Poverty Amid Plenty in the New India by Atul Kohli, Cambridge University Press: New York, 2012, ISBN 052-1-513-871, 264 pp., $99.00 (Hardcover), $28.99 (paper), $16.10 (Kindle).
When I first started studying India in the mid 1970's, it was the cause of considerable derision. For most Americans at that time India was unknown territory. In the American popular imagination, India was a land of poverty and exoticism. I was repeatedly told that I studying India would get me nowhere.
Much has changed since those halcyon days, but all changes have not been for the better. India is now a common subject in popular American media, but it is no longer considered a land of poverty and exoticism. The new narrative is that India is an emerging economic powerhouse, the land of software, high tech industries, and call centers. The average American account stresses the growth of an emerging middle class that has begun to adopt American consumer habits and will serve as a huge market for American goods and investment. Now, many Americans are being told that the average Indian is a highly educated computer engineer who speaks perfect English and is little different from his American counterpart.
This purported "economic miracle" is part of a larger American narrative, namely an almost mystical devotion to "neo-liberal economics." We are told that India has been lifted from poverty because it abandoned its former commitment to socialism, saw the light and realized the magic of free trade and open investment. We all know the formula: rein in the labor unions, privatize the public sector, cut taxes, open the country to investment, reduce (or better yet, eliminate) trade barriers. It is a simple formula that has been reduced to a mantra. It has been repeated endlessly and become an article of faith. We are told that this formula represents the best possible economic system, is universally applicable, and will lift any country, anywhere out of poverty. India is held up as a prime example of the success of liberal economics, leading many to conclude that socialism was simply a regrettable detour on India's way to economic realization.
Atul Kohli, Professor of International Affairs and Politics at Princeton University, is trying to set the record straight and provide us with an antidote to all of this economic mystical thinking. Kohli starts out by defining his ideological orientation, stating that he is a social democrat. Social Democratic political parties are...