Das, Gurcharan, India Unbound: From Independence to the Global Information Age, Penguin, New Delhi, 2002. ppbk edition.
[cross-posted on Chicagoboyz]
Recently, a friend with Gujarati origins returned from visiting his relatives in northwest India and brought me several books on the Indian economic renaissance. This particular book is part biography, part business tutorial, while effectively illustrating the dramatic challenges faced by India over the last century. Gurcharan Das is a former CEO of Proctor & Gamble India, sometime columnist for the Times of India and frequent commentator on Indian economic affairs. Educated in India and the US, and spending his formative business years in many countries, he's the perfect intermediary for the general reader. After taking early retirement, he switched his focus to business consulting. That varied background has made a big difference to the quality of India Unbound. His experience bridges the generations, bridges East and West, and reflects experience with many facets of the Indian economy. It is a well-written book, a bit dated by the very rapid change in both India and the global economy (his Foreign Affairs article is a wonderful update), but all-in-all this book is an excellent introduction to India's past, present, and potential future.
From an Anglosphere perspective, India is both a great conundrum and a great hope. With a vast and growing population of English-speakers, it would be no surprise if it bears a dominant role in the growth and use of the language by century's end. It has supplied generations of brilliant academics, scientists, and writers to the Anglosphere. Its journalists and intellectuals draw upon the full range of debate across the Anglosphere, as a quick Google query will confirm. It has many reasons to want to leverage its strong ties to the English-speaking world, not the least of which is its democratic nature. Yet its national aspirations will no doubt lead it to arbitrage benefits from other large power blocs in Europe, Russia, and China. Unlike the other large English-speaking nations, it is a land of the colonized rather than colonizers. A century ago, proponents of Imperial Federalism went to great lengths to create exceptions for how India might be integrated with the rest of the English-speaking world. The appliqué of English common law and civil service in India (since the legislated demise of the East India Company in 1858) did not greatly affect the underlying cultures of the subcontinent, despite providing an inadvertent structure for the subsequent nation-state. India was not subject to the cultural clear-cutting of Russia, China, and Japan (plus the Japanese colonies). More than most nations in the 21st century, it must carry its past along with it.
India's role in the Anglosphere will be on its own terms, and based on the recent past, those terms will depend largely on the consensus created amongst its elite. Will that elite come from a small slice of India, or will it draw from a burgeoning middle class? Will it gravitate to rent-seeking (per the McKinsey evaluations in Lewis's Powers of Productivity) or will it form market-dominant minorities (per Chua's World On Fire) that strangle the rate of economic development for the benefit of a few?
India Unbound discusses many of the same economic and political topics that have fascinated Europeans and North Americans during the 20th century. The author's family was professional for several generations and had a chance to evaluate 20th century Indian economic development firsthand. The British could be blamed (in a multitude of ways, valid or not) for the stagnation of India in the first half of the 20th century. The legacy of colonialism, which carried forward until 1947, distorted Indian governance and economics in very different ways from the earlier British colonial nation-states of the 18th and 19th centuries. As Daniel Headrick has outlined in incredible detail in The Tentacles of Progress: Technology Transfer in the Age of Imperialism, 1850-1940, India's infrastructure in areas like railways and manufacture was always subject to different pressures than mere market need.
Through the years leading to self-determination, Indian intellectuals drew on British socialist (often Communist) traditions. Regrettably, India entered the mid-century with a set of economic ideas that were already about to take a tumble. As the US was about to depart from wartime era micromanagement (as exemplified by JFK's ambassador to India - John Kenneth Galbraith), India began adopting Five Year Plans with a heavy-industry approach to economic development. In 1950, the issue of whether communism or capitalism had the advantage in creating wealth was still an open question. India's choice was top-down economic administration. The result was a series of crises in each decade, culminating with the virtual collapse of external trade (and foreign reserves) in the early 90s. Even the much vaunted Green Revolution of the early Sixties, which allowed India to be self-sufficient in food, appears to have been in spite of much of the government rather than at its instigation. All this central planning, by very smart people, chopped overall annual economic growth in India in half between 1950 and 1980, when compared with the average (3% per annum) across the underdeveloped world .
Das was educated from early adolescence onward in the US and his return to India as a young man to work for the Indian branch of Vicks (of VapoRub fame) is an ideal foil for Westerners to better grasp how India did business in the Sixties. The customer focus that the author learned as a boy, delivering the Washington Post of all things, is carried over into his discussion of retail marketing and sales to the vast countryside of India. The adventures of G. Das as he tries to grow his business highlights, more than anything else, the extraordinary persistence that is needed to conduct business outside G7 nations. That Mr. Das was also, from time to time, working in Europe and Latin America under vastly easier circumstances says a lot for his continued commitment to his country. This is a book that communicates emotion as much as economic and political fact. It is all the more readable for it.
Perhaps most useful for readers who are unfamiliar with the personalities and details of Indian history since 1950, Das comments extensively on his view of the origins of change, and resistance to change, within the Indian government. All the bugbears of the Left which are perpetually raised in opposition to economic liberalization get full expression in India. Whether capitalism, business people, modernity, or democracy itself. All were tarred with being the cause of India's slow growth. This is not a nation of the intellectually indifferent. But I think it's fair to say that Das illustrates how the best of intentions, and the brightest of peoples, can lead a country astray -- adhering to outdated models far after the Asian Tigers illustrated how export-driven economic growth, powered by foreign direct investment and intellectual capital, can raise the living standards of an entire population in just a generation or two.
It's unlikely that a population as large and diverse as India could have used the model of Taiwan or Korea to make the same gains in the last 50 years -- but it certainly could have made greater progress and dramatically improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The author has created a very readable, frank, and compassionate book which works effectively as a thoughtful conversation with a senior businessman. More than any gift his book might offer to a Westerner, it is above an effective entrée to India's 20th century economic history for Indians. Das' personal success is notable, and he can speak with authority about the way it was, the way it is, and how that differs from what happens outside of India.
There is effective use of anecdote and literary reference in India Unbound without it becoming burdensome. Das' creative use of stories about his relationships with customers, vendors and government bureaucrats vividly illustrates the shifting economic realities through the years. The dramatic change in 1991, triggered by a foreign exchange crisis, resulted in the elimination of much of the so-called License Raj which had micro-managed the Indian economy for several generations. It is one of the most dramatic passages of the book.
Gurcharan Das is fully aware of the price that each society pays for the particular way it grows its economy. He's ideally suited to introduce to both Westerners and Indians to the tradeoffs in economic development. His personal tale is filled with determination, and ultimately optimism. And his book is highly recommended.
In a recent essay, Arnold Kling draws inspiration from the Internet Engineering Task Force as a model for developing the ideals of freedom (or, as he puts it, the ideology of libertarian conservatives). So he calls for an "Ideological Affirmation Task Force" that will publish Requests for Comment (RFCs) among libertarian conservatives, as the IETF does among Internet engineers.
The task before us is not to affirm a certain ideology in a kind of mutual admiration society. The IETF provides engineering for the Internet -- it is building something new in the world, not affirming an existing ideology. What could a similar task force provide in the realm of society, culture, politics, and economics? In large measure, such a task force would try to deeply understand why certain societies are more successful than others (can you say the Anglosphere?). But unlike the IETF, it would attempt to first and foremost understand and clarify rather than engineer solutions -- because we know that rampant social engineering has almost invariably led to disaster.
So we need something larger than "ideological affirmation" -- we need to understand nothing less than the cultural, social, political, and economic basis for healthy, successful, productive, voluntary interaction among human beings. Call it the "interpersonal interaction task force" (IITF) if you will. Achieving that kind of deep understanding is the work of lifetimes. And many lifetimes have already been devoted to it, by world-class scholars such as F.W. Maitland and Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek and Alan MacFarlane.
But it's not merely a task for scholars. It's also a task for the societal equivalent of those Internet engineers -- the entrepreneurs in all fields of endeavor who would judiciously improve aspects of what already works by offering new and better ways to solve problems in voluntary, non-coercive ways.
So Mr. Kling, if you're serious about this task force, let me know -- I have a bit of IETF experience that might just apply to the IITF as well...
(Cross-posted at one small voice.)
Christopher Hitchens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, comments on Robert Conquest's advocacy of the Anglosphere.
In his most recent books, "Reflections on a Ravaged Century" and "The
Dragons of Expectation," he goes beyond the usual admonitions against
Jacobinism and more recent totalitarian utopias, and argues for "the
Anglosphere," that historic arc of law, tradition and individual
liberty that extends from Scotland to Australia and takes in the two
largest multicultural democracies on the planet--the U.S. and India.
There was a time when this might have seemed quixotic or even
nostalgic (at least to me), but when one surveys the wreckage of other
concepts, and the increasing difficulties of the only rival "model" in
the form of the European Union (of which he was an early skeptic) the
notion seems to have a future as well as a past. One very much feels,
as one also very much hopes, that the same can be said of the Grand
Old Man of Stanford.
Read, as they say, the whole thing.
Iklé, Fred C., Annihilation from Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations, Columbia Univ Press, 2006. 142pp.
[cross-posted on Chicagoboyz]
Recently, Jay Manifold posted a review of this book which included an insightful summary and an extended discussion of the impact that science and technology will have on the survival of the nation-state.
A brief synopsis of this book:
In contrast with Jay Manifold, I'd like to take a cultural approach to Iklé's long essay. I found myself struck both by Iklé's valuable insights (which will be familiar to anyone following discussion of Fourth Generation Warfare), and his bizarrely academic attitude to American culture and politics (when assessed from the perspective of Anglosphere exceptionalism).
Mr. Iklé is a former American arms control mandarin and a man with many years of foreign policy experience. His book is blurbed on the back cover by the likes of Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger. So this gentlemen has both experience and serious reputation. Does he have any familiarity with American life outside the Beltway or think-tanks? In Iklé's world, danger comes from technology and religious passion, despite sixty years of American history when the country has had overwhelming capacity for both. No effort is made to either reconcile the American capacity for self-control with the current dangers from people whose cultural background gives them none.
In "Annihilation from Within" (AFW), we have a very European view of the problem of WMDs, dangerous technology, and national administration. The global spread of WMDs, the negative empowerment of individuals, and the domestic takeover of government (à la Hitler or Stalin) through decapitation are reasonable themes. But they really ring hollow when applied to the American political system and its people. America is not, I think, just "France with fast food." It's very instructive to see a foreign policy wonk reflect on the future as if it were. This is a book that worries about the dangerous, violent American people as much as any foreign adversary. And you'd never know that America had a federal system from reading this book. The Western world is very ill-prepared for serious WMD attacks. Granted. But the idea that authoritarian rule is one Washington DC bomb away seems to fly in the face of a great deal of contrary evidence. No surprise that it's evidence that never makes its way to the RAND Corporation or the halls of the federal bureaucracy. A lot goes on in the country without the direction of the State. AFW ignores it ... except for the capacity for religiosity and riot.
The crux of the Anglosphere argument, in contrast, is that culture matters. That it has mattered in the past, that it matters now, and that it will matter in the future. The Anglosphere habit of decentralized authority and popular responsibility are deeply ingrained in the culture, the law, and government. Every town hall and state capitol is rife with the same challenges and passions as the national capital. Out of chaos, Americans have a blueprint for self-organization and self-regulation. In America, to paraphrase a recent book by Frenchman Frédéric Martel, " the national government is missing, yet government is everywhere."
Surely even the most brilliant insight into current events is ungrounded when a problem is posed or a solution offered without reference to how the issue will be received politically and culturally. A glance at the history of America and the English-speaking world, and its engagement in existential struggles, shows that timing and cultural values had everything to do with when the American people fought and how they fought. Why should the future, rife with radiological and biological dangers, be any different? And why should it be a painless or bloodless process, especially for America's enemies? The Anglosphere arrives late to every existential war, suffers horribly, and prevails. Can we expect anything better from the future, and still be ourselves?
It forces the reader of AFW to wonder whether biographical experience of the author hasn't removed much of what would be really interesting about an American response to the increasing lethality of WMDs and individuals. Iklé has written a book that can be read with profit by any national bureaucrat in the industrialized world. It's just that the book is less valuable to any Anglosphere (and especially American) bureaucrat. Which is a strange twist of fate for an author who worked for Reagan's defense department.
One of the great cautions of life is watching brilliant, gifted, or lucky men and women stray from their areas of expertise and extrapolate their personalities and experiences to Life In General. Bohemian scoundrel Albert Einstein on God and dice. Southern Protestant E.O. Wilson on mobilizing humans for global conservation. George Clooney on any subject of importance. The pattern is clear and never-ending. If cleverness or charisma could fix the world's problems, Bono and his friends would have solved things a decade ago. We all assume that our personal experience of life somehow scales accurately and effectively out to geopolitics. It doesn't. And blogs like this one are an attempt to escape our own blinkers through reading and discussion.
When we turn to commentary on current events, it's always worth matching purported "solutions" with the personal history, cultural background, and academic training (if any) of the commentator. In the past I've referred to the "Thomas Barnett conundrum" (actually, I wasn't that polite) ... which I define as the creation of a credible geopolitical strategy without a credible set of Americans to execute it. Somewhere along the line, some vast number of Americans are required to be doormats for well-meaning bureaucrats. Living in terror and dying in ignominy so that some idealized European vision of "peace for all mankind" can be executed. Frank Iklé's discussion of how the nation-state should prepare for WMD attack, and adjust afterwards, makes a similar mistake of assuming that all civic power in America derives from that state, all security tools are controlled by it, and all rationales for living and dying are dispensed by it. America's future is apparently dependent on the federation and Constitution that current exists.
I disagree. I have my doubts that the Cold Warriors, with their fixations on the nation-state, have much to offer as the world turns to a stage for dueling nuclear-armed tribes. In my view, the multi-ethnic Anglosphere tribe can spin out governance and lethality faster than any on the planet, and can catch up on the legal paperwork afterward. It cannot do so, however, without turmoil and bloodshed. Messy history is an Anglosphere feature, not a bug.
The Anglosphere discussion over the last few years has been all about resurrecting the facts and scholarship associated with explaining why America in particular, and the English-speaking world, in general, seem to be so different from the rest of the industrialized world. This "meme archaeology" has meant a real reassessment of historical events. As Lex mentioned in a recent post, the Anglosphere was exceptional before it was Protestant. It was exceptional before it spoke an English we'd recognize. It was exceptional before the franchise, and a thousand years before it had Americans.
It is this fact that we must match against any proclamation of geopolitical fixes for the future. Not tweaks to legal papers and government procedures. In applying Iklé's justifiable concerns with (a) the divergence of scientific and cultural values, and (b) the continued spread of WMDs to non-state actors, we need to begin with a credible model of American (and more generally Anglosphere) culture.
For Iklé, apparently, once a certain level of economic structure has been reached, previous history is irrelevant. The nation-state stands as a uniform condition, and the deployment of its strengths requires a well-established approach. The author can only imagine a bureaucratic/governmental solution because without the State, there's no coherence. This, in my opinion is wrong generally, and very wrong for the Anglosphere.
I'd like to turn briefly to some short quotes from AFW to illustrate the culture-less, rather anachronistic, attitude of the book:
p. Xiii "[...], bear in mind, only sovereign nations can marshal troops and rally political support to defeat terrorist organizations, deter aggression, enforce UN decisions. When push comes to shove, only nations can keep some order in the world." "Military history offers no lessons that tell nations how to cope with a continuing global dispersion of cataclysmic means for destruction."
The focus on "nation," as if human success is now predicated on its existence seems in conflict with liberal democracy in the Anglosphere. If WMDs are, in fact, escaping control by nation-states, the capacity for their creation and deployment is just as likely within the western world as without. But more likely as a response to attack rather than to initiate it. As for how "nations" respond to the global dispersion of cataclysm ... I'd say that World War 2 gave us plenty of intellectual fodder. The scale and speed of cataclysm may have changed but this only re-inforces the key point made by Jim Bennett in The Anglosphere Challenge ... that the Anglosphere has a superior culture for responding to change. As bad as it may get for humanity as a whole, the Anglosphere will have the best of it.
p.5 "It seems fair to say that the essence of America's political order -- its political soul -- was created by a nation of fewer than four million inhabitants, more than two-thirds of whom worked on farms."
Here again, we can see how the new generation of scholarship on the roots of American culture can offer a wider and deeper interpretation of the Anglosphere advantage. We carry traditions independent of our religions, independent now of our ethnicities. Denigrating "farmers" as being unable to respond to the needs of the "nation-state" is a laughably Continental view of modern Americans.
p. 14 "My interpretation of the divergence between the two cultural spheres -- the scientific one and the ethical-religious one -- is shared by John Gray, Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics."
[cough] Not an authority who holds much sway in my household. The European capacity to work themselves up into a lather over the mote of American religiosity, while blithely ignoring the beam of Third World barbarity, will be a source of endless amusement in years to come.
p. 80 "We do not know how to build a citadel to protect democracies from nuclear or biological weapons."
Indeed, we don't. Yet. God forbid we have to. Mostly for what it will mean for those living outside America.
p. 83 "We have seen that nuclear deterrence as a strategy for preventing attacks with conventional arms was oversold, while the policies against proliferation were gradually undone by the curse of "dual use."
It seems to me far easier to accept that the genie is out of the bottle permanently than envision an America willing to enforce a nuclear-free world. And any other entity with the ability to help enforce such an embargo (with the resulting disruption to electricity supplies and medical technology across Europe, Japan, and the developing world) would be authoritarian, not democratic.
p. 106 "That leaves us intellectually ill-prepared to throttle the dark side of technology without stumbling into a prolonged economic depression."
Hmm. Economic depression should likely be the least of our worries. Because of the role and scale of the Anglosphere in the global economy, a depression for us is a "problem." For everyone else, it's a nightmare. We can go back to making sneakers and steel, far easier than most nations can go back to planting rice and sorghum by hand. The dark side of technology isn't something that can be micro-managed, as far as I can see. Here again, the Anglosphere perspective offers the basis for optimism and the foundation for public discourse (on disintermediated knowledge and practice) about preparing and coping with disasters.
Setting aside my critical comments above, Annihilation From Within is a good book. Brief, well-written, and with a useful perspective. If you've been short on things to worry about, this book is just the ticket. A domestic coup after nuclear or radiological decapitation of national government is liable to get everyone's attention. And if you already have plenty to worry about, this book will tide you over during those rare moments of contentment you may experience in the future.
For readers thinking about how an actual America will respond to actual problems, AFW is more problematic. Like Tom Barnett, Iklé has little apparent interest in the question of how American domestic political culture is to absorb sacrifices on behalf of the rest of the world, with no history of ever having done so before. Nor in how the nation is to hand over unprecedented power to its national government to deploy its people and funds. Missing the Anglosphere perspective on how culture underlies the political and constitutional paperwork, both authors are frustrated with the current situation and consider it anachronistic.
While acknowledging all the valid points in the book about the dissemination of vile weaponry to those with finite religious and political goals, I remain unconvinced that the future is friendly for "nation-states" anyway ... or that the "nation-state" per se is the likeliest source of innovation and security for most of the world's peoples. In this, the odds are more in favour of Neal Stephenson's fictional high-tech tribes (phyle in ancient Greek) as outlined in his book, the "Diamond Age" (reviewed on this blog recently).
As the stakes get excruciatingly high, the distinction between Them and Us will become necessary, inevitable, and fraught with all the tragedy that history confirms.
Table of Contents
1. Mankind's Cultural Split 
2. Science Pushes Us Over the Brink 
3. Five Lessons of the Nuclear Age 
4. Annihilation from Within 
5. Time to Get Serious 
6. Restoration