed real living standards were far inferior in India.

"Despite the interest in this subject (of comparing India's eight-percent  growth to China's 10 percent)... this is surely a silly focus," Sen wrote in The Hindu.

Growth as estimated by gross national product (GNP) was an arbitrary measurement, he said, and "the lives that people are able to lead -- what ultimately interests people most -- are only indirectly and partially influenced by the rates of overall economic growth".

In an unflattering portrait of his country, Sen drew on data from World Development Reports of the World Bank and Human Development Reports of the United Nations to show China far ahead on most criteria.

Life expectancy at birth in China was 73.5 years compared with 64.4 years in India; Infant mortality rate is 50 per thousand in India and just 17 in China, and the under-five mortality rate is 66 for Indians and 19 for the Chinese.

China's adult literacy rate is 94 percent, compared with India's 65 percent, and mean years of schooling in India is 4.4 years, compared with 7.5 years in China, he said.

"Almost half of our children are undernourished compared with a very tiny proportion in China," Sen added.

"Comparing ourselves with China in these really important matters would be a very good perspective, and they can both inspire us and give us illumination about what to do -- and what not to do," he said.

India's finance minister and prime minister routinely refer to their target of double-digit economic growth, which they say is required to make a dent in India's enormous poverty numbers.

India and China, which both have billion-plus populations, are often grouped together by analysts and pundits as Asia's emerging powerhouses despite their different levels of development and diplomatic influence.

Sen said that growth in GNP, a statistical measure of economic output by citizens of a country, was enriching many Indians, but the focus on the new affluent middle classes obscured the larger picture.

"Those gains are, of course, good, and there is nothing wrong in celebrating their better lives through economic growth... but the exaggerated concentration on their lives, which the media tend often to display, gives an incomplete picture of what is happening to Indians in general," he said.
Sen won the Nobel prize for economics in 1998.