The Westward March of Global Power – is India Next?

Published: January 23, 2007

Author: David Rodnitzky

My incredible high school history teach – Tas Anthony of Iowa City, Iowa – presented a theory to the class once; he argued that power has historically moved from East to West.

For example, you had the Egyptian Pharaohs (1500BC?), followed by the Greeks (500BC), then the Romans (200AD), the Spanish Armada (1500), Rule Britannia (1700), the American Century (1960), the growth of Japan in the late 20th century (1980), and now the emergence of China as a major world player. (Note: all dates approximate and in the case of the older dates, very approximate).

So as I sit here on the eleventh floor of a high-rise apartment building in Bangalore, India, I wonder whether India is next on the list.

India, after all is the second biggest country in the world, with 1.1 billion people to China’s 1.3 billion. For the record, the United States is now the third largest country, but with only 300 million people! (Thanks to Shyam and Nisho for pointing this out to me).

India also has an incredible system of higher education, with the crown jewel – The Indian Institute of Technology or IIT – producing scores of top computer scientists and engineers who have achieved legendary status the world over.

And India is the undisputed leader when it comes to technology outsourcing. Sure, China and Russia have some decent tech folks, but the world looks to India – and particularly Bangalore – when IT outsourcing is the issue at hand. Oh, and India is to the west of China.

Combine a huge population, scores of highly educated workers, and a thriving technology industry and it would seem that India is indeed well-positioned to take a major role in the world’s economy over the next few decades, right?

Well maybe not. India lacks one thing that China, Japan, and every major empire has had – infrastructure and order. The Romans build amazing roads and aqueducts. The Spanish had a disciplined fleet. The British modernized industry as we know it. China is not afraid to destroy entire towns to create hydroelectric power.

In India, things just sort of seem to happen without much planning or reason. You drive down the street and there are no lanes, no stoplights, and no rules. Power in our apartment turns off intermittently. The government is notoriously corrupt, ranking 89th out of 160 countries in a recent study of worldwide corruption. Heck, there are 23 official languages in India so even conversing can be a challenge.

Of course, these are all things you could say about China too. The difference, I think is that China has been actively working to change these problems for many years now, hence the building of giant dams, improved infrastructure, and even trying to eliminate its own corruption issues. Oh and it also helps that China is a totalitarian regime that can make sweeping modernization improvements with little concern for the opinions of impacted constituents.

In the end, however, I do think India will get there. But to emerge as a world leader, India will likely have to follow in the footsteps of China; not by being communist, but rather by making a commitment to infrastructure, process, and order.

It’s clear that India has the people, they have the brains, and they have the industry. But when you have to take your life into your own hands to drive across town to get some Tandoori, that’s a sign that the country is not quite ready for prime time just yet. That’s OK, though. After all, to paraphrase a famous quote, “Bangalore wasn’t built in a day.”

Editor’s Note: thanks to the Mercantila-Bangalore Advertising Team for some of the cool facts and figures above!

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