Development takes time. America struggled for over 2 centuries before it became a rich & developed nation. The UK and other European nations had their own struggles over a few centuries. In contrast, Japan & Singapore developed fast in just about half a century.
How long will India need?
Despite our optimism, we may have to go through a very long and arduous journey, and the milestones & destination (if any) may be less than desirable.
We look at development as improving our incomes and living standards. Our benchmarks are the US, EU, Singapore, Japan etc. This implies we want to increase our national income from USD 1.6K (GDP per capita) to USD 50K. We also want inclusive and equitable growth. And we want this growth in income to be accompanied by growth in our living standards in areas like housing, health, food, education, public services etc.
The population of our benchmark nations ranges from a few million to about 400 million. However, we are at 1.3 billion. What happens when 1.3 billion people are bent on rising their incomes and living standards to that of the US, at a fast pace? We will destroy ourselves & the world. Rising incomes and living standards depend on manifold increase in per capita consumption. We need to consume more energy, more food, more clothing, more soft drinks etc. before we can achieve our benchmarks. Despite all efforts to grow sustainably, adopt green energy, fight climate change etc., when 1.3 billion people are in a hurry to grow fast, pain, death & destruction cannot be avoided. Nature’s holding capacity will be exceeded and it will retaliate. For a nation of our size, we need different, achievable and sustainable goals. 1.3 billion people cannot achieve US standards of development without significant pain & destruction.
The US & EU nations had a leisurely development pace, compared to the likes of Japan or Singapore which were left paranoid after war, colonization and exploitation. A nation’s motivation, quality of its leaders, its political system and institutions impact its pace of development. India is in a hurry to develop. But our size and democratic system are natural speed breakers. They can be reformed, but we cannot easily achieve situations like a determined leader in a small nation like Singapore or leadership maturity over a few generations in a mid-size country like the US. We are large, complex, diverse. We may need more than a few centuries to achieve our benchmarks. And that’s assuming we attain the maturity and know-how required to navigate challenges which other nations may not have faced in history.
Lets not forgot many other nations are marching towards the same benchmarks, including the bigger and bolder giant China. There may not be enough for all. As we develop, we may cause destruction & pain elsewhere.
The journey itself may cause seismic upheavals in our society. Managing inclusive and equitable growth for 1.3 billion people is not easy.
We are trying to learn from other nations’ successes and failures, and leapfrog. That is possible in some areas like technology, business, policies etc. But the actual process and pace of development does take time. In our big & complex case, it may take more than a few centuries.
As we rush through our journey of development, its useful to consider the possibility we may not reach our destination at all.
We may have to recalibrate and reorient our maps, and change our destination.