India and China, with their large populations and steady rates of growth, have long been seen as the solution to help the markets and thereby the world tide over the continuing economic crisis plaguing the West. The Trillion Dollar Prize is a book that focuses especially on the rise of the new markets and new consumers in these two countries. It is directed at the business community seeking new markets and new avenues of profit. It is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of Indian and Chinese consumers, their spending patterns, the rural-urban difference on both sides, their aspirations and increasing spending power, so that firms can tap the potential of the two markets. As the editors say, “The book is intended to serve not only as a manifesto, setting out the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in China and India, but also as a manual providing a practical how-to guide to winning in these two countries and the rest of the world”.
The book does a credible job of studying the patterns of consumption, the rise of the middle class and the new rich in these countries by segregating consumers not only by income but by region, the urban-rural divide and by gender. The authors have provided illuminating data, with special focus on changing patterns of consumption and rising standards of living. According to their very positive projections, annual per capita income till 2020 will increase on average from about $4,400 to $12,300 in China and from $1,500 to $4,400 in India. China’s upper class will grow from 109 million to 202 million households, while India’s will rise from 9 million to 32 million households, and its middle class will jump from 63 million to 117 million. It is this tripling of incomes in the two most populous countries and, consequently, their increasing purchasing power, that will drive global growth and patterns of consumer spending. Coupled with statistics are personal stories of the new consumers in each country, who a decade ago would never have dreamt of the life-styles they now lead. Most importantly, it shows that each segment is hopeful about the future, justifying economic reform. The future trend in both countries is that of a growing middle class and decreasing levels of poverty. Of course, China is ahead of India in almost every aspect—from infrastructure, education and health to consumption of resources and commodities. The difference exists, perhaps, due to the twenty-year gap between 1978, when China kickstarted its economic reforms, and 1991, when India started its own reform programme.
While the rich are driving the growth of high-end luxury goods, adding to the coffers of Gucci and bmw, the book has a strategy for penetrating each segment and spends considerable attention on how companies can reach out to the lower and middle classes and the rural segment through what the authors call the ‘Paisa Vasool’ or money-worth strategy of wooing the price-sensitive Chinese and Indian consumer. Here, they advocate clever marketing and making affordable sizes, like Coca Cola has done in China or Godrej in India. The book also rightly points out how, despite organised retail growing in urban centres, the local informal markets and the small mom-and-pop stores still retain a large share of the market in rural areas and therefore must be integrated into the retail strategies of big multinationals.
Overall, the book paints an optimistic scenario for the continuing growth in India and China. It does mention in passing that Asia rising could turn into Asia uprising if governments fail to meet the aspirations of a new generation, exposed through the internet and television to the many possibilities available for enrichment and consumption. It also cautions on the negatives of increasing consumption in China and India. The chief being rising prices of food and other commodities, especially energy, leading to the constant fear of inflationary pressures that can stymie growth policies. The authors could have devoted some space to these and other internal political and economic contradictions. Both nations have major domestic political concerns and both states, whether India, with its populist and often opportunistic democratic politics, or China, with its one-party state, face popular protests on issues of land, pollution and, above all, corruption. Ad-hoc state policies and crony capitalism can vitiate investment atmosphere and internal instability can derail the positive future market scenario so gustily painted by the authors.
(The author teaches at the Department of East Asian Studies, Delhi University)
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Can it be, that if everyone or most people, become the middle class, then growth becomes what it was, or is, in Europe, and North America? It seems, if everyone has the same perceived income, or if everyone has income, so that it seems, that everyone does similar jobs, then growth is not great, in the economy of a nation. The U. S. is not supposed to be manufacturing, perhaps, economists are not entirely looking at manufacturing there, because manufacturing is the backbone of the economy. The U. S. would not be a national economy, if there was no manufacturing. There would be no cause for any economic activity, without manufacturing.
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