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Performance of Chinese Economy ‘Noteworthy’ in Last Four Decades and Holds Key Lessons for India

Over the nineteenth century, the two countries had been following the opposite trajectory

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Chinese, Economy, India
In fact, China was at a disadvantage on some aspects of development. Pixabay

China celebrated the 70th anniversary of becoming a communist republic with much fanfare. Back in October 1949, when China was adopting the communist model of societal organisation, India was framing its constitution. Less than four months later, India was a democratic republic. The two nations in their current identities were, thus, born out of the ashes of the colonial world around the same time but adopted a contrasting system of economic and social development. After seventy years, the two nations stand at very different levels of development in terms of their economic, military and technological progress. China’s prowess on these fronts is incomparable to that of India.

China’s rise is quite extraordinary from the Indian viewpoint as the two nations were at par with each other in 1950. In fact, China was at a disadvantage on some aspects of development. Over the nineteenth century, the two countries had been following the opposite trajectory. As per Maddison estimates, India’s per capita income grew from $533 in 1820 to $673 in 1913 (in 1990 dollars). During the same period, China’s per capita income declined from $600 to $552. In the first half of the twentieth century, the per capita incomes of both nations declined. Between 1913 and 1950, India’s per capita income declined from $673 to $619 while China’s per capita income declined from $552 to $439. Thus, in 1950 when India became a republic, it was ahead of China in economic terms.

Even as recently as 1978, the per capita GDP of China was $979, and India was $966. The excesses of Mao’s rule that culminated in the disastrous programmes of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution kept economic progress of China subdued in the first three decades. However, all that changed with the coming of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. As a result, China’s per capita income today is about 4.6 times than that of India. Despite all the demerits of the authoritarian rule in China, the performance of the Chinese economy in just the last four decades is noteworthy and holds key lessons for India as well.

The first, and probably the most important thing that China did well right from the start was its focus on human development. Even under Mao, China’s emphasis on education for all and the healthcare facilities provided by its communes helped the country perform well on human development. While the human development index (HDI) was introduced in 1990, its long run calculations have been provided by Nicholas Crafts. The HDI numbers for China and India are, thus, available for 1950 and 1973. While both the countries had almost similar HDI scores in 1950 (0.163 and 0.160 respectively), Chinaa¿s score was markedly higher in 1973 (0.407 against India’s 0.289).

Chinese, Economy, India
China’s rise is quite extraordinary from the Indian viewpoint as the two nations were at par with each other in 1950. Pixabay

So, the improvement in human development poised the society perfectly for the reforms that would be imposed under Deng’s China. The development of a vast pool of human capital primed the economy for economic reforms and, therefore, allowed the country to maximise its gains form it. On the other hand, education and health have always been an area for concern for India. By the time India began undertaking economic reforms in the early 1980s, India’s health and education levels were still poor. An average Indian died at the age of 54 in 1980 while merely 43.6 percent of its population was literate. By comparison, life expectancy in China was 64 years and its literacy rate was 66 percent around the same time.

The second key difference was the focus on the type of industries by the two countries. China focussed on industries that were more labour-intensive leveraging on its pool of cheap labour. Industries like textile, light engineering and electronics received higher investment. China also introduced special economic zones (SEZs) as early as 1980, which pushed manufacturing growth and setting up of export-oriented industries. India, on the other hand, focused more on heavy industries that were capital-intensive and employed less labour. Moreover, the policy focus on attracting foreign investment through instruments like SEZ came much later. As a result, by 1998 China had FDI investments of $183 per capita as per Maddison estimates and India was merely at $14.

As India hardly pushed for labour-intensive manufacturing growth, the sector never picked up and the country became a services-led economy. China, on the other hand, became the manufacturing powerhouse of the world. A similar edge is being created by Bangladesh in recent times. The export-industries that are moving out of China due to rise in labour costs and the trade war with the United States are being effectively captured by countries like Bangladesh. The country has eclipsed India’s growth rate since 2017 and has become the fastest-growing country in South Asia. Most of its growth is being led by its manufacturing sector, which implies that the country will be able to create high employment for its citizens and improve their standard of living at a higher and more equitable rate than India; exactly what China has achieved over the last four decades.

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Thus, India has a lot to learn from the development trajectories of its neighbours. The focus on health and education parameters for long-term growth and market-oriented policies in the short term has been an effective strategy for Asian countries. Perhaps it is time that India does the same. (IANS)

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Economy to Overcome Other Issues in 2020, says Trump

President Donald Trump is hoping that simple message in 2020 will help foil his eventual Democratic Party challenger. 

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President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump attends a Keep America Great Rally at the Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S. VOA

“It’s the economy, stupid” has been a catchphrase of U.S. presidential politics since the 1992 campaign, when Bill Clinton unseated incumbent George H.W. Bush. Nearly three decades later, U.S. President Donald Trump is hoping that simple message in 2020 will help foil his eventual Democratic Party challenger.

Trump — in tweets, at political rallies and in remarks to reporters — constantly emphasizes the performance of the U.S. economy, stock market surges, low unemployment rates and his tax cuts to boast he is doing a great job as president.

Economists and political analysts are divided on whether that message will enable the incumbent to stay in office beyond January 2021.

Culture war, partisan split

Ever since Clinton, “we’ve all kind of assumed that should be true. And I think for the most part, it is,” said Ryan McMaken, senior editor and economist at the Mises Institute, a politics and economics research group in Alabama. He cautioned, though, that Trump finds himself on one side of a culture war that his predecessors did not have to confront, as well as a deep partisan divide on consumer confidence.

Walmart Supercentre
Balo Balogun labels items in preparation for a holiday sale at a Walmart Supercenter, in Las Vegas. Black Friday once again kicks off the start of the holiday shopping season. But it will be the shortest season since 2013 because of Thanksgiving falling on the fourth Thursday in November, the latest possible date it can be. VOA

Policy analyst James Pethokoukis at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, a public policy research group, also is cautious about the economy prevailing over all other issues.

“Just having a strong economy is not going to guarantee you re-election,” he said. “People often point back to the 2000 election, which occurred after a decade of tremendous economic growth any way you want to measure it — gross domestic product, jobs and wage growth. And yet, [Clinton’s vice president] Al Gore still lost that election to George W. Bush.”

McMaken questioned whether voters in key swing states — such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio — who cast ballots for Trump in 2016 were experiencing enough of the touted economic performance to vote again for the president.

Overall, however, “it’s not a bad economy to run on if you’re Donald Trump,” said Pethokoukis.

Trump, said to have concerns about the direction of the economy ahead of next November’s election, will likely push for more tax cuts, passage of a renegotiated North American trade pact and continued pressure on the country’s central banking system, the Federal Reserve, to lower interest rates.

A LB Steel LLC's employee manufactures a component
A LB Steel LLC’s employee manufactures a component for new Amtrak Acela trains built in partnership with Alstom in Harvey, Illinois, U.S. VOA

Trouble ahead?

There are rumblings of economic storm clouds on the horizon. The impact can be seen in Trump’s trade war with China, which has hurt U.S. farmers and raised prices for consumer goods. It’s also reflected in the Institute for Supply Management’s Manufacturing Index, an underperforming U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index and a ballooning record national debt, in addition to the worrying level of money owed to creditors by middle-class Americans.

“We’ve actually been in a sort of a manufacturing recession, seen a shrinkage of factory jobs, the exact kinds of jobs that I’m sure that people voting for the president thought would be a lot better now,” said Pethokoukis.

So far, none of this has prompted a major stock market correction.

“There seems to be a lot of adaptations in the markets to Trump’s America. That may work to his advantage,” said the Mises Institute’s McMaken.

Analysts note a lack of emphasis on economic platforms so far by the leading Democratic U.S. presidential candidates seeking to oust Trump next year.

But such a platform is likely to be touted when the opposition party holds its convention next July in Milwaukee and picks its campaign ticket. Pethokoukis suggested the Democratic Party should devise a plan with a goal to boost American worker productivity, which has flatlined for years.

The great divide

McMaken pointed out that the widening chasm between the well-off and those struggling economically in the United States makes Trump vulnerable — something emphasized by left-leaning Democratic presidential contenders such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Donald Trump says the economy isn't doing well
Tents and tarps erected by homeless people are shown along sidewalks and streets in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles, California, U.S. VOA

“On the ground level, I would say just in general, the economy isn’t doing as well,” concluded McMaken.

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Amid an impeachment drive by the Democrats, Trump is repeatedly hammering on a specific message to those questioning his suitability for office while being impressed with the performance of their pension accounts during his presidency.

“Love me or hate me, you’ve got to vote for me,” Trump said at a rally in New Hampshire in August, warning that Americans’ investments portfolios would go “down the tubes” if he lost next year’s election. (VOA)