The economic and financial crisis that has been raging for some years now has confirmed, if confirmation were needed, that the centre of gravity of the world economy has well and truly shifted to Asia, where Westerners are torn in their admiration between the two demographic giants, India and China. Both countries actually have near-10% economic growth rates, which seem mind-boggling to the “old” democracies.
Nevertheless, economic growth is not everything, as Amartya Sen reminds us here. It is essential, also, to look at what the authorities do with this economic growth. Now, to judge by more qualitative criteria, such as living conditions (health, education, social care etc.), the two Asian giants are not in the same ballpark. And, contrary to what one might think, it is not India, the more democratic of the two countries and the one with greater respect for human rights, that shows the best results in terms of living conditions for the majority of the population. Quite the contrary, it is China and its authoritarian regime that invests most in improving the living conditions of its population. In this evidence-based analysis, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner for economics reminds his country of origin, India (which, as he shows, is also outstripped by Bangladesh in terms of quality of life), how it is essential not to focus on the rate of GDP growth “in itself”, but to bring a number of social issues on to the political agenda, if economic development is genuinely to bring about an improvement in the well-being of the whole population.