Research Paper: Achieving India’s Growth Potential

Just as the Indian economy reels from its double-digit inflation to the tune of approximately 11%, Goldman Sachs, the leading investment bank, has issued its latest research paper titled Ten Things for India to Achieve its 2050 Potential. This is part of a series of papers published over the last few years by Goldman Sachs covering the BRIC economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

The paper builds on Goldman Sachs’ Growth Environment Scores (GES), in which India scores below the other three nations. Further, it ranks 110 out of 181 countries, and for 7 of the 13 components India scores below the developing country average. The current report contains some prescriptions for India to achieve its potential by 2050, noting that “[h]aving the potential and actually achieving it are two different things”. This effectively boils down the lack of proper implementation of reforms that slow down economic progress.

The following are the key recommendations extracted from the paper:

“We highlight ten key areas where reform is needed. In all likelihood, they are
not the only ten, but we consider them to be the most crucial:

1. Improve governance. Without better governance, delivery systems and effective implementation, India will find it difficult to educate its citizens, build its infrastructure, increase agricultural productivity and ensure that the fruits of economic growth are well established.

2. Raise educational achievement. Among more micro factors, raising India’s educational achievement is a major requirement to help achieve the nation’s potential. According to our basic indicators, a vast number of India’s young people receive no (or only the most basic) education. A major effort to boost basic education is needed. A number of initiatives, such as a continued expansion of Pratham and the introduction of Teach First, for example, should be pursued.

3. Increase quality and quantity of universities. At the other end of the spectrum, India should also have a more defined plan to raise the number and the quality of top universities.

4. Control inflation. Although India has not suffered particularly from dramatic inflation, it is currently experiencing a rise in inflation similar to that seen in a number of emerging economies. We think a formal adoption of Inflation Targeting would be a very sensible move to help India persuade its huge population of the (permanent) benefits of price stability.

5. Introduce a credible fiscal policy. We also believe that India should introduce a more credible medium-term plan for fiscal policy. Targeting low and stable inflation is not easy if fiscal policy is poorly maintained. We think it would be helpful to develop some ‘rules’ for spending over cycles.

6. Liberalise financial markets. To improve further the macro variables within the GES framework, we believe further liberalisation of Indian financial markets is necessary.

7. Increase trade with neighbours. In terms of international trade, India continues to be much less ‘open’ than many of its other large emerging nation colleagues, especially China. Given the significant number of nations with large populations on its borders, we would recommend that India target a major increase in trade with China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

8. Increase agricultural productivity. Agriculture, especially in these times of rising prices, should be a great opportunity for India. Better specific and defined plans for increasing productivity in agriculture are essential, and could allow India to benefit from the BRIC-related global thirst for better quality food.

9. Improve infrastructure. Focus on infrastructure in India is legendary, and tales of woe abound. Improvements are taking place, as any foreign business visitor will be aware, but the need for more is paramount. Without such improvement, development will be limited.

10. Improve Environmental Quality. The final area where greater reforms are needed is the environment. Achieving greater energy efficiencies and boosting the cleanliness of energy and water usage would increase the likelihood of a sustainable stronger growth path for India.

Perhaps not all these ‘action areas’ can be addressed at the same time, but we believe that, in coming years, progress will have to be made in all of them if India is to achieve its very exciting growth potential.”

While the research paper does well to identify key concerns relating to growth and the areas to be addressed, it does pose some fundamental issues at a macro level. One of the criticisms that may be levelled against the paper is that it does not present any new findings or prescriptions, and all of those contained in the report are well-known and debated (with perhaps little concrete action being taken). But, this critique is more to do with the form and less with the substance of the matters covered.

More fundamental is the approach towards some of the solutions to the problems. Here, one finds that most prescriptions turn towards market-based models of economic policy and liberalisation—for instance the recommendations for removal of capital controls, for liberalisation of the financial markets and so on. It is important to note, however, that all of those solutions may not directly apply in the Indian scenario. There is a need to contextualise the prescriptions for reforms so that they appropriately fit into the Indian macroeconomic framework as well as with its past experience. Some of the ideas (and materials) that support this thinking are as follows:

(a) Commentators have argued that some level of restrictions and governmental regulation on economic and financial activity may be necessary in the context of developing economies. Joseph Stiglitz is a leading proponent of this view, as he strenuously makes his arguments in his book “Globalization and Its Discontents”.

(b) Similarly, as far as India is concerned, arguments have been made that it is India’s partially restrictive policies that have helped weather the recent global credit crisis or even the Asian financial crisis that swept the region over a decade ago (see an earlier post on this blog).

(c) It is also useful in this context to review Dr. Shankar Acharya’s critique of the Draft Report of the High Level Committee on Financial Sector Reforms headed by Dr. Raghuram Rajan, where the point has been made about the need for taking into accounting the realities in India while examining the nature of reforms.

About the author

Umakanth Varottil

Umakanth Varottil is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. He specializes in corporate law and governance, mergers and acquisitions and cross-border investments. Prior to his foray into academia, Umakanth was a partner at a pre-eminent law firm in India.


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