Postmodern Conservative

India’s Future

Claire Berlinski on Prospects for an "Indian Century"

Don’t miss this piece by Claire Berlinski in City Journal, “The Indian Century?”   She begins her account at a dinner-party at which the pessimism of Westerners about The West dominates, but in which she is drawn to the talk of a peculiarly optimistic Indian businessman:

“I should really write a book,” said Nick. “About the intellectual and economic influence that India has had on the world. It will again soon. And so much needs to be written about it. No one gets it right.” He said it in the way that people too busy to get around to writing a book usually say it. “The colonialists and the hippies—they just totally distorted everyone’s view. Anyway, the next century will all be about India reemerging.” 

If you don’t know, Berlinski’s “travel writing” and “expatriate writing” is particularly excellent. Go to her author page on Ricochet for access to her many good pieces on her several years of living in Istanbul, for example.  Anyhow, she winds up visiting India as a result of this encounter, where she observes interesting things interestingly, and weighs the case for an optimistic take on India’s future.  Here are a couple of quotes that convey the optimism in the air:

I sat in on a number of university classes in Delhi and met the students and their instructors. I scribbled down a few notes about what they were studying. From the curriculum of the first week of the first semester: “History of polymeric materials, classification of polymers, configuration and conformation of polymers, nature of molecular interaction in polymers, cumulative interaction, entanglement, random chain model, linear-branched, cross-linked, crystal morphologies, extended chain crystals, chain folding”—my notes stop there, but the curriculum goes on and on.

Compared with frustrated America and sclerotic Europe, India feels avid, bustling, and entrepreneurial. The Indian press is full of sentences such as: “We are on the cusp of an unstoppable explosion of innovation powered by advances in science, technology, venture capital, and entrepreneurship.”

She of course also mentions that it ought to matter to Americans that India is the world’s largest democracy.  To the extent we really believe in democracy, and/or in entrepreneurial capitalist innovation, we bet on India’s ramshackle democracy and economic dynamism, instead of on the authoritarian “China model.”  

But perhaps the most interesting thing in Berlinski’s piece is her encounter with India’s innovations in health-care, which she probably read about in books like John Micklethwait’s and Adrian Wooldridge’s The Fourth Revolution:  The Global Race to Reinvent the Statebut which she is forced to actually rely upon due to an animal attack.  Since it is Berlinski’s (scary) story, I will let her tell it, merely reporting that it had a happy outcome, and that no elephants, tigers, or cobras were involved.

Here’s a bit from Fourth Revolution on why that story hits closer to home than you might think, that is, why one particular Indian medical innovator, Devi Shetty, may wind up supplying the model for a surgery in your future:

Shetty and his team of forty-odd cardiologists perform about six-hundred operations a week in a veritable medical production line:  no Western hospital comes close.  …The sheer number of patients allows his surgeons to acquire world-class expertise in particular operations, while the generous backup facilities allow them to concentrate on their specialty rather than wasting time on administration.  Surgeons perform an average of four hundred to six hundred operations a year compared with one hundred to two hundred in the United States…  The hospital can perform open-heart surgery for $2,000 compared with about $100,000 in America.  Yet the success rate is as good as in the best American hospitals.

As Berlinski says at one point, that’s the kind of global competition that stands to make everyone’s lives better, our own included.  While it would take a revolution indeed to get such practices going in America’s present health-care system, the good news is that Shetty will be opening a hospital in the Cayman Islands to cater to Americans wanting operations for half the price.  

Anyhow, do read Berlinski’s piece.  It also gives you many of the reasons to be skeptical about an Indian Century.

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Comparing this post with the one below, what might India’s brightening sense of its future have to do with America’s dimming sense of its own history?  Or, how might the prospects of the world’s largest modern democracy be impacted by our tending the living heritage of the world’s oldest modern democracy?  That is, why do I think it is no accident that the American respecters of real multi-culturalism turn out to be folks like the scholar Ralph Ketchum(look at the cover of his book), the very ones who are presently defending genuine teaching of American history against trends towards sociolo-gized and grievance-politics-infested “globalist” education?  I once provided part of answer to such questions, in an essay that Indians and Indian-Americans might find rather interesting themselves:  “Globally-Conscious Americanism that Ain’t Globalist.”  Democrats around the world have strong reason to hope that we Americans remain able to pass on the riches of our heritage, whatever corrections they may need to make of certain American errors.  Indians (and especially their shallow-ly “multi-culturalist” “admirers” in the ranks of American education) need to admit to themselves that regardless of how the cruder forms of American patriotism rankle, America’s own continued belief in the overall goodness of its political heritage might heavily influence whether future Indians are able to keep cultivating what is best within it for their own purposes. Otherwise, China’s model, combined with the worst sorts of Silicon Valley thinking, beckons.

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