In this article Aditya Shrivastava, Manager Content Marketing at iPleaders gives a critique on whether India needs to emulate East Asian Development Models under Modi’s Act East Policy, Read now to find out.

The Diversity of experience (in East Asia) reinforces the view that economic policies and policy advice must be country-specific if they are to be effective –  Lewis T. Preston, President of World Bank in his foreword to the East Asian Miracle: Economic Growth and Public Policy

It cannot be denied that the major contribution of the developmental state does lie in its attention to the possibility of more than one historical path to economic development, as the developmental scholar T.J Pempel points out. The aforementioned word of caution by Preston is important to take note of before a suggestion to emulate the East Asian Developmental State is given to developing countries, and especially that of India.

This extended caution to India arises from the distinction of characteristics present in a “typical developmental state” (such as an efficient and autonomous bureaucracy, perfection of market-conforming methods, a nodal agency, etc.) to those of India which is best conceptualised by Ronald Herring as a “soft state”, “pluralist class state”, “the overextended state”, “unprisoned state” and “the contested federal state.”

Though his work is dated 1999, there has not been a substantial change in these attributes of the Indian state, thereby making the two grounds on which the developmental state is to work strikingly different. It is important to indeed point out that the Japanese model of development is both particularistic and general and India’s embedded particularism makes way for doubts over the feasibility and sustainability of such a model.

Consequently, while it may be argued that liberalization is supposed to be the cure for embedded particularism since markets work by universalistic criteria. However, India having incurred an embeddedness penalty inseparable from a democratic penalty is a fact that cannot be ignored, the reasons for which shall be enunciated later. Even otherwise, it is particularly important to question whether the need for transforming “look east” to “act east” is a wise transformation in the twenty-first century where the global circumstances, needs, and cultures of any country do not remain the same.

It is pertinent to mention at this juncture that the success of the East Asian Developmental model was heavily dependent on “being at the right place at the right time”, and such global events and co-operation or even wars cannot be emulated at this stage or time. Be it the compliances, policies or laws.

At this point, a larger question needs to be answered, “Do we really need to become a developmental state?”. This does not mean I am disputing the benefits that this model brings with it, just as Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen rightly emphasise in their book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” that they do not undervalue economic growth, not for itself, but for what it allows a country to do with the resources that are generated, expanding both individual outcomes and the public revenue that can be used to meet such social commitments.

However, are the private entities taking upon enough social commitments? Is mere Section 145 of the Companies Act sufficient to ensure that the social commitments are met? Are the compliances sufficient? The answers can be found through this online course.

Although these ends are important, the means to achieve these are equally important. I have an issue when Chalmers Johnson unabashedly proclaims in his piece on “The Developmental State” that “legitimation occurs from the state’s achievements, not from the way it came to power” or that “… authoritarianism can sometimes solve the main political problem of economic development using market forces.”

Do you know what are these market forces? Are they fair in competition? Is there enough economic development in the country? These are some questions that need to be answered and an easy way to do so is by taking this course. I would not go as far as to accuse this as a defence of fascism as one of his reviewers did, but in a country where being a democracy is a matter of pride and a uniformly underlying reason for its failure as a developmental state till date, it would be surprising if an overturn of these fundamentals were to be done in order to achieve economic growth.

I would consider arguments like those made by Jean and Sen, that if democracy were to be used as an instrument for bettering the society, and in particular for removing injustices and social inequalities, then the achievements of Indian democracy can be seriously disputed.

This is emphasized when they elaborate on the pathetic public services, healthcare and education sectors of India. I am also equally puzzled and tempted towards the East Asian Developmental Model when T.J Pempel raises the final paradox of the East Asian Development. These countries have had high growth with high levels of social equality and social well-being despite the absence of a powerful left or an institutionalized welfare-state.

At the end of the day, the case against democracy can hold ground in only two scenarios:

  1. that institutionalizing a developmental state is possible.
  2. that achieving the ends that Jean and Sen Lament about the absence of can be better achieved by a developmental state than a democratic one.

The first of these is already answered in initial arguments regarding why India cannot sustain a developmental regime, and the second scenario is subsequently based on an assumption that the fruits of growth will essentially be used to impact and better the lives of citizens. Now, while this can be guaranteed to a certain extent in a democratic institution like ours owing to its inherent elements of accountability (to whatever extent they are functional) the same cannot be assured in a developmental state.

The authoritarianism of some form that is found as a common thread in East Asian countries with rapid growth is not founded on similar grounds of public reasoning, participation or inclusivity that is found or sought to be stimulated in democracies like ours. It would be unfair to undervalue these mechanisms, systems or beliefs so fundamental to our constitution.

Then, T.J Pempel’s question of “.. Why didn’t the ruling elites of these three countries (Japan, Korea and Taiwan- after the miracle of economic growth) take the money and run?” might no longer be just a question.


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