The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

India Is Not The Next China

One of the main reasons I took some time to read the smarter members of our international elite was to learn what their assumptions are. The smart ones disagree on the consensus in some places, but what is most interesting to me is where they don’t.

India is one of those places: almost all assume that since China modernized, India’s modernization is inevitable and it will be the next great power.

I don’t see it. India still doesn’t have the necessary government capacity to run the country. Despite the attempt to clean up corruption with demonitization, the civil service is still immensely corrupt, but it is also incompetent. Whatever one thinks of the CCP, they had state capacity; they could make things happen and discipline local elites. The central government in Delhi still mostly lacks the ability to carry out complicated actions in the regions; heck, often enough they can’t even manage the capital region well.

Next, the Indians haven’t taken the right lessons from China. They see that China was involved in global value chains, but they haven’t understood how China used dual currencies and currency restrictions, along with currency purchases to control subsidize exports. They don’t understand, that is, that China’s rise was Mercantalist and not Neo-liberal. Certainly China liberalized certain sectors, but they didn’t neo-liberalize monetary policy and they kept government firms in charge of large amounts of the economy, including much of the banking sector, which they used to direct loans where they wanted. Despite criticisms and problems, this worked.

Chinese liberalization was always within the context of a centrally controlled monetary and fiscal policy, ntended to create the necessary conditions for international competitiveness and to direct capital towards sector the government prioritized. Regional governments were allowed vast latitude to purse centrally chosen goals, but the center did determine the goals and keep an eye on what regional officials were doing.

Third, even if India modernizes faster than I expect, they aren’t beating climate change. India is one of the major countries which will be hit hardest. Crude effects like pure heat increases, potential problems with rainfall, increased extreme weather events, and loss of water from the Himalayas can all be expected to harm India. Since the Indians have also vastly overused their groundwater, they will be hit by serious water issues very early compared to much of the rest of the world.

Then there is Bangladesh, one of the lowest lying countries in the world: it will be one of the first nations to collapse under climate change, and it will send literally tens of millions of mostly Muslim refugees into India.

India isn’t making it. They still only have a small middle class, they regularly have food problems, their government is corrupt and incompetent and they don’t understand how modernization actually happens so they aren’t pursuing the right policies. Ironically they really should sit down with the Chinese and cut a deal through the Belt and Road initiative to be the nation which primarily receives industry China is offshoring but is suitable for India’s stage of development, but tense Chinese/Indian relationships are preventing making an arrangement which would benefit them.

(The Chinese cut deals with America, who they have many historical grievances with, and overlooked America’s primary support for Taiwan, when they needed what America offered. They weren’t over-proud, they did what they had to to get strong first.)

Unless climate change effects happen far slower than I expect (and so far my predictions have been far closer to what’s happening than consensus forecasts, but still slightly optimistic) and the Indian government gets a clue about how the world actually works and manages to actually fix their civil service, there’s no way India makes it before global value chains start collapsing under climate change and having to be re-engineered. At that point India will have so many problems that industrialization will be off the board, and only an extraordinary government and leadership would be able to take advantage of changed circumstances to build up India. Much more likely is government collapse and loss of effective control of huge swathes of the subcontinent as mass famines killing at least 10s of millions of people (and quite possible hundreds of millions) and mass migrations occur.

I wish my analysis indicated otherwise. I’ve spent time in India, I have family who stayed after independence, and I like the Indian people.

But I’m just not seeing it.


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  1. Dan Lynch

    I’ve never set foot in either India or China, but hear that China is something of a meritocracy? Meritocracy has its faults, but what doesn’t?

  2. elkern

    I agree that India is NOT on it’s way to Global Power status, even though it – and the Davosians – treat this as inevitable. I’d add two other factors that you didn’t mention:

    – Oligarchy, “perfected” across several millennia
    – Hindutva
    – Caste system is psychologically stable, until Dalits read Mao. And of course, Brahmins are hereditary Oligarchs.
    – Hindu is more like Judaism than Christianity or Islam: you’re born into it, therefore you’re better than everybody who isn’t. Confidence in one’s superiority makes it easier to exploit other people, which works fine until it doesn’t.
    – Belief in reincarnation makes it easier for people to accept abject poverty, but underfed people don’t even make good soldiers.

    Miscellaneous data point: Olympics. India has very few Medals; I’d bet that only Bangladesh has fewer per capita. Underfed children don’t grow up to win Olympic medals.

  3. Plague Species

    Thank God! One China is all it took to murder the planet, and yes the planet is effectively dead since it’s in its death throes. Two Chinas is insult to murderous injury.

  4. Plague Species

    In the olympics of air pollution it would be quite a competition between China and India, but I believe China would win more gold medals. Who wins the gold medal for rate of desertification? I think China would win that competition too.

  5. Hugh

    A meritocracy is just a jobs fair for the elite and their children. As Reinhold Niebuhr said back in the 1930s: “The most common form of hypocrisy among the privileged classes is to assume that their privileges are the just payments with which society rewards specially useful or meritorious functions.”

    I am not sure India can get through the next ten years without a nuclear exchange with Pakistan. Sectarianism is rising in both countries. Too many people, too much corruption, too much climate change. I don’t see them making it. Modi was talking about a trillion to help India transition to less carbon. I didn’t hear any pledges about how none of that would be siphoned as graft. India is the third largest emitter of carbon, about a quarter of what China puts out and half what the US does.

  6. Astrid

    I admit that I’m surprised that India is thought of as the next coming of China. My impression was that Vietnam and perhaps certain other parts of SEAsia was considered next (but presumably don’t have the size to be considered China-like?) I would honestly think Latin America would be better candidates than India (weak infrastructure and civil society, but less sectarianism and more natural resources).

    Agree with Elkern. The Brits left India with a hopelessly divided and mutually hostile society split on sectarian lines. Add to that the caste system and low status of women (outside of a few leftist enclaves and perhaps amongst the upper class that Davosians encounter), I really don’t see the comparison at all.

    China in 1980 was dirt poor, but it also had essentially universal literacy for everyone under 40, high level of gender equality, overwhelmingly Han, and not much religion to contend with.

    The Chinese I know (certainly a very small, rather wealthy, and Shanghai-centric selection) seem completely uninterested in India. They are travel crazy and I see photos and stories from Europe, Africa, SE Asia, Americas, the poles, and even Bhutan/Nepal/Sri Lanka, but I’m not aware of anyone who went to India. There’s a perception that it’s a dirty, backwards place, without redemption of access to nature available in other underdeveloped areas.

  7. different clue

    Judaism has a mechanism to allow people to convert to Judaism. Does Hinduism have a mechanism to allow people to convert to Hinduism?

    China has an ease of cultural consensus management in that the vastly overwhelming majority of the population is one culture-civilization group. The Han may even think of themselves as one big ethnic group by now. India doesn’t have that. India has a vast diversity of cultures, ethnational groups, languages, even some different alphabets. If such diversity can be managed and brokered among, it can be a strength.

    Are Modi and the Modists trying to force-replicate China’s vast preponderance of one same group by enforced Hindutva? Is he trying to create a Hindutvan religio-ethnational majority group? If so, he will create a deep and vicious split between the Hindutvans and the Muslimians, thereby dividing the House of India against itself. He is trying his hardest to do that.

    India has some zones of semi-wild yet lived-in forest areas maintained in a state of eco-viability by the Indigenous Tribes and Nations who live there. Some of these peoples have already been reached by people who have read Mao.,forcibly%20occupied%20lands%20belonging%20to%20the%20richer%20zamindars.

    Many of these Indigenous Nations within India from before the Aryan Invasion live in hilly or mountainous areas with all kinds of minerals underfoot and underground. The “modern Indian” civilization has long wanted to dig up and use these minerals. Various Indigenous Nations in the semi-wildlands-areas of India have been mounting Zapatistaform insurgencies for some time now. Modi hopes to ramp up the ” Indian Wars” ( ha ha ha) and suppress and expel these peoples away from above the minerals, and recruit them into the very lowest levels of Indian hyperurban slum civilization, because their current sustainable ways of life have long been a standing reproach to Mainstream India’s dreams of modern industrial lifestyles.

    Lets give Mohammed Ali Jinnah some credit for hopelessly dividing Mother India into a Hindustan and a Muslimostan. He wanted to be the big boss of a small country rather than just another bit player in a Greater India.

    There is some counter-Hindutva, counter neo-liberalism activity in India.
    There are the big ongoing farmer protests. There are efforts to revive and make relevant and workable the legacy of traditional knowledge about how to do things.

  8. Gaianne

    Having spent a very small amount of time in India four decades ago, the main thing that impressed me was how useless Western notions are for understanding the country. In truth, I learned very little about India and a great deal about underlying and unacknowledged assumptions of the West–that in India are beyond irrelevant. It is not that Indians have no interest in Western ideas–they do–it is just that those ideas have no bearing on how the country actually works.

    I suppose I am not surprised that Western elites have made no greater effort to understand India than the most casual tourist, but I do find it funny: Our Masters of the Universe can not be bothered to learn about the universe they presume to rule and control! This will work out well for them, I suppose.

    Moving to the present, I was surprised to see Modi embracing neo-liberal policies. If continued, industrialization will become irrelevant as the country is ruined through financial mismanagement, to the short-term benefit of Western banks.

    As you imply, India seems to lack a sense of national cohesion. Collective identity is strong, but mainly oriented along lines of region and caste.

    I really expect the worst.

    I am glad I visited India when I did.


  9. Jessica

    Two more factors.
    One, China, like the US, Canada, Russia, and Brazil, has a large hinterland that it seized comparatively recently. (The Qing conquered Xinjiang and Tibet in the 1700s.) India has nothing really comparable. Not sure what role this plays, but at least it is a safety valve for human energy. Go settle Kansas, Alberta, Siberia, the Amazon, Tibet. Invest excess capital in northern Korea or Manchuguo. Build money-losing trans-continental railroads.
    Two, for a civilization that on its own terms has functioned reasonably well over the course of millennia, transformation into a modern nation-state seems to require unimaginable levels of suffering. Otherwise, the old ways, which have such very deep roots, linger enough to block the transformation.
    (Not saying that such a transformation is good, just that the rest of the world makes it necessary. If Japan could have industrialized on its own timeline, it would have been decades, even a century or two, later and more humane.)
    China lost something in the neighborhood of 100 million people to civil war and famine in the 1800s, then again in the 1900s (adding in invasion too). Yes, there was famine in Bengal and the Partition, but appallingly China went through an order of magnitude worse. All that suffering wore down the old civilization enough for the Cultural Revolution to finish off much of it. India seems to have that waiting for it in its future. I too have been to India, but even if I hadn’t no one could wish on the subcontinent what seems unavoidable.
    A third factor: China ruthlessly suppressed its population growth, but India did not. (There was an abortive attempt under Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in the 1970s.)
    The three nations of the subcontinent will be one focal point, but not the only one for levels of suffering only seen up till now over smaller parts of the planet, for example the arrival of Europeans with their weapons and germs in the Americas. Or the arrival of the Maori in what in now New Zealand or the arrival of the Rome in many places outside of the Italian peninsula or the British engineered famines in Ireland and elsewhere.
    If this tsunami of suffering does become clearly unstoppable – and I too do not see anyway that that can be avoided, then those areas not yet hit as hard will face a conundrum. Do they open up (or fail to adequately resist) population flows large enough to submerge anywhere they go or do they put up barriers and turn into moral monsters who watch their fellow humans go under?
    Oof, I wish I could believe that this is just excess pessimism on my part.
    As I write this, late afternoon November sun is shining and I will go out and enjoy it while I can.

  10. anon

    Astrid: I’m well traveled as are my East Asian friends. None of us have been to India. I don’t view it as a safe country for a female to travel to alone or even with another female friend. I have traveled alone to S. Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Mongolia, Singapore, and Malaysia without much fear of violence. East and SE Asia are very safe compared to other parts of the world. I could plan my own trip and stay in clean hostels and cheaper hotels. In order to go to India, I would need to spend a lot more money to go with a group and I would feel better if it was a luxury tour package.

  11. Chinron

    Modi is the Gunga Din for Western NeoLiberals/Neocons, there is some genuinely stupid people on Anglosphere establishment that believes India will be a superpower, one examples is former Australian PM Tony Abbot.

  12. different clue

    Speaking of India . . . this website may be the same “honeybee network” I first remembered seeing 15 or so years ago. Their deal was that Third World Based knowledge, either cultural legacy or individual-discovered or invented, should not be given or taken for free to or by the West. It should be paid for by people who want to use it with the payment going back to the inventor/discoverer and/or the legacy-knowledge community. It would give teaser articles about one or another discovery or invention or technique and then tell the reader how to get in touch to arrange paying the creators or keepers of the knowledge to find out more. It was India based.
    I will offer a link to what may be the same group in the immediate present.

  13. different clue

    About cultural tourism to India. . . there is an Indian amateur videographer named named Praveen Mohan who visits many not-well-enough-known old-to-ancient sites in India and describes evidence of highly advanced technologies in use at that time. Here is one such video. Is this a joke? I do not think so.

    He has made quite a few of these videos. They could guide technological tourists in visiting and somewhat understanding many old-to-ancient sites in India.

  14. different clue

    Here is one other of his videos again showing serious evidence of machining technology in old India.

  15. Jan Wiklund

    It would be interesting to know whom you consider “the smart ones”.

    Considering India, Alice Amsden (one of the smart ones?) believes that India and most of the other south-east Asian countries run a kind of China-light strategy. See

    That is, they have also learnt from the Japanese masters – MITI – what works and what doesn’t. And the Japanese learnt from the Germans who learnt from the Americans of Hamiltonian persuation. And Hamilton learnt from Colbert.

    Amsden relates a host of tricks the Chinese use (and which were used by the Japanese before them), of which control over finances is important, but cajoling private businesses into doing what the state planners like them to do is perhaps more so. And Indians, Thais, Malaysians, Indonesians do that too – but to a much less extent. They are not neo-liberals either. Only the stupid Europeans are.

    Americans are not, when it is about military business.

  16. Jan Wiklund

    And concerning corruption – no country was more corrupt than England when it rose to a world power in the 18th century. If not possibly the USA when it rose to a world power during the gilded age. So I don’t think corruption really can prevent a rise, if other elements are there, for example protection of high-end production.

  17. Hugh

    OT the Democrats’ strategy of fighting for nothing, standing for nothing, doing nothing except caving in to Manchin and Sinema and running the most mediocre Clintonite has-been they could find is already paying dividends with their loss in Virginia. Obviously, no one could see this one coming.

  18. different clue

    @Jan Wiklund,

    There are signs of deep conceptual corruption in some areas of American military technology and the private military technology business. For example, I believe ( though I am not sure), that Russian jet warplanes are serious workaday planes designed and made to help win military engagements with. Whereas the various American forces are forced to ” use” the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, or whatever its called. It has been derided as the ” Swiss Navy Knife” of military airplanes.

    And the higher reaches of the Defense Department tried to kill off and destroy the A-10 ground support tank killer, nicknamed the “Warthog” I believe. Luckily enough militarily knowledgeable people were able to defend and protect the warthog’s existence.

    And the whole “star wars” program was a piece of pure conceptual corruption from start to finish.

    And continuance of the so-called ” aircraft carrier” in this new age of Russia-led hypersonic ship killer missiles is conceptually corrupt at every level now.

  19. different clue


    The Democrats’ carefully engineered election-dive-taken in Virginia is part of recapturing and regaining their minority status so they can beg and demand more money to save us from Trump 2.0

    The Democrats won’t be exterminated from existence until their ” base’s” hatred for the enemy within is greater than their “base’s” fear of the enemy without. If the “base” ever reaches that level of generally shared hatred for the ” Democrat enemy within”, then they will finally attack and destroy the Democrats the way a pack of piranhas will attack a piece of meat thrown into a jungle river.

    O happy day!

  20. Ian Welsh

    There are different types of corruption. There’s corruption that gets things done, and there’s corruption that mires everything down. India has the second type. It did when I was there, and I’ve confirmed with people who still are (including Indians) that it still is.

    America was corrupt during the 19th century, too, but it was the sort of corruption that gets things done.

    I have been impressed, recently, by Bruno Macaes (Eurasia mostly) and Kishore Mahbubani.

    I doubt Indonesia’s going to make it either, but I know a lot less about it.

  21. Hugh

    “And the whole “star wars” program was a piece of pure conceptual corruption from start to finish.”

    Untrue. The first two movies were OK. Well, the first one anyway. Agree about the rest though.

  22. Ven

    The problem with India is that they never had a revolution to throw out the British. So, the Indian elites who governed under the British, just slid into their shoes. And governed in their own interests.

    The Chinese on the other hand fought for their freedom and committed to delivering education and healthcare for the whole population.

    Funnily the US / UK are now following the Indian path, just from a higher level.

    BTW in response to a question, there is no “conversion” as such to hinduism, as is the case with buddhism. The problem is hindu chauvinists like Modi, have shaped it into a fundamentalist creed, in order to win power, Same old story.

  23. Hugh

    In 1950, Indonesia’s population was 69.5 million. In 2021, it’s 276.3 million. They’re planning on moving the capital to Borneo because the present capital Jakarta gets most of its water from groundwater, this gets pumped out, and the city is literally and quite rapidly sinking into the sea. The country is made up of some 17,500 islands. It is hard to see it surviving intact. With the fault lines of climate change, overpopulation, and bad government, I am not that optimistic about the survivability of countries and regions that have more resources like the US, China, the EU, and Russia.

  24. different clue


    If Indonesia disintegrates, then Irian Jaya may well rejoin Papua New Guinea in one great big happy New Guinea. Of course millions and millions of Javanese and other non-New Guineans will try to settle it and Settler-State-ify it.

  25. Hugh

    On my off topic, the Democrats are already learning lessons from their defeats yesterday–all the wrong ones. I have heard three stories today blaming the defeats yesterday on Democrats not being “moderate,” that is conservative enough. Nothing on their bumbling and not delivering on their agenda. Conservatives like Manchin and Sinema blow up the Democratic party. So of course, progressives are getting the blame. Meanwhile, Jayapal is only trying to figure out how fast she can sell out the progressive agenda. This show would be laughable if we haven’t already seen it 60 times.

  26. Jan Wiklund

    Ian: I am not very impressed by Mahbubani’s article There is nothing about what differs between a thriving economy and a moribund one, except the tired old stuff about national characteristics. And I think Chang has killed that one once and for all.

  27. Purple Library Guy

    India has seen what looks like fairly fast GDP growth, which is still moderately fast even if you factor in population growth. But everything I’ve read about what that growth consists of suggests to me that an awful lot of it is pretty suspect in terms of whether it does the country any good. If a bunch of farms go from being peasant run and producing staple crops for people to eat, to being Monsanto-oriented agribusiness that grows cash crops like GM cotton using massively increased inputs of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides while screwing up the soil and requiring food imports to make up for the food not being produced . . . well, there are more dollars happening, for the moment, so bigger GDP, but is that really growth?
    It just seems to me like a lot of India’s economic “expansion” has that kind of hollowness to it. The Chinese make things.

    Incidentally, one factor of the Chinese rise that hasn’t been mentioned is the one the Americans are squalling about so much these days: Their strategic insistence on including technology in the deals. Their position was, you want the cheap goods, part of the payment is the knowhow, the “intellectual property”. First world corporations said OK, let’s make the money now, and worry about competition later. Now they’re all “Hey, they weren’t supposed to use that tech base to make THEIR OWN high tech! No fair!” but it’s not like they were forced or conned. The US and its companies could have predicted what’s happening if they were in the habit of looking past the next quarter.

  28. Hugh

    I don’t know much Bruno Maçães. He seems Belt and Roady and that kind of globalization. He’s Harvard trained and wrote his dissertation under the conservative Harvey Mansfield who’s been there since sometime in the last Ice Age and argued against new-fangled ideas like affirmative action.

  29. different clue

    @Purple Library Guy,

    American Free Trade opponents did predict all the things you say “America” did not predict. That is why Free Trade opponents opposed Free Trade. But we were out-powered and defeated by the supporters of Free Trade treason.

    In America, many denizens of Pacific Coastal states supported Free Trade. Pelosi was not going against her district on this, for example. These states all planned to make a fortune off of America’s misfortune.

    I have noticed that along with all the skycarbon increased by Chinese coal burning, we also got a lockstep increase in sky mercury. Which falls out into the Pacific ocean and gets into the fish and other seafood animals. So at least the Pacific coastal people are eating more mercury to go along with their Free Trade. Some small measure of justice.

    I have long said that Nancy Pelosi should eat more tuna. Especially the white albacore kind of tuna. And swordfish. She should eat more swordfish. That’s where the mercury builds up the most.

  30. different clue

    Just one more Praveen Mohan video and I’ll stop for a while. Here is a video about a temple in India which Mohan says the archeologists and historians prefer not to study because they cannot interpret the carvings, and they don’t care to admit defeat, so they just don’t study it at all ( he says).

    A way into this video he shows carvings which he says show that ancient Indian carvers knew about animals we believe to have been extinct for several million years.
    And at timepoint 16:10 in this video ( which you can slide the slider-bar to in order to see what he describes at that particular timepoint without having to watch the whole video), he shows a carving of what seems like an undeniable stegosaurus. Now, how would the Indian carvers have known about that? ( He featured this stegosaurus in another of his videos but I can’t remember which one).

    His theory seems most implausible to me. His theory is that people were living alongside these now-extinct animals, and remembered them long enough to carve them in our own present day.

    I think a better theory would be that the ancient Indian civilizations had ancient paleontologists who studied the fossilized bones of animals long-extinct by the time they studied them, just as our own paleontologists study them today.

    Anyway, here is the link.

  31. Plague Species

    The question isn’t will India be the next China, the question is can there be another China? No, there can’t be. The planet cannot support it. Hell, the planet can’t support one China. Come on, people, get real. It’s an absurd notion to believe there can ever be another China. That’s magical thinking. The differences between China and India as a reasoning for why India will not be another China are moot. It’s irrelevant.

  32. VietnamVet

    India is the ultimate expression of oligarchy and China of bureaucracy. The sad fate of the West is that with the globalization of its oligarchy it is becoming more like India every day. Behind the Western Brahmin cult is the belief in the “free movement of people, goods, services and capital”. National ethnic populism is heresy; even though, the western elite are experts at using ethnic divide and conquer to rule. Globalism also dismisses the Clash of Civilizations. Although the history of S.E. Asia is the movement of Chinese tribes south in the past millennia. India will become a desert no man’s land. Singapore a Chinese island in a Muslim Malay Archipelago will be destroyed with the loss of Pax Americana rather than become the next Hong Kong.

  33. g3

    There is a major problem India has – often overlooked. Caste. Caste system goes against the merit principle. 15% of the population – the dominant castes – live off the hard, physical labor of the rest of the 85%, the depressed castes, who toil in horrible conditions while producing the goods/services needed. There are millions & millions without proper toilets. People should search & read about “manual scavenging”. And in the name of preserving caste system thru heriditary occupation, millions have been denied education and hence a way out of destitution.

    Dont know that China is free of divisions, but I bet they dont have anything coming close to the horror show that is the caste system. That alone is enough to ensure India cant even dream of coming close to China.

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