- When Sleeping Giants Awaken:China and India in the New World Order
Did Asia, with China and India in the lead, account for more than half of world output for most of the past two millennia, as conjectured by the economic historian Angus Maddison? Looking forward, will the GDPs of the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) exceed the combined GDPs of the United States, Japan, Britain, France, and Germany before mid-century? As the two great Asian civilizational epicenters harness the irresistible impulses of contemporary globalization, will they translate their socio-economic, political, and cultural prowess into instruments of durable "hard" power? Above all, can China and India wrest the West's hegemony in the Asian region and beyond and close a chapter in world history that Maddison had deemed to be but a brief interregnum?
Wading into this provocative debate are three stimulating books that aim to chronicle the recent rise of these hitherto sleeping Asian giants and the world-historical consequences thereof: Gravity Shift: How Asia's New Economic Powerhouses Will Shape the 21st Century, written by Wendy Dobson; China and India in the Age of Globalization, by Shalendra D. Sharma; and Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger: Can China and India Dominate the West? by Prem Shankar Jha. Considering this avowed aim, it is disappointing that none of the books manage to map out or grapple in a systematic fashion with the medium-term geoeconomic and geopolitical consequences of China's and India's rise. Yet each of the books in its own variegated narrative provides a skillful—and at times counterintuitive—account of the two countries' immense ongoing socio-economic transitions: from village to city, from plan to market, from doctrine to pragmatism, from autarchy to interdependence, and from isolation to global engagement. Along the way, common themes abound, as do stark differences. Perhaps no difference is more compelling than the Chinese state's trust in bottom-up, economic enfranchisement of its otherwise politically neutered subjects, even as the Indian state has limited that trust in citizenry mostly to the realm of elective politics.
Considering then the importance of China and India to the region and beyond, this review essay covers a fourth volume, Awakening Giants, [End Page 140] Feet of Clay: Assessing the Economic Rise of China and India, written by Pranab Bardhan, a development economist at the University of California, Berkeley. Bardhan explicitly eschews the grander themes; instead, he focuses more narrowly on a comparative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of China and India. His is also the book that most revels in its zest for the counterintuitive.
Assailing the received wisdom that globally integrative pro-market and pro-business policies were the linchpin of the Chinese and Indian success stories, Awakening Giants provides a sophisticated exposition of the importance of state-endowed "initial conditions": egalitarian land distribution; a solid base of minimum social infrastructure, including primary education; accelerated rural electrification; investment in basic heavy industries; and a national system of basic scientific research. Together, these investments in physical and human capital provided ballast for growth much before either country's tryst with globalization. China's and India's unsuccessful experiments with socialism and bureaucratic statism were anything but failures. Indeed, the fact that China's growth has raced ahead of India's in present times can be chalked up, in part, to the Chinese state's enlightened commitment to taking advantage of a deeper set of initial conditions.
However, in conflating, as an argumentative tool, the socialist—and early reform—period with the duration of initial conditions, Bardhan leaves himself exposed to the charge that endowing initial conditions was not an exclusively socialist...