Rural Bias in India?

We all know about the phenomenon of urban bias. But in India, there appears to be strong political incentives for rural bias.

This is from Bloomberg:

It’s an election year in India, with the world’s largest polls expected in the spring. The focus of politicians is, as usual, on farmers and rural areas and competitive pandering to both — hardly surprising in a country that considers itself a nation of villages.

However, this narrative has one major flaw. India is, in fact, more urban than politicians know or acknowledge. This seriously affects India’s growth prospects, leading to inefficiencies and loss of productivity in both rural and urban areas. What’s worse, the resulting misallocation of resources is making India’s blossoming urban areas well-nigh unlivable.

…. The consequences of underestimating the urban share of the population are dire. Resources are badly misallocated: By one estimate, over 80 percent of federal government financing still goes to rural development. This reduces incentives for politicians, especially rural ones, to change the status quo. Tens of millions of Indians who live in dense, urban-like settlements are governed by rural governments that lack the mandate and the money to deliver basic services. In India, urban governments are constitutionally required to provide things such as fire departments, sewer lines, arterial roads and building codes. Local bodies in rural areas aren’t.

Read the whole thing here.

Things are different in Thailand. According to The Economist:

The World Bank reckons that over 70% of Thailand’s public expenditure in 2010 benefited Greater Bangkok, home to 17% of the country’s population. In no other economy with a comparable level of income is government spending as skewed, say the bank’s economists.




Data Problems Everywhere

This is from the Economist:

GOVERNMENT statisticians shun the limelight, which only ever finds them when things go awry. So it is with India’s national bean counters, who are struggling to convince the world that an economy with idle factories, sagging exports and ailing banks grew by 7.5% in 2015, as their models purport to show. Ever since a new methodology for calculating GDP was adopted last year, India has appeared to be the world’s fastest-growing big economy, outpacing China. But scepticism about the data is growing even faster.

… Investors, at any rate, roundly disbelieve India’s growth figures. Nevsky Capital, a hedge fund, cited dodgy data from India, among other places, as a reason to shut up shop at the start of the year. Even the government’s own chief economic adviser has admitted he is sometimes flummoxed by the data. A cottage industry has sprung up to cater to the sceptics, blending various indicators of economic activity to produce new gauges of growth.

Such home-brewed statistics have been common in China for some time: Li Keqiang, now the country’s premier, admitted as a provincial governor that he all but ignored “man-made” economic statistics in favour of hard-to-fiddle data such as railway-cargo volumes, electricity consumption and loans made by banks. The Economist began publishing a “Keqiang Index” when his habits became known in 2010.

Ambit Capital, a broker based in Mumbai, now computes its own “Keqiang Index” for India, which implies a real growth rate of 5.4%. Economists at HSBC, a bank, think 5.9-6% is closer to the truth.

More on this here.

The decline of odious ODA?

The Economist has a piece outlining the paradox of Indian overseas development assistance (to the tune of 11 billion over the next 5-7 years). With figures from the CIA factbook I have calculated that about 300 million indians live below the poverty line. The Economist piece also touts the emergence of middle income donors, especially among the BRICs.

In this world Europeans and Americans no longer dominate aid. China is the biggest source of investment in Africa and the Gates Foundation is as important as many donor governments (and much more innovative). Private capital flows to Africa outstrip aid flows, contradicting an old justification that aid is necessary because investors hold back.

For the poorest, the new donors are more important because Western aid is shrivelling. Congress is proposing to chop American aid by a fifth. Brazil is giving more to the Somali famine than Germany, France and Italy combined. There are exceptions: Britain and Australia promise to boost aid spending. But they seem like a last hurrah of Western generosity.

Adding that:

In this new world the justification for aid and the behaviour of donors must change. For India and others, it is far from clear why the government should send aid abroad when it has so many poor people at home. No doubt, aid will be defended as a boost to global influence. The risk for India is that, just like the West did in the 1960s, it will pour money into grand projects which fail—and encourage bad government.

I disagree with this latter assessment. It is not aid per se that caused the epic governance problems facing most of the low-income countries of the world. Sure it stunted the co-evolution of accountable government and domestic revenue generation. But the biggest failure of aid was what it was spent on.

Aid being highly fungible meant that most of the money wound up in the private accounts of venal leaders and gun-runners.

Things have since changed a bit. For instance, China’s resources-for-infrastructure deals can be a model for Aid 2.0 (this no doubt needs some tweaking too, as this damaging expose on Sino-Angolan oil deals shows). Plus this time the infrastructure investments are different. In an earlier period most of the investments were overtly white elephant projects (like Moi’s infamous hydro-electric dam in Turkwel). Most of the current projects are in roads, telecoms, and to some extent agriculture – investments that will have a much bigger impact because of their broader reach.

You can find a related earlier post here.