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Family Genealogies

24. Februar 2018 - 0:01

By Scott Tong

Scott Tong travels to China with his mother to track down their family history.

I never expected my mother to ever return to China to help me track down her mother’s story. Sure, I spent hours probing her memories over the phone and in person in the States.

But going back to the mainland—that would replay too many memories that are uniformly bad: War and death, barely outrunning the Communists, starting over in a Hong Kong squatter village, losing her father at the age of eight. “I’m not ready,” she often said.

There is an irony here. As much as I’ve been drawn to China for opportunity and history, she has spent her adult life leaving it behind. The state took away her family’s property, and then her father.

Reconnecting with the outside world

But her adult life kept bringing her closer to the mainland. In 1978, as China began to reconnect to the outside world, my father’s engineering job at IBM transferred us to Hong Kong for two years.

In 1980 we shipped off to Taiwan when he was recruited to help start up the island’s first science and technology development park. Later he was asked to lecture at business schools on the mainland. Surprising to me, my mother joined him on one of these trips.

They met my father’s younger brother, Tong Bao, who was left behind on the mainland and later punished for the political sins of his father (my grandfather). “Every family has a story like this,” he told her, recounting the famine, the exile, his mother’s torture. “This is just ours.”

This unlocked something inside her. As she describes it, she came to a sort of solidarity with so many others haunted by history. “My family is not the only victim,” she told me. So she agreed to join me in 2013 on a sleuthing trip.

“Welcome to Hankou,” a sixty-something man greets us at the train station of the Wuhan tri-city’s most international city. His driver takes our bags rather forcefully but with good intentions.

Our host, Liu Xuechao, is a distant cousin of my mother’s. He has offered to take us to the Sun family village on her father’s side, a couple hours outside Hankou (also Hankow).

“How was your hotel?” Liu Xuechao asks from the front seat. These initial meetings require a specific small talk that allows the host to speak and demonstrate authority.

The Chicago of China

How much did you pay for your room? You overpaid. Here, have a bottle of water—from Tibet, so it’s not polluted. Have you visited the Yangtze riverfront? Chairman Mao once swam across it. Did you know Wuhan is considered the Chicago of China?

The protocol demands we play along, at least for a few minutes. Wow, Chairman Mao swam here—all the way across? Yes, surely that’s a true story. The subway lines are impressive. As is your Citroën car. No, I did not know it was assembled here. I agree, Wuhan is the Zhijiage (Chicago) of China.

The pride of Hankou is its comparison with Chicago, though I wonder why. After all, a “foreign devil” journalist coined the phrase. Perhaps it is Chicago’s reputation as a vital inland city, a proud river-and-rail crossroads.

More likely, it’s Chicago’s status as a brand-name city in the world, with bragging rights to one Chicago Bulls legend known here as Mai-ke-er Qiao-dan. I didn’t hear much about Wuhan during my posting in China. A few auto industry friends came to visit parts facilities, but they referred to it as more as a backwater than a Zhijiage.

It no longer has its past luster. “Wuhan suffered under the Guomindang,” retired historian Yuan Jicheng told me when we later visited him at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

Investments were not made, and the city never returned to its industrial status of the 1920s and ’30s. Today, its economy relies on stodgy, state- owned companies that make things like alcohol and cigarettes.

Fool the people GDP

To goose GDP numbers, Yuan said, the city digs up roads and paves them, and then repeats the process. “Pianren GDP,” he said. Fool the People GDP.

We set off the next morning to the village of my maternal grandfather. Both our guide Liu Xuechao and my mom confess they aren’t sure how they’re related.

“My mother didn’t tell me much about the family,” he says, taking a swig of Tibet Water, Unpolluted. “So she could protect me.”

“Protect? How?” I ask.

“My grandfather was a landlord before liberation.” If a child knew this and blabbed it around, this status could come out later and hurt the family. Best to keep incriminating information under wraps.

Liu’s grandfather tried to flee by boat to Taiwan to escape Communist retribution. “But they didn’t let him in” to Taiwan, Liu says. “He didn’t have the right papers.” The grandfather returned and was later publicly beaten and shamed during the land reform campaigns. “So he committed suicide.”

Comfortably talking about tragedy

The car goes quiet for a moment. I’ve grown eerily accustomed to how comfortable people can be talking about tragedy. Quickly, though, Bureaucrat Uncle Liu fills the silence.

“Now it’s the government officials who are the rich ones,” says this government official.

“They’re the new landlords. Drink some water.”

The driver jumps in. “What do you think of China? Of Wuhan?”

“The party took my father away,” my mother says. This is the first time I’ve heard her mention this in a public way. “But I look around here, and see the party has made people’s lives better. Look at the buildings, the airports.”

The things you can’t see

The driver does not take the compliment. “Those are just the things you can see: Cars, skyscrapers, railroads. The problem with China is what you can’t see.” He looks at us squarely in the rearview mirror. “Morality. Underground aquifers. Creativity.”

I jot it all down. He articulates this better than I can when trying to describe China’s challenges. It’s the things you can’t see.

“What do the people think of the party?” my mom asks.

“Seventy to eighty percent of the people are dissatisfied,” the driver says. That seems an awfully high number to me.

Bureaucrat Uncle Liu jumps in. “But we don’t want another party in charge either. It’s too luan.” Too chaotic. Americans can have a romantic attachment to luan—a messy process of change, disruption, creative destruction, failing fast. Perhaps you crave these things if you have lived too long without any luan.

The highway turns into local paved road, and then gravel. We’re following villages along a Yangtze tributary known as the Han River, with cotton and corn crops surrounding us. In all, this trip will take less than two hours.

Stealing rice

“Growing up, if I went to Wuhan from the village, it took twelve hours by boat,” Liu says. “Now it’s so fast. During the famine in 1959, I was just a child. I would steal rice from home during harvest, and then get on the boat and carry it to my family in the city.”

We stop at the house of the one known relative still in the Sun village. My mother has always referred to this place as Mianyang, though now it’s incorporated into the city of Xiantao. There’s nothing visibly urban about this place. A white concrete outhouse features a hand-painted character nv for “women.”

We get out, duck under a few clotheslines, and step over a pile of broken bricks to approach. It doesn’t take long to see the disparity. Six houses are connected in a row, but they don’t match.

The units on the far left and right stand three stories high, topped with Spanish-style shingles. These are the wealthier families. In the middle are two older, single-floor
houses that look dark and squat.

This is the house of Maozi, my mother’s second cousin. “My father worked with yours,” Maozi tells my mother as we walk in, “in the family honeybee business.”

I don’t know all the details, but after World War II, their business involved a large population of bees on a boat that floated from one pollination site to another. After the Communist liberation, authorities arrested and jailed Maozi’s father for working with my grandfather, whom the regime deemed a counterrevolutionary.

“He died in prison. They said natural causes, but I’m not so sure.” Maozi offers a cigarette to Bureaucrat Uncle Liu. “After he died, we received his ashes and his bedding mosquito net. It was stained with blood.”

Maozi has a crew cut and is wearing a faded blue T- shirt and cotton shorts. One of his flip-flops has a broken strap, making it easier to see his thick, yellowed toenails. Everything about his body strikes me as weary except for his youthful eyes, which greet a female cousin with energy.

Sun Clan genealogy

He hands her a navy-blue hardback book, thicker than a dictionary (I’d later learn it contains 828 pages). The title reads: Sun Clan Genealogy. This is why we have come.

The genealogy was written in classical Chinese, a style that went out with the May Fourth modernization push in the early twentieth century. A rough analogue might be Latin, or perhaps King James English.

No one in the room can read this very well. But one thing is clear upon flipping it open: This is not a simple family tree.

Hundreds of pages of introductory sections precede the actual names. There is a history of the Sun clan travels (across China, then Jiangxi, then Hubei). There are rules to address different relatives (your father’s paternal great-grandmother shall be referred to as gao zeng zumu).

There’s a set of clothing dos and don’ts for funerals (wear coarse hemp fabric without a hem, for three years). Respect the elderly. Do not steal. Violators are deleted from the Sun book of life.

Political witch hunts

I start to realize why people set genealogies on fire during political witch hunts. All these lineage connections can be used as incriminating evidence if powerful people deem one of your relatives a bad actor.

Journalist Frank Ching writes about this in his own family history, Ancestors. One scholar in the family wrote a glowing history of the Ming Dynasty that its successor, the Qing, frowned upon.

The new leaders sought to kill the writer, plus nine generations of kin, plus the book printer, plus book buyers. “Whole clans have been slaughtered because of the wrongdoings of only one member,” Ching writes.

There’s even an intro written by the most famous Sun in Chinese history—Dr. Sun Yat- sen, the founding father of modern China.

There is no suggestion he had direct ties to my mother’s clan. Rather, this passage seems more of a celebrity cameo. It’s as if an American family surnamed Robinson asked Jackie Robinson to put in a word or two. Or perhaps Smokey.

“Here it is.” My mom puts her finger on a page of her generation. It’s her father’s name.

Editor’s note: This feature is adapted from “A Village with My Name: A Family History of China’s Opening to the World” (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

©2017 The Globalist

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Discovering My Grandmother’s School

23. Februar 2018 - 0:01

By Scott Tong

Scott Tong returns to China to find his grandmother’s old school in Nanchang.

The Yangtze River is China’s Mississippi, its economic lifeline. To the north, the mammoth Yellow River is indeed the birthplace of Chinese civilization, but the Yangtze is the essential waterway, dotted by many of China’s most important cities and transportation hubs.

When it comes to freight transport, no other inland river in the world comes close. In the case of my family history, on both my parents’ sides, I could tell an awful lot of the story by simply following the river downstream.

At the headwaters to the far west in Qinghai province, I’d point out that my maternal grandfather spent his last years at a prison labor camp there. Halfway down the mountains in the megacity of Chongqing is where my father was born during the Chinese civil war.

If you float down further, to Wuhan, you pass both ancestral villages on my mother’s side. Downstream in Changzhou is where my uncle Tong Bao grew up and hunted for frogs to eat during the great famine.

And the delta city where the river dumps into the sea—Shanghai—is where my mother was born. And where my father boarded a dangerously overloaded boat to flee the mainland ahead of the Communists in 1949.

As best we know, Grandmother Mildred was born in the central Yangtze River city of Nanjing, a historic capital to dynasties and governments past. Her grandfather served as a government official there, relatives say. Then, when she was eleven, her parents took her upriver to attend boarding school.

“It seems to me my mother and father took me there,” my grandmother said in an audio interview that still exists on tape at Boston University.

My grandmother’s trip

This is how I imagine the trip went: During the steepest upstream portions of the trip westward, shirtless male workers onshore had to tug the boat up and over the rocks. At the port city of Jiujiang, or Nine Rivers, they boarded a second, smaller boat; turned left (south); and crossed a massive body of water known as Lake Poyang.

Surely it was hot and sticky, as their destination city, Nanchang, today brags about being in the club of Chinese “furnace cities.” For some reason, a number of Yangtze cities I’ve visited (Wuhan, Changsha, Chongqing, Nanjing) also seek to market themselves that way, as if the label confers a certain branding advantage.

On one broiling-furnace day in July 2014, I have come to Nanchang to try to find her old school. I’ve learned the Baldwin School has now become a public school in the city, the Number Ten Middle School.

My father and I have just visited one of his uncles, and we are stopping at the school address on the way to the airport. We’ve asked the cabbie to stop and wait.

Back in 1911, this was a walled city ringed by a moat, with dogs and chickens roaming the interior. Now it looks like any midtier Chinese city: You can cruise the mall to buy a new smartphone before catching a movie in the IMAX theater.

To me there is a certain sameness to cities like this: A river, a few bridges, a set of familiar chain stores, nondescript medium-rise buildings. It’s not unlike a stretch of road back home that features the same exact chain stores and restaurants—Anywhere, USA.

Can’t come in here

“Gan shen ma?” What are you doing? a male voice rings out as I attempt to walk through the gatehouse and into the school. Most Chinese public institutions are not what you and I might regard as public. They hide behind guarded gates.

A skinny man with a comb-over in his fifties stands to block me. He is simply doing his job. He wears a sweat-soaked security guard uniform with the pants rolled up to the knees. “Can’t come in here.”

I have a plan. In these moments, I’ve had luck playing my family history card, so I start in with my pitch: “I’m an overseas Chinese visiting from America. I’m coming to dig for my roots. My grandmother once went to school here.”

The keys, I’ve learned by error and trial: Stay on message. Speak quickly. Keep talking until they relent.

He cuts me off. “You can’t come in. No outside people.”

My grandmother’s passport

“I’m just here for today, flying out in a couple hours,” I appeal, pulling out my grandmother Mildred’s 1949 passport.

This is the next- level intervention, to present a historical document. It does nothing for him.

“These are not my rules. They’re school rules. If you don’t have permission, you can’t go in.”

In my head, I can hear the voice of my teen daughter: Fail, Dad. I walk out to devise a workaround plan. My imagination is not the greatest, but I am a reporter and this is China, where everyday survival requires a plan B and C.

Dad is still sitting in the cab up the street, and we don’t have much time. I decide to try to identify a collaborator, someone who can at least go into the school and snap some pictures for me. That’s what I’m really after—to compare the place today with the old vintage photos of the old Baldwin School.

Recruiting photographers

It is lunchtime at the Number Ten School, and students are filing in and out of the gatehouse. For the next ten minutes or so, I discreetly approach one middle-schooler after another, requesting this favor and delivering the same elevator pitch: Grandson of China, traveling from America, digging for roots.

They all walk on by without answering—except for one pair of students, a girl and a boy. “Would you take my iPhone in and take some pictures for me?”

The girl is in charge here and answers immediately. “Can’t you go in yourself?” I like this dynamic. The student wears tortoiseshell glasses and a level of fearlessness.

I shrug my shoulder. “I can’t. The guard in there stopped me.”

“You’re from America?” she asks. Non sequitur, no problem. “America where?”

“Washington, DC.”

Handing over my iPhone to a twelve-year-old

She nods. “Okay.” In this rush, I fail to consider the risk of handing over my iPhone to a twelve-year-old whose name I don’t even know, and just foist it on her. She asks: “What do you want me to take pictures of?”

I hadn’t planned for this. “Anything you find interesting. Trees. Old buildings. Anything that might have been around a hundred years ago.”

They disappear in, and I retreat up the street to avoid the sight line of the guard. But on this day it’s pretty hard for me to blend in, with my fire-engine-red T-shirt that says “Washington Capitals” on the front and “BACKSTROM 19” on the back.

Within a minute, she reappears. “Battery’s dead.”

So I pull out my low-end Android purchased just for this trip. It’s a lousy phone with a lousy camera, but that’s all I have at this point. My dad pops his head out of the car, and I motion for him to wait just a bit more.

The girl runs back in five minutes, heaving victoriously, and shows me the snapshots: Main entrance, signs, administration building, trees, garden. Perfect.

“I ran out of time for the sports field,” she says. I thank her profusely. “Mei shi,” no worries, and she’s gone.

A park-like feel

The pictures make clear the old Baldwin School has retained a rare, park-like feel in the middle of a Chinese city. Many of the green, open-space areas in Chinese cities are spots once controlled by foreigners in nineteenth-century neocolonial days.

Here, there is still a pavilion with traditional characters—pre-Communist—and an arched stone bridge sloping over a lily pond. Surely this is where female students in Baldwin uniforms sat and studied and wondered what New China might bring.

Just before ducking into the cab, I notice a sign on the outside wall of the school, with a quote attributed to Deng Xiaoping. It would have been relevant during my grandmother’s time there as well, perfectly capturing an ambitious China trying to find its place in the world: “Education must face modernity. Face the world. Face the future.”

A hundred years ago, in roughly that same spot, a different sign stood on the wall. In English, it was a Gospel passage from the book of John: “Ye shall know the truth. And the truth shall set you free.”

The woman who put up that verse: The towering school principal at Baldwin, Welthy Honsinger (later Welthy Honsinger Fisher). She would go on to become a lifelong mentor to Mildred Zhao.

Their story is, to me, a fascinating collision of two separate stories—of women from opposite corners of the world, unsatisfied with the choices before them.

Editor’s note: This feature is adapted from “A Village with My Name: A Family History of China’s Opening to the World” (University of Chicago Press, 2017).

©2017 The Globalist

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Message to BJP: Include the Poor and Elderly

5. Januar 2018 - 0:01

By Sanjeev S. Ahluwalia

For all of Narendra Modi’s past success, his BJP must follow a new script - protecting the poor and elderly and creating a culture of public sector accountability.

Thus far, the BJP’s formula for success has primarily relied on a mix of a more effective state and muscular nationalism, fanned by Hindu revivalism and paired with an assertive foreign policy stance. This strategy has paid rich dividends politically.

Even so, the BJP is losing some of its steam. While more Indians still put their faith in the BJP than in any other party – not least because of its charismatic Prime Minister, Narendra Modi – Indian voters are notoriously fickle. A politician is only as good as the last bag of goodies delivered to supporters.

Casting a wider net

The BJP therefore needs a strategy to generate goodwill in a more sustainable manner. One option is to systematically address the concerns of those who have fallen through the cracks of the open-economy model India has followed since the 1990s.

Of course, in doing so, the BJP will have to distinguish itself from populism and vote buying, which is the hallmark of a failed politician. Here are some options:

Protect children from malnutrition

While India has thankfully smashed the pre-1980s 4% annual growth rate (the so-called “Hindu rate of growth”), this is not enough. The past period of sustained growth reduced poverty in the country to around 20%, but with an additional 20% teetering on the edge of the abyss of poverty.

Moreover, it is shocking that 40% of children in India remain malnourished – and not all of them are poor. Unless a child is adequately nourished in the first eight years, there is a high likelihood of permanent damage to its brain.

Why environmental protection matters so much

It is high time to do more than talk rather glibly about a “youth dividend.” Clean air (to increase lung capacity), clean water (to avoid diarrhea) and micronutrient rich food can guard against stunting.

Unless this is done, we are continually handicapping around 90 million kids, or 7% of our population, from childhood onward.

Spending today, on these three inputs – clean air, clean water and nutritious food – is well worth the avoided economic cost of perpetually sustaining a stunted population of around 500 million.

Do the math if you are not convinced. Consider also that, looking ahead, it is the quality of the human brain and not brawn that will determine if a nation succeeds or fails.

Social protection for the elderly

Second, experts agree that the capacity of the average human brain to learn and innovate decreases sharply with age. Initiatives like Start up India, Make in India, Mudra – loans for MSEs (medium and small- enterprises) all benefit those under 50 years of age. They retain the vitality to do new things.

For those above 50, who have been thrown out of jobs or others who have never held a job, there is little on offer, except the back-breaking NREGA which provides an assured 100 days of unskilled, manual work for anyone willing to put in the hard labor.

SKILL India is also not a solution for them because failure rates in adult education are very high. In India, around 6% of the total population or around 80 million people are above 50 years of age, and poor. They were never in a position to save for their old age.

Also, poverty is sticky and disadvantages entire families. Poor people’s children generally are barely able to keep body and soul together.

Cash benefits for this set of 80 million Indians, at a paltry Rs 1,000 ($ 15.5 ) per person per month would cost Rs 1 trillion per year ($ 15.5 billion).

A progressive annual cash allocation, increasing with age, as the likelihood of doing gainful work decreases, would be sensible. This is expensive, but an inevitable cost of our past public transgressions.

Basic health care for the poor

In addition, India’s poor must get free basic medical insurance schemes. This scheme must allow them to seek in and out-patient treatment at any registered clinic for free, just like the middle class and rich do.

This way, the elderly poor will cease to be a burden on their children. Moreover, this is something the government is capable of doing. The cash and other benefits for supporting girls in childhood have worked well. So can a benefits scheme for the elderly poor.

Respect land ownership rights

Third, economic liberalization, while creating enormous private wealth, also generates inequalities. There are losers who fall through the cracks.

Take India’s historic failure to provide a credible commitment that land acquisition would “cause no harm” to land holders. The common apprehension is that bank financed land acquisition incentivizes excess acquisition for speculation. It also robs the land holder of the ensuing value creation.

This creates resistance and fear. Even the latest version of the Land Acquisition Act is backward looking. It merely seeks to “compensate losers.” It should be forward-looking instead.

For that reason, the Act ought to provide explicitly for “sharing of the ensuing value creation” between the land holder, the project developer and the government. This can be achieved using a Participative, Public, Private Partnership (PPPP) model.

This is all the more important as India is land starved. The ownership of this valuable asset must be respected as an equity contribution to new projects, with pre-defined, time bound returns, insured by the government.

Penal sanctions for public delinquency

Some tough love is necessary to improve our public services. We should sanction those who fail to use the fiscal resources put at their disposal.

If we legislate a suitable “Public Services Act,” it should attach criminal penalties to public actions which result in public harm, whether this is due to lack of due diligence during the budget procedure or the implementation stage of projects.

India’s basic problems

Delinquent officials must be held accountable if hospitals negligently harm, not cure patients. The same applies if defective public buses, trucks, aircraft, ferries and ships are allowed to operate, resulting in deaths — or if shoddy public construction causes death or disability.

Only if we manage to take that step toward official accountability can the right public service culture and moral fiber be created that is so necessary to deal with the ceaseless challenges in public life. It cannot be a one-way street, with only citizens serving the state.

©2017 The Globalist

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Poland’s Economic Destiny: Middle-Income Trap?

13. Dezember 2017 - 0:01

By Rafal Riedel

Despite the Polish economy’s success post-1990, the challenge of escaping the middle-income trap is steep.

In 2016, Mateusz Morawiecki announced his grand plan “Strategy for Responsible Development,” which was accepted as the Polish government’s official economic strategy in 2017. Since that time, the then-Finance Minister and Deputy Prime minister has moved up to become Prime Minister.

That is one more reason to pay attention to his plan – all the more so as his political elevation happened to enable him to focus the national economy fully on the implementation of that strategy.

Morawiecki as top gun

Morawiecki’s main mission is addressing the challenge of Poland escaping the middle-income trap. For all the success of the Polish economy post-1990, and despite the fact that Poland’s economy is performing very well when viewed against the broader backdrop of Polish history, the challenge is steep.

It is also a debate that matters greatly to the political fortunes of the governing PiS party. Its electoral success has raised expectations in the population at large that it does not want to disappoint.

After all, PiS cannot count on the political opposition in the country remaining disorganized forever.

Debate about the middle-income trap

Generally speaking, the debate about the middle-income trap originates from concerns about slower economic growth rates that are typically observed in many economies after they have exited from the so-called post-transition periods. It affects the former Communist countries as much as it does Turkey, for example.

In the scientific literature, there is no consensus on the question whether the transition from middle-income to high-income levels is not different than any other transition, for example from low-income to middle-income levels.

It is natural that the low-income countries manage to grow faster. That is predominantly the result of the low-base effect and imitation gains. However, the more emerging economies converge with the better developed economies, the slower the pave of further convergence.

Some economies manage to close this convergence gap (consider Ireland) and some get stuck at the middle-income level (e.g., Portugal).

An overly ambitious goal?

Surprisingly enough, some analysts are sceptical even about the existence of middle income trap. They point to the argument that, after the Second World War, most countries did not make it to the high-income levels.

It is statistically and logically expected that most of the growth trajectories will stagnate at average levels.

Low-income countries predominantly take advantage of their disadvantages (“the benefit of backwardness”). For example, they can generate a higher expected return from capital (due to the small existing stock of capital, or due to relatively easy technology and knowhow transfer).

At higher levels of economic development, when the production process is characterized by higher levels of complexity, some other qualities are important. This predominantly concerns the continuous improvement of education, training, research and innovation.

In other words, after the “easy” productivity gains have already been exploited, the economy needs to develop its own engines of growth.

The word “trap” also suggests that the middle-income stagnation may be the result of some internal or external barriers, from which the economy needs to free itself.

Five “development traps”

In the Polish case, in his “Strategy for Responsible Development” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki diagnoses that Poland is trapped in five “developmental traps”: the middle-income trap, a lack of balance trap (that is, the balance between the Polish and foreign capital), the average product trap, the demographic trap and the weak institutions trap.

The overall objective of his “Strategy for Responsible Development” is to increase incomes and to improve social and economic cohesion. Morawiecki foresees that in 2030, an average Polish family will have disposable income at the levels of 95% of EU average (equal to Italian levels).

How is that going to be achieved? His strategy focuses on five fields: The first is re-industrialisation, the second is the development of innovative companies, the third is called “capital for development,” the fourth is foreign expansion and the fifth is social and regional development. They all address the problem of the middle income trap directly or indirectly.

The issue with any such plan is not the diagnostic part, but its prescriptive potential. As it stands, it appears full of wishful thinking and lacks the precise formulation of the methods that will lead to achieving the targeted goals.

Also, Morawiecki’s theory and the economic reality are diverging more and more. For example, Morawiecki intends to build the independent economy based predominantly on EU funds.

Of course, his realistic assessment flies in the face of the Polish economic nationalists’ language. They are eager to reject EU funds as dependency on a neo-colonial settlement mind set and domination with money from abroad.

That political choice will obviously make it much harder for the national economic strategy to succeed.

©2017 The Globalist

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India’s Winter of Discontent

3. Dezember 2017 - 0:01

By Gurcharan Das

India’s improvement in The Ease of Doing Business index is the first tangible proof of Modi’s election promise of “maximum governance, minimum government."

In this winter of Indian discontent—as we try to cope with a toxic smog enveloping the northwest, declining growth, job losses and a cumbersome tax reform — there is finally some good news that should lift our spirits.

India has risen thirty points in the World Bank’s global ranking in “The Ease of Doing Business” index (EoDB). More significantly, it has improved its score on all ten criteria.

No other country has achieved this. Reading this report gives tangible grounds to believe that attitudes of the lower rungs of India’s bureaucracy may have finally begun to change.

A bottom-up success

India is a bottom-up success and stands in contrast to China which is a top-down success. The Chinese state has built the most amazing infrastructure at breakneck pace and converted China into a middle-class nation within a generation.

India’s story is one of private success and public failure. India’s rise is due to its enterprising people. Red tape and an obstructive bureaucracy break the spirit of small enterprises that create the most jobs.

The World Bank has been pointing this out for the past 15 years, but every Indian government till now had ignored the Ease of Doing Business results, preferring instead to pick holes in the index’s methodology.

The World Bank pointed out this week that this is the first Indian government that has taken EoDB seriously. When Mr. Modi set an ambitious target to reach a rank of 50 from 142, everyone thought it was a pipedream. His goal now appears achievable.

Once the glitches in the GST tax reform and the insolvency law are overcome, India’s ranking should improve further. Two main reasons for success is the gradual shifting toward online interactions of the state-citizen interface and the competitive spirit engendered between states.

The top performers

In India’s 2016 State Assessment, Andhra/Telangana shared first place, followed by Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh. The five worst performers were Delhi, Kerala, Assam, Himachal and Tamil Nadu.

The area where the biggest catch-up has to occur is in the Indian judiciary. India still ranks among the lowest-ranked countries in the world in enforcing contracts.

A market system is based on honoring contracts. If people can renege, business becomes risky. Contract enforcement in China takes less than one-tenth of the time than in India. India currently still lacks district commercial courts manned by judges with commercial training.

Fighting corruption

The Ease of Doing Business index is also a great corruption fighter. Corruption is like malaria–you need to clear the swamps to prevent it.

It is better to prevent corruption than to catch crooks. Not surprisingly, the top ten countries in the Ease of Doing Business index have little or no corruption.

This matters not only to business. It can also improve poor people’s lives. After all, the same administrative process change that reduced the time to issue a construction permit by Delhi’s municipality (MCD) has also resulted in reducing the number of days to get a birth certificate.

Renewing a driver’s license in Delhi now requires half an hour without a pay-off and one receives the new license by post within a few days. This is why Mr. Modi says, “the ease of doing business is the ease of living your life.”

Maximum governance, minimum government

India’s improvement in the Ease of Doing Business index is the first tangible proof of Modi’s election promise of “maximum governance, minimum government.”

In upgrading India’s rating, Moody’s has also underlined that only through institutional reforms will India realize its potential.

At rank 100, India still has a long way to go. Most enterprises are still not aware that their states now offer single window clearances.

Employment-intensive sectors still have to put up with corrupt labor inspectors. Land acquisition is still mired in red tape.

Imagine if more far-sighted Indian governments had implemented the EoDB reforms in 1991! India would be twice as prosperous today, with far less corruption.

The cost of this delay is a tragedy. It also reminds us that India’s socialist era which claimed to deliver growth with social justice, delivered neither.

Only when the Indian economy’s growth rate crosses the 8% threshold and jobs come in droves will the bright days truly arrive. Meanwhile, this is a great step towards that.

©2017 The Globalist

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