What is economic development to India?

What is economic development to India?

Narendra Modi is now India's new prime minister and head of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won 282 of 543 parliamentary seats in India's election. It was a dramatic win for Modi and his party.

The world's largest democratic election

  • 800 million people were eligible to vote
  • 550 million did (68.75% voter turnout)
  • 900 thousand polling stations
  • 10 thousand people working on logistics
  • 9 days of voting spaced out over 5 weeks

Modi ran on a pro-business and pro-development platform that resounded with the one-million-per-month population of job seekers. The key issue for them and for the country is "economic development", which is a daunting task for a country with such a large population.

What's the big deal?

So, Indians want economic development. Economically, India is an interesting case. It's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013 was an estimated $1.758 trillion. But with a population of more than 1.2 BILLION people (second largest in the world, after China), and $4,000 GDP per capita, the size of the problem starts to become clearer. Nearly 50% of Indian's labor force works in agriculture and almost 30% of the 1.2 billion people there live below the poverty line. No wonder the promise of economic development motivated so many to vote in this past election. But how is Modi going to lead the effort to raise the poor out of poverty? And how is he going to do it in a way that doesn't kill the planet?

What does economic development mean?

Today there are many competing ideas and definitions of economic development.

The bottom line of economic development today is about building prosperity—a high and rising standard of living.

- David A. Sampson, Assistant Secretary for Economic Development, U.S. Department of Commerce

Progress in an economy, or the qualitative measure of this. Economic development usually refers to the adoption of new technologies, transition from agriculture-based to industry-based economy, and general improvement in living standards.

- Business Dictionary

Economic development is the sustained, concerted actions of policy makers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area. Economic development can also be referred to as the quantitative and qualitative changes in the economy. Such actions can involve multiple areas including development of human capital, critical infrastructure, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability, social inclusion, health, safety, literacy, and other initiatives.

- Wikipedia

For India, vague terms like "building prosperity", "progress" and "general improvement" will not help. I know that microlending is not what I thought it was. Is it eco-tourism? More farming? Bottom of the pyramid consumption? Human-centered design devices? What does economic development look like in the real world in India? Grampa and I talked often about what economic development means. He'd say, "it's simple. Just like economics. People try to make it more complicated than it is. Equations, mathematical proofs, this and that. It's simple." And for someone with his experience and clear historical perspective it was.


Featured image: Design for the Other 90% by James Emery via flickr