Sunday, April 15, 2007

The India Factor

A story in the [Toronto] Sunday Star today got me thinking.

I believe the world is on the brink of stunning political, economic and social change as a result of the Rise of the East: the emergence of India and China, in particular, as world powers with influence that truly reflect the size of their populations, the richness of their cultures, and their potential.

Tectonic shifts such as this, of course, worry many people – especially those who never thought we would see an end of America’s world dominance as economic superpower and primary cultural influence.

But I’m excited by the potential for positive change created by the increasing influence of these ancient cultures, which have thrived for years while embracing sustainability, modesty, family and community. Is there not much that Western culture could learn?

The Star today interviewed Mira Kamdar, a New York-based writer of Danish-Indian descent. Her new book, Planet India, suggests that India’s ability to create a prosperous and stable 21st-century economy will go a long way to determining the future of the world.

“If India can't make it with all of its advantages – functioning democracy, rule of law, big economy with world-class institutions – then what is the hope for the rest of us? As goes India, so goes the world.”

But it was this next part that got me thinking:
"India must invent a new paradigm – inclusive capitalism – to move forward, she argues. That means not copying American-style "savage" capitalism, which exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots and depends on disproportionate consumption and pollution, according to Kamdar.

"The American system has proven it can create fast wealth, but it hasn't done it in a way that is environmentally sustainable or equitable."

That’s the exciting part. Like a kid who pretends to believe in Santa Claus long after she realizes reindeer can't fly, it’s rare that we in the West acknowledge the fundamental problem of our age: that the wealth, comfort and convenience we enjoy can’t possibly be shared with the rest of the world. Not without depleting the earth’s resources and the environment.

Kamdar, then, presents us with hope. With its unique approach to timeless problems of society and progress, perhaps India – and other rapidly developing countries – will provide perspectives that will help us solve these basic problems of economic inequality and resource depletion for which American and European economics have no answers.

India, says Kamdar, “has to figure out how to make development equitable and sustainable now. The theme is opportunity in adversity."

The good news is, she sees India as the America of the 21st century, a land of freedom and opportunity: "The vibe is, anything's possible. In India you have a multicultural, multireligious democracy in a developing country that is an open and free society that has embraced capitalism. It's exciting and scary to think of the possibilities of that."

It was Einstein who warned, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Perhaps India and the other emerging "tiger" economies will provide the new sparks we need.

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