Quality of Life: India vs. China by Amartya Sen | The Ne...

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Quality of Life: India vs. China

May 12, 2011

Amartya Sen

The steadily rising rate of economic growth in India has recently been around 8 percent per year (it is
expected to be 9 percent this year), and there is much speculation about whether and when India may
catch up with and surpass China’s over 10 percent growth rate. Despite the evident excitement that this
subject seems to cause in India and abroad, it is surely rather silly to be obsessed about India’s
overtaking China in the rate of growth of GNP, while not comparing India with China in other respects,
like education, basic health, or life expectancy. Economic growth can, of course, be enormously
helpful in advancing living standards and in battling poverty. But there is little cause for taking the
growth of GNP to be an end in itself, rather than seeing it as an important means for achieving things
we value.
It could, however, be asked why this distinction should make
much difference, since economic growth does enhance our
ability to improve living standards. The central point to
appreciate here is that while economic growth is important for
enhancing living conditions, its reach and impact depend
greatly on what we do with the increased income. The relation
between economic growth and the advancement of living
standards depends on many factors, including economic and
social inequality and, no less importantly, on what the
government does with the public revenue that is generated by
economic growth.
Some statistics about China and India, drawn mainly from the
World Bank and the United Nations, are relevant here. Life
expectancy at birth in China is 73.5 years; in India it is 64.4
Dinodia/Stock Connection/Aurora Photos
years. The infant mortality rate is fifty per thousand in India,
Girls in a classroom in the Indian model...

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