Bjelkeman's travel notes

Travels with the cloud in my pocket.

How do countries go from developing to developed?

What the whiteboard looked like after a couple of hours of discussons

Amitangshu, Nagasreenivas and I did have one of them big discussions today, where you wave your arms around and rush forward to the whiteboard to draw things to make sure you don’t miss anything.

It started with a discussion between my wife, Anke, and Amitangshu on how it is to work freelance, benefits and drawbacks, comparing company culture in India and in north Europe.

Then somewhere we took a left turn in the discussion and Amitangshu asked: “So in your country is water considered a human right? Is it written into the constitution?” I answered: “No, not directly, but social security is, and it is included in that. You should see the Swedish constitution. Paragraph three. It guarantees social security, education, healthcare and a whole lot more, right there in the third paragraph.” And from there we went.

We ended up with a quite an interesting discussion, much too long to cover here, but there were a couple of fundamental points where we had insight into each others countries and way of running things which just were not there before we started to talk:

  1. Basic needs and advanced needs are subsidised in fundamentally different ways in Sweden (representing northern Europe) compared to India.
  2. The scale of democracy may have a direct impact on how easy it is to implement a cohesive society.
  3. We aren’t aware of any studies who compare successful societies like the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, with more recently developed countries like South Korea and Taiwan (I am sure there must be some). What makes a successful country and how come the latter two made it so quickly from developing to developed?

Basic needs and advanced needs

In Sweden, as an example, basic needs like food and water are subsidised indirectly. If you are poor in Sweden, and you don’t have access to food and water you are given money by the government. In India, you are given food and water.

In Sweden, advanced needs, such as health care and education are subsidised directly. If you are poor in Sweden, your health care and education are subsidised directly, i.e. you don’t pay for these services (well, in Sweden you pay a small fee for health care, but the fee is given to you if you can’t afford it). In India these are only subsidised indirectly, if at all.

Why is this? We have some theories surrounding the fact that Sweden is already a developed country and India is not, but we are not sure about that. We really should dig deeper in this. Also make a more robust comparison.

Scale of democracy matters

I have a theory that smaller democratic countries are better run. As examples, in Europe, I use countries such as all the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland), Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg as positive examples.

The European countries which are not as successful seem to be bigger. Looking at the Economist Quality of Life Index (PDF file), you will find the mentioned countries  all in the top 16 countries, mostly outperforming larger countries. Of the top 10 countries, only Italy (8) and Spain (10) are more than 21 million people. The USA (13) comes in just after Finland (12), but the huge US GDP/capita draws up the US performance (I think) without corresponding good performance from a quality of life, just consider healthcare and poverty in the US. Also the US wealth is unequally distributed, with a significant portion owned by few rich people. The UN human development index is less clear cut, with Canada at fourth place (31 million people), Japan coming in at 10th place (127 million people) and the US at 13.

Amitangshu said he believed strongly in this hypothesis and it matched well what Buddha said in his description on how things should be. (No reference.)

What makes a successful country and how come the latter two made it so quickly from developing to developed?

We talked quite a lot back and forth, and was wondering what really makes a successful country? We thought it would be really interesting to study a couple of successful countries and compare them to some of the “Tigers of Asia” like South Korea and Taiwan. How come they have advanced so quickly and how do they compare with northern European countries. What lessons are there to learn for a country like India?

The discussion, as is probably obvious from the photograph of the whiteboard, went beyond this, but I shall spare you the detail. However, it was a very interesting discussion. One which we shall continue one dinner.


Filed under: Development aid, India, Social and economic policy

4 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. bjelkeman says:

    It would be interesting to read some papers on the drawbacks and benefits of direct and indirect subsidies for things like food, water, shelter etc.

  2. amitangshu says:

    The most important aspect for me was that you would consider food and water as a customer right rather than a citizen right. I mean one has to buy food and water, there will be an indirect subsidy through social security. In India, we are providing direct subsidy in terms of food and water, which are fundamental rights. A cash transfer would allow choices (both positive and negative).

  3. bjelkeman says:

    It would be interesting to see if the theory actually holds water, but it would take more study than I am able to do at the moment. Sounds like a PhD Thesis to me. 😉

  4. Very interesting, hadn’t thought about the county’s size to be a negative factor for a successful country before.

About Bjelkeman

Co-director: Akvo Foundation

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