If the Cold War witnessed Space and Arms Races between the United States and the Soviet Union, our era is seeing a Growth Race between China and India. In The New York Review of Books, Amartya Sen asks the obvious question: Which country has the better quality of life? Where is life better?
The answer, of course, depends on what you value. India has built a democratic society, and its citizens enjoy tremendous civic freedoms; at the same time, the country is still struggling with tremendous economic inequality. In China, prosperity has been more widely shared, but political freedoms have been slow in coming. On the whole, though, life in China is better: life expectancy is longer, child mortality is lower, and the literacy rate is higher (94% in China, 74% in India). 97% of Chinese children have received immunizations against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus; in India, only 66% have received them. Democracy counts, of course, in a qualitative sense. But, Sen writes, "When we consider the impact of economic growth on people’s lives, comparisons favor China over India."
Moving forward, the two countries face very different challenges. In democratic India, the challenge is one of attention: Indians have to mobilize, and keep the political discussion focused on issues of inequality. In China, by contrast, the challenge has to do with accountability. Decisions are made from the top-down, and "there is little recourse or remedy when the government leaders alter their goals or suppress their failures." In both cases, it's important to look beyond broad measurements like Gross National Product. Growth has been important. In the coming decades, though, politics might be even more so.
Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His last article for Ideas was about choosing Congress by lottery.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.