The fire in this bustling but entirely provincial city, roughly 50 miles northeast of the capital, New Delhi, is now seen as an example of the painful paradox of India’s economic miracle. The hunger for brand-name goods — a Toshiba television, a Whirlpool washing machine, an LG air-conditioning unit — has spread to middle India. But that hunger has only exposed the raw and yawning gaps that remain: a disregard for health and safety measures in many places, combined with a deep public suspicion that corrupt officials turn a blind eye to the need to enforce standards in these areas.
Please, I know that this is the standard article frame, the “painful paradox of (insert country’s name here)’s Economic Miracle”. One has seen a million stories about “developing countries” like these with the word “paradox” thrown in. Of course, the writer makes no attempt to find even one person or reference that calls this a “paradox”. But why is this a paradox? Is this not the rule, the true paradox is when economic development, government efficiency, population attitudes, literacy, and all those other indicators of a country’s state of being go hand in hand. As in, a GDP increase of 10% brings a 10% increase in government efficiency, what a terrible media frame.
Fires, stampedes, bus accidents, plagues, you name it, easily avoidable deaths happen all the time all over India. They have nothing to do with anything other than the combination of poor enforcement, poor crowd control, over population and systems that don’t work. These things were happening when I was growing up in the 1970s and they will happen for the forseeable future. How surprising is it that it is easier to manufacture a few million washing machines than to change a country’s attitudes and performance.
Governance is more difficult than making money, and requires the money to have been in the system for a few years. Good governance also requires higher expectations, and higher expectations come with the higher standard of living that the injection of money brings. So, no paradox, just the natural order of things: Money – Expectations – Governance.