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Jan 07, 2004
At Future’s gates

China, our oft admired rival, may have botched its chances by ‘designing’ its population. For decades it forced a one-child norm and today it is becoming a society with a preponderance of older people. In India, whether it was our democracy or culture or our anarchic ways that caused it, families size themselves in a sort of ‘free-float’. And that freedom has resulted in this current advantage, that is likely to last another 20 years.

Two worries however can ruin this rosy picture. One, modern innovations lead to productivity increases and therefore to job losses. For possibly the first time in human history, growth is more inversely proportional to jobs creation. This can lead to rising unemployment for a while and thus to social turmoil. Also, new jobs that become available need greater skills and therefore the quality of education has to change down the line.

Second, --and this is as yet insufficiently realised-- governance and accountability have to improve. Banking and the stock markets have been well reformed but bureaucracy, judiciary and policing are way behind. An enlarging, well-to-do middle income group will demand fairer governance.

Demographic changes which are to India’s advantage happened by accident and not design. But good governance will not come about by accident. That will be the next big challenge.

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