“I see headlines that ‘Amartya Sen says growth is not adequate’. Growth is important, but is is crucial to understand how growth happens,” Sen said at the launch of the book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions”, which he co-authored with economist Jean Dreze.
Growth, according to Sen, is not independent of the social transformation of an economy. The book is like a “wake-up call” about India’s abysmal performance in the social sector, where growth is measured in terms of human development.
India’s poor performance stands out starkly in comparison with countries which are otherwise much behind India in terms of GDP growth, as Sen and Dreze write. Even Bangladesh fared much better than India on many counts, for instance scoring twice as much as India with over 90 percent of the population having access to sanitation.
Sen was also referring to the ongoing debate between him and Columbia University professor Jagdish Bhagwati over the priority to be accorded to growth in a development strategy. Sen has, for long, advocated that growth is meaningless without government spending on human capabilities.
“I have never spoken of redistribution of wealth. What the poor need are public services, in education, health. This has been shown by the European experience as well as that of Japan, Korea and China,” Sen told the audience. Japan had, as a strategy, aimed at 100 percent literacy to create a launch pad for its record growth in the early 20th century, an experience that was emulated later by South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore, Sen said.
“For years, India’s economic growth rate ranked second among the world’s large economies, after China, which it has consistently trailed by at least one percentage point. The hope that India might overtake China one day in economic growth now seems a distant one,” the Nobel laureate said.
The far greater gap between India and China is in the provision of essential public services, a failing that depresses living standards and is a persistent drag on growth, Sen said.