ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Corrective to Dominant Discourse on Growth and Development

Growth, Inequality and Social Development in India: Is Inclusive Growth Possible? edited by R Nagaraj (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan and Geneva: United Nations Research Institute for Social Development), 2012; pp 238.

At a time when establishing the highest possible growth rate is seen as the key to eliminating poverty and bringing about rapid and cumulative improvements in social development, this book edited by R Nagaraj, with chapter contributions by other scholars, stands out as an important corrective to this dominant and misleading discourse. It is not often that edited books have an overall coherence. This one does, even as there is a certain division of labour in this collective effort. Together, the authors offer a historical overview of why India, despite having had positive annual growth rates over the last 65 years, has performed so badly comparatively and absolutely when it comes to social development, as measured by standard indicators of health, education, inequalities, steady wages and other forms of social security and protection.

Over the course of three policy regimes (whose rough periodisation is common to all the contributors) – 1950-65, 1966-80, 1980 onwards – there has been some variation in the rate at which poverty declined. At the same time, the performance of different states varies considerably across geographies. But these variations tend to rebut rather than confirm the neo-liberal claim that high growth rates in gross domestic product (GDP) are the most vital element for bringing about rapid poverty decline and general social development. The latest version of this mantra is not so much “trickle-down theory”, as the view that high growth rates greatly enhance state coffers, thereby enabling greater social welfare spending.

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