Monday, January 22, 2007

DK in India #2

Today's obviously a slightly slow news day for the Keralite edition of the Indian Express (partially, I would imagine, because government institutions are closed on a Monday) so the big story today is that Indian inflation is running at 6%. This is attributed to high wages and, of course, "global commodity prices".

It is interesting to note that the Express's Editorial does not call for interest rate rises, the traditional remedy for inflation in our more developed countries (as we have recently found out in Britain).

The Express puts the inflation levels down to other, more tangible problems.
[H]igh asset prices and high wage growth are among the determining factors in the current price situation. These are basically responses to supply-side constraints—too little good quality infrastructure and too few well-skilled students.

Your humble Devil is unsure of the numbers of further education students: the majority of the Indians that we have met are very well educated, it must be said.

One also has to be impressed with The Express: on Friday's page 2, it carried a half-page of English grammar, syntax and comprehension problems that, I fear, all too many British schoolchildren would struggle with. Today's paper provides the answers (good marketing there!) and the questions have moved onto particle physics; most notably, today's questions deal with the differences—in process, application, progress and environmental impact—between nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

These are not things that you will find in a British paper, and nor would the majority of British people be able to do the questions: can you write down the relationship between 1 Joule, 1 Volt and 1 Coulomb*? Compare these with our rare quizes (which 20% of our 16 year olds cannot read fluently anyway) on Z-List celebrities and pathetic game shows, and few things are so apt to remind one of what a decadent, lazy and self-satisfied culture we have become. No wonder so many other cultures hold us in utter contempt.

However, on the question of infrastructure, The Express is entirely correct; the roads are abysmal. Even those that are properly covered were obviously done so many years ago: huge potholes are endemic (indeed, many roads are more hole than tarmac) and a journey that would take an hour in Britain will take two or three times that here.

The roads are rarely marked into two lanes and, as a result, the sound of tooting horns fills the air throughout the nearby towns. Large, antiquated buses battle with cars—most ancient, and a few more modern—for the right to avoid the potholes on a stretch of road whilst motorbikes, mopeds and pushbikes, often laden with three or four people, thread their way precariously through the dust and cacophony.

Almost every day, the paper carries details of a major crash; although delivery drivers are today holding a major strike in protest, it is little wonder that the Insurance Regulatory Authority of India has raised motor vehicle insurance prices by 150%! The premium for private cars is up to Rs.1,650 (about £19) from Rs.700 (£8) per annum; small beer really, though one must remember that, here, £6 per month is a good wage. (On the other hand, Trixy bought a beautiful, black cashmere shawl, yesterday, for a little less than £5. And I have ordered a tailor-made, raw-silk suit—with the sort of high-collared, knee-length jacket that I have always craved—for less than £120!)

As I have long argued, any aid which we deliver to countries—whether it be Asia, Africa, South America or anywhere else—would be best invested in infrastructure, whether that be roads, water pipes or electricity pylons. We should employ and train indigenous people when we build them, so that they will have the expertise to maintain and repair them after natural disasters (such as the famous tsunami which so devastated large swathes of coastal Kerala).

In 2004, the world donated £64 billion in aid to Africa; £10 billion went to debt repayments, so where is the other £54 billion? Let us imagine that we took that £54 billion and—instead of, for instance, allowing the King of Burundi to spend £9 million on maintaining his palaces and harem—we started a massive project to bring clean, running water to the whole of Africa.

Just think of the problems that this would solve, just think of the lives that would be saved. Instead of stagnant wells—encouraging the spread of, amongst other things, typhoid, cholera, bilharzia and malaria—there would be running water. Instead of a five mile, hours-long trek to the nearest crocodile- and worm-infested river and back, there would be a tap. Instead of all of the money, training and experience disappearing straight back to Developed economies through the use of Western contractors, these valuable commodities would flow into the economies of the Developing World.

Roads are invaluable, not only for the delivery of goods and services, but also for the democratic process; make it easier for people to vote, and more of them will vote. Combine these assets with electricity and communications networks—for powering radios, internet-enabled computers, mobile phones and televisions and, again, installed by Western-trained natives—and you give people the information that they need to vote wisely and well. You give them access to information and ideas.

A reliable and wide-ranging infrastructure is absolutely essential for the development of any nation. There are obvious and glaring political differences: I have tried to address these in the past [link later] with my (hopelessly optimistic) concept of benign, contract-based colonialism: in exchange for money or resources, Britain (for instance) would effectively occupy (and protect) the country and help to build a cohesive infrastructure (both physical and political).

Of course, all of this remains little more than a pipe-dream, and we will, of necessity, merely have to sit by and watch these countries struggle to build their own idiosyncratic infrastructures; it just seems such a waste to watch country after country strain to re-invent the wheel.

But, despite all of the inherent problems (size, natural disasters, low levels of education or personal income), places like India are, gradually but driven by an ever-gathering positive inertia, prevailing. Unfortunately, others, e.g. Zimbabwe and Sudan, are merely falling further into anarchy.

It is incumbent upon us to help in whatever ways we can, and that means plowing our experience (whilst we still have any) and aid into developing reliable infrastructures. After that, civilisation (by which I mean a better quality of life) will follow.

(And the first person to tell me that these people are happier than us, living five to a small, dusty, concrete room at the mercy of destructive natural elements gets a fucking slap. If that were the case, they would not be trying to emulate the West in the first place.)

But above all, of course, we should be trying to trade with these countries, buying their products and encouraging enterprise; in this way, we all benefit. We should not be erecting barriers to their products and tariffs on their goods.

As I wrote yesterday, there's an awful lot of potential here in India, and we in Britain are missing out. So, inevitably, comes the shoe-horned call: can we leave the EU yet?


* The answer is: 1 Volt = (1 Joule / 1 Coulomb)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

DK,

"on Friday's page 2, it carried a half-page of English grammar, syntax and comprehension problems that, I fear, all too many British schoolchildren would struggle with. Today's paper provides the answers (good marketing there!) and the questions have moved onto particle physics; most notably, today's questions deal with the differences—in process, application, progress and environmental impact—between nuclear fusion and nuclear fission."

No reason why a socially conscious British redtop couldn't do the same.

Have you noticed just how poor the quality of the English even in 'Private Eye' has become?

And, ahem, 'quizes'? Quizes?

"...few things are so apt to remind one of what a decadent, lazy and self-satisfied culture we have become. No wonder so many other cultures hold us in utter contempt."

Fuck them. They wouldn't be reading English if it hadn't been for us.

"with the sort of high-collared, knee-length jacket that I have always craved—for less than £120!)"

Any more of this and the next time you're on 18 Doughty Street you'll be wearing a Nehru jacket.

"Roads are invaluable, not only for the delivery of goods and services, but also for the democratic process; make it easier for people to vote, and more of them will vote."

Yeak, DK, the, er, Romans, had the same idea.

"A reliable and wide-ranging infrastructure is absolutely essential for the development of any nation. There are obvious and glaring political differences: I have tried to address these in the past [link later] with my (hopelessly optimistic) concept of benign, contract-based colonialism: in exchange for money or resources, Britain (for instance) would effectively occupy (and protect) the country and help to build a cohesive infrastructure (both physical and political)."

A very noble idea, but ultimately it would be throwing good money after bad.

I don't mean to sound tart, DK, but these guys elect Communists, are rabid nationalists, still use a caste system which involves the institutional disenfranchisement of citizens for no reason other than birth, have a gap between their rich, who seem to prefer living in Hampstead to Hyderabad, and poor which should be a cause of national shame and who use techniques such as ultrasound scanning, which Indian culture would not be able to develop in India on its own, to abort female children.

Stuff 'em.

Mr Eugenides said...

And the King of Burundi isn't corrupt, though only because there isn't one. It's a republic.

So the President of Burundi has all our money.

Anonymous said...

The idea of "contract colonialism" worked well in Hong Kong and there is no reason it could not be applied everywhere. I've being saying the same for a long time, nice to hear that I am not alone in my belief.