In this book, the authors investigate all major strands of the economic, political, constitutional and administrative system to delve deep into factors that have constrained the country’s development. The solutions they offer are implicit in their analysis.
“Though few people realise it, the strategy that China has followed since the late 1970s — and that India only partially followed till it almost gave it up in the 1970s — was the same as that was first depicted by Alfred Marshall in his Principles of Economics while attributing competitive efficiency to the emergence of what later came to be called Marshallian industrial districts — a clustering of firms in a similar industry operating from a certain geographic area proximately located close to a city,” TCA Ranganathan and TCA Srinivasa Raghavan wrote in All the Wrong Turns.
The co-location of several firms of the same industry allows a number of benefits, sometimes called benefits of agglomeration or externalities, the book says. What is forgotten in India-China comparisons is that China also focused on ‘combo’ development: cities/industries/commercial zones “together as an integrated issue. The ‘foreigners’, attracted by the amenities available in the newly well-planned cities, built their vast variety of factories in these government created and managed zones”, the authors explain.
The authors then present six essays, most of them some 60 pages long, on six critical areas: agriculture, manufacturing, international trade, banking, fiscal policy and institutions. The first four have been penned by Ranganathan, a career banker with close to four decades of experience who retired as Chairman of the Export Import Bank of India, and the remaining two by Srinivasa Raghavan, an economic journalist.
What then ails the Indian economy?
Agriculture: It’s not that agriculture and farmers do not get state support in other countries; they do but mostly it is in the nature of ‘income support’ (i.e. farmer-oriented or land-oriented income transfers), not ‘production distorting support’ (crop support schemes such as fertilisers, water, power pricing, subvented loans, MSP and procurement price announcements, etc) practised by the Indian authorities.
Manufacturing: The focus of reform has to be where ‘mis-signals’ get generated. “A one-size-fits-all methodology will not work. Alongside, the uniquely Indian definition of what constitutes good governance will need to change. In a globalised world where we are likely to enter into regional and preferential trade arrangements, we will need to fall in line with the governance style of the rest of the world,” the book points out.
International Trade: The main challenge which India Inc. is seen to experience while engaging in international trade, looks remarkably similar to that experienced by the average citizen in day-to-day living. “Adequate well-paid jobs are not coming up because enough ‘good companies’ are not setting up operations in most parts of the country....There is thus a need for India to reflect and reorganise its thought processes and reflexes,” the book says.
Banking: Noting that it is often forgotten that Indian PSBs had no prior experience with either infrastructure lending or large project finance till the late Nineties, the book says that nowadays, increased network size and lumpy agglomerations are looking to be a more attractive solution to the PSB woes and that “interesting times” could lie ahead.
Fiscal Policy: Income tax has been justified on the grounds that it helps the rich help the poor, “never mind that it is at gunpoint. The truth, alas, is different. But far from having any egalitarian outcome, it basically forces the productive parts of society to pay for the upkeep of those who contribute absolutely nothing to it. The state has replaced religious bodies (which received zakat, tithe, daan and so on) as the intermediary,” the book says.
The Institutions: The time has now come for some original thinking by Indian economists. It has become necessary to move away from the one-size-fits-all economic theory. The starting point must be the abandonment of the postulate in which western economics is rooted, namely greed, the book concludes.