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India: another great illusion?
piero scaruffi   Mar 30, 2012   piero scaruffi  

Last year I predicted that the Chinese bubble will burst soon, and that it’s unlikely that China will become the biggest economy in the world any time soon, contrary to what most analysts predict (See The great illusion?). Now it looks like India might also disappoint, although for completely different reasons.

The closer we look, the more Indian ills look like a scary combination of European ills and American ills. Start with the budget deficit: India’s economy needs to grow frantically just to pay its debt, which is about 8.5% of GDP. Defense spending increased 10% last year and this year should grow even faster. At the same time, growth is projected to slow down to 6-7%. That sounds a lot like the problem the USA is facing with colossal defense spending that is not justified by the facts on the ground (who’s planning to invade the USA? who’s planning to invade India?)

On top of defense spending, the Indian government also spends billions to provide subsidies to the oil industry and to farmers. Just like the USA. Finally, the Indian parliament resembles the fractured and paralyzed parliaments of Italy and Belgium, in which the governing party is tamed by the tiny allies that it needs in order to claim a majority. Just like Europe, the balance sheet and ridiculous bureaucracy are scaring away foreign investors.

India is famous for a dumb and gargantuan bureaucracy, which was never truly reformed when it moved from pseudo-communism to free-market capitalism, and that bureaucracy recently has been at work to make it difficult for anybody to do business in India. (And even for tourists to visit it: India is the only country in the world that forbids tourists from reentering India for two months).

The social and political problems of India have long been ignored by the world as remote and passing nuisances.

The truth is that many more people are killed by terrorists of various factions in India than in the other emerging powers.

The truth is that India still has a caste-based system that has created incredible social injustice.

The truth is that India, unlike China, Brazil and Russia and virtually any other emerging country, is a federation of linguistically and ethnically different states, a fact that could potentially derail the union.

The truth is that it is the largest Muslim country in the world (or second largest after neighboring Pakistan), a fact that constitutes a perennial threat to its identity.

The truth is that, unlike China, Russia and Brazil, who are unlikely to go to war with any of their neighbors, India is in a constant state of alert along the border with Pakistan, a nuclear enemy.

The truth is that corruption in India is more widespread than even in Russia (see for example for example).

The truth is that this year 27 million babies will be born in India (versus 10 million in China and 4 million in the USA): India needs to create an improbable number of jobs to improve the conditions of its population, or even to keep it where it is and avoid social unrest.

The closer one looks, the less reassuring India looks as a place to invest money.


This would matter little if growth were still exponential and business opportunities were popping up everywhere. However, just like China, India is vulnerable to oil prices and to prices of commodities in general. Those prices are unlikely to come down any time soon, now that the US economy is picking up steam.

Last but not least, India may have run out of Western customers willing to offsource jobs to cheaper English-speaking countries (i.e., to India) and may have to rely on its own domestic market. That market is, in theory, huge. Alas, the World Bank estimates that 300 million of them live under the poverty line, and the others have an average salary which is below $1,000 a month (see this survey).

piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who has written extensively about a wealth of topics, ranging from cognitive science to music.



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