What? Still On About India?

In lieu, and in honour, of the Oscars, Brother Hrab and I caught a double feature last night: Harry Potter and Syriana. Now, I’d seen the latter already, so took this as an opportunity to enjoy an excellent nap in the theatre. When you’re as jet-lagged as me, theatre naps are akin to full body massages. Sweeeet.

But I was delighted to learn that George Clooney had succeeded in winning at least one award last night. I’m not one for celebrity or film silliness, but occasionally I do find one member of the industry whom I truly wish to succeed; Clooney is one of them. He does, however, bear a disturbing resemblance to Hamas spokesman Khaled Meshaal, as described here.

This weekend I was also amused to find a number of TV talk shows dedicated to discussing India’s emergence onto toe playing field of world super powerdom. TVOntario’s Diplomatic Immunity on Friday was on this very topic, and even they were cognizant of the theme of youth I dicussed to death in my travelblog last month. (The show further benefited from the erudite presence of guest pundit and uber-babe, Ananya Mukherjee Reed. Meow!)

In short, the question they asked was which country is the better bet for economic and political might in the coming years, India or China? China benefits from much foreign investment, excellent infrastructure and stable government. India benefits from having an educated, English-speaking population, and from having increasingly close cultural ties to Europe and America, due in large part to the enormous numbers of NRIs living abroad. Both nations enjoy a strong work ethic, a commitment to education and a large, cheap work force.

But the kicker is this: China’s demographics resembles Canada’s — the Chinese are old. Two thirds of Chinese are over 40. India, as I’ve oft repeated, is a young country. The majority is under 30. This translates to more personal energy, optimism, aggression, a greater ability to endure personal sacrifice, and ultimately a more reliable and stable economic base.

However, I am concerned that the growth of nations like India will be an unsustainable thing, due entirely to an unaddressed and eventual negotiation with the labour class. See, the gap between rich and poor, in places in India, is beyond what we in the North can imagine. In a mall in Toronto, for example, there are classes: those who buy the top end items for hundreds of dollars a pop, and those who clean the floors for minimum wage. But on his off hours, the floor-cleaner and his kids will shop in that very same mall, though perhaps not spending the same amount of money. In India, the floor-cleaner can never dream of even setting foot as a customer into the shops of the malls he cleans; the gap is so wide.

Much of India’s (and China’s) rapid growth is on the backs of an army of cheap, disposable labour. You can pay literally pennies to get any menial task done, with no requirements for safety, insurance, health care, nutrition or the worker’s environment. That’s a powerful economic buffer to absorb what in the West would be serious cost overruns.

As these nations develop, particularly in India where its democratic passions are more likely to support a serious labour movement, this large underserviced labour class will increasingly negotiate for better wages and conditions until, at least for a segment of them, the class gap will have significantly shortened.

This is obviously a positive development, but unless the Indian economy is prepared for such an eventuality, in terms of production and management models, expansion will cease and maybe even reverse. I question how Indian society, so dependent it currently is on class delineations, will weather the coming upheaval. Marxist chatter about class warfare was meant for Europe and America, but I think it’s more appropriate for the Indian case.