The above question was discussed by Bhabatosh Datta in 1977 in his book The Contents of Economic Growth and Other Essays. This blog post briefly revisits Datta’s article to see whether the current growth of India is on the right track. A few details about Datta is in order. For most of his life, he taught at Presidency College, Calcutta. He is an economist who has written on diverse aspects of the Indian economy – industrialisation, planning, regional rural banks, economic growth, monetary reforms, commercial banks, financial system and on Indian economic thought. And for this reason, his work is of utmost relevance to us- who want to understand the Indian economy.
On 29th December 2009, the Deputy Governor of RBI spoke about the ‘Current Macroeconomic Developments in India’. I reproduce some of her observations below:
India had a strong recovery in the second quarter of 2009-10 at 7.9 per cent. “The sequential recovery over the first quarter of 2009-10 was driven by notable turnaround in industrial output (9.0 per cent), and services sector (9.0 per cent), while agriculture sector also came to record a positive growth (0.9 per cent), despite drought like conditions and floods in some parts of the country.”
Which India had a strong recovery, when more than 60% of Indian population work in the agricultural sector? As Datta writes, for India, economic growth takes place when there is “growth in employment and growth in incomes of large numbers.”
“On the whole, agricultural production during 2009-10 hinges critically on the performance of the North East monsoon and rabi production.”
“The recovery in industrial growth has been broad-based with acceleration in growth of all the three sectors, viz., mining, electricity and manufacturing .”
The consumer durables sector shows an impressive growth with 22.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2009-10.
Consumer durable showing strong growth, a recovery of industrial growth alongside a critical agricultural sector seems to suggest that Indian policy makers and economists seem pre-occupied with non-problems. As Datta lucidly points out: “it is possible that over a particular year there has been only a very small increase in agricultural and essential industrial production, while there has been a substantial rise in the output of luxury goods, high-income varieties of consumer goods and outdated capital goods.”
It is easy to forget that 8% or 9% rate of growth does not have a unique meaning. For, it might express many alternative states of affairs. I often wonder, what our objective should be as an economist in India! As I had argued elsewhere, it is time that we looked at the structure or the contents of economic growth carefully.