Crisis? What crisis? Indian policymakers are not asking such a complacent question. But India has had a “good crisis”. Now its task is to unwind the exceptional support given to the economy and push through the reforms needed to sustain fast and inclusive growth.
When Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, presented his budget last week he noted that a year ago, India confronted a double challenge: the global crisis, and a poor monsoon. Now, “I can say with confidence that we have weathered these crises well.” As the Indian government's Economic Survey put it: “A variety of stimulus packages were put in place in the second half of 2008-09, in the Interim Budget 2009-2010 and, again, three months later, in the main Budget 2009-2010. By the second quarter the economy showed signs of turning; and now, close to the end of the year, India seems to be rapidly returning to the buoyant years preceding 2008.” In the 2008-09 financial year, India's gross domestic product expanded by 6.7 per cent. This year it is forecast to grow by 7.2 per cent. If the Indian economy has succeeded in surviving this test with so little damage, even cautious analysts must be more optimistic about the future.
Stimulus has its costs. The central government's fiscal deficit expanded from 2.6 per cent of GDP in 2007-08 to a provisional figure of 5.9 per cent in 2009-09 and an estimate of 6.5 per cent for this year. If one includes the states, the deficit jumped from 4 per cent of GDP in 2007-08, to 8.5 per cent in 2008-09 and a forecast of 9.7 per cent this year. India's nominal GDP grew at an average rate of 14 per cent between 2004-05 and 2009-10. That makes deficits of 10 per cent of GDP quite sustainable. I wish that were equally true of the UK.
Nevertheless, continuation of such deficits is undesirable. First, much of the spending – particularly on fertiliser, food and petroleum subsidies – is poorly targeted. Second, the public sector's savings collapsed from 5 per cent of GDP in 2007-08 to 1.4 per cent in 2008-09. This needs to be reversed.
Before the crisis the country's gross savings rate had hit 36 per cent of GDP (see chart). Given the country's attractions to long-term foreign capital, that would allow an investment rate of close to 40 per cent of GDP. Such a high rate of investment could deliver 10 per cent growth. It might deliver even more: since India's output per head (at purchasing power parity) is roughly a fifteenth of that of the US, the potential for fast growth is huge.
The extent of the optimism became evident during a week spent in India last month. Among the highlights was a conference on a book of essays in honour of Montek Singh Ahluwalia, deputy chairman of the planning commission and, after Manmohan Singh, prime minister, India's most influential economic policymaker of the last two decades (and a friend of mine for 39 years).*
I was struck by the upbeat tone of the essay on “macroeconomic performance and policies, 2000-8” by Shankar Acharya, a former chief economic adviser to the Indian government. Dr Acharya is the most sober of competent analysts of the Indian economy. Indeed, the book gives a strong sense of the confidence of the technocratic elite in India's performance and prospects. Similar confidence is palpable among the business elite. This confidence makes this a radically different India from the one I knew when I was the senior divisional economist for India, at the World Bank, in the mid-1970s. The emergence of an elite consensus on where the country is going is clear to any regular visitor. When entering the commerce ministry, bastion of opponents of open markets in the 1970s, I was struck by a poster describing India as the “world's largest free-market democracy”.
Another feature is the belief that the pragmatism of India's policies, particularly over global finance and the balance of payments, had proved correct. Those in charge of a vast country with so many vulnerable people are rightly wary of making their economy hostage to the sociopathic tendencies of the financial sector. This was the theme of an essay by Rakesh Mohan, former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India.
Yet caution cannot be inertia. Dr Acharya's list of needed reforms rightly includes “infrastructure, agriculture, labour laws, banking, energy, education and retail trade”. Fortunately, a country as big as India could sustain fast growth even if the external environment remained less friendly than before. But that would make lifting internal obstacles to growth even more urgent.
The external environment also matters, in at least three respects. First, India has followed China in becoming far more open to trade. Indeed, India's ratio of trade in goods and non-factor services to GDP in 2008 was where China's was in 2003 (see chart). Second, India depends on access to foreign raw materials, particularly energy. So energy price shocks would be very destabilising. Finally, India needs peace.
India and China are both ancient civilisations. But China's ancient state has a powerful legitimacy. India's state is young. Politics are a permanent negotiation. Democracy is not, as some argue, an obstacle to India's progress, but a necessary condition for its existence as a state. For all the frustrations and failures, the political system is workable.
As a chapter in the Economic Survey on the “Micro-foundations of Growth” argues, even “India's unpardonably large bureaucratic costs are like a valuable resource buried under the ground”. So much could be achieved if the state got out of the way. I have little difficulty in imagining that India can sustain growth of close to 10 per cent a year for a long time. Under conservative assumptions, the Indian economy would be bigger than the UK's, in market prices, in a decade and bigger than Japan's in two. I argue in a chapter on “India in the World” that India is following China as a “premature superpower”, by which I mean a country with low living standards, but a huge economy.
Exhausted by the burden of its pretensions, the UK should soon offer its seat on the security council of the United Nations to its former colony. Its condition would be that France does the same in favour of the European Union. Whether or not such enlightened statesmanship is forthcoming (presumably not), we are moving into the age of continental superpowers. Asia will be home to not one, but two, of them.
*Shankar Acharya and Rakesh Mohan, India's Economy, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2010.什么危机？印度政策制定者并没有问出这样志得意满的问题。但印度的确经历了一场“有益的危机”。如今该国要做的是撤消给经济的特殊支持，并完成必要的改革，以便使经济维持迅速全面的增长。
印 度财政部长普拉纳布•慕克吉(Pranab Mukherjee)上周公布预算案时指出，一年前，印度面临双重挑战：全球危机，以及糟糕的雨季。如今，“我可以充满信心地说，我们安然度过了这些危 机”。正如印度政府的《经济调查报告》中指出的：“在2008-09财年下半年、2009-2010财年中期预算中，以及3个月后的2009-2010年 总预算案中，我们实施了多种刺激方案。在次季，经济显露出好转迹象；如今，在接近年底的时候，印度似乎正在迅速回归2008年前的好年景。”在 2008-09财年，印度国内生产总值(GDP)增长了6.7%。预计今年GDP将增长7.2%。如果说印度经济已成功通过考验，且受到的损失如此之小， 那么即使是谨慎的分析师，也肯定会对未来抱有更为乐观的态度。
刺激措施要付出成本。初步测算，中央政府的财政赤字占GDP比例从 2007-08年的2.6%扩大到2008-09年的5.9%；本财年据估计将进一步增至6.5%。再加上州政府的数字，赤字占GDP的比例从 2007-08年的4%，增至2008-09年的8.5%；本财年预计为9.7%。在2004-05年至2009-10年期间，印度名义GDP年均增长 14%。在这种情况下，占GDP 10%的赤字是完全承受得起的。我希望英国的情况也能如此。
上 月，我在印度呆了一周，明显感受到这里洋溢着乐观气氛。最有意思的事情之一是围绕一本论文集而召开的会议。* 该书是为了向印度计划委员会副主席蒙特克•辛格•阿卢瓦利亚(Montek Singh Ahluwalia)和印度总理曼莫汉•辛格(Manmohan Singh)致敬。辛格是印度二十年来最有影响力的经济政策制定者（我与他有着39年的交情）。
印度政府前首席经济顾问尚卡尔•阿查里雅 (Shankar Acharya)撰写的“2000-08年宏观经济运行情况和政策”一文中的乐观论调，给我留下恶劣深刻的印象。在研究印度经济的优秀分析师中，阿查里雅 是最为严谨的一位。事实上，这本书让人强烈感觉到，专家型政治精英们对印度经济现状和前景充满了信心。在商界精英身上也能感觉到同样的信心。这种信心使当 前的印度迥异于上世纪70年代中期我在世界银行(World Bank)担任高级区域经济学家时所了解的那个印度——当时我负责印度领域的研究。任何常去印度的人都会明确感觉到，在国家的未来发展方向上，精英阶层已 经形成了共识。步入商务部时，一幅写着“全球最大的自由市场民主国家”的标语让我深受震动。在70年代，印度商务部是公开市场反对者们的堡垒。
另一个特点，是认为印度施行的务实政策（尤其是在国际金融 和国际收支平衡方面）已经证明是正确的。这个庞大国家拥有如此众多易受影响的国民，国家管理者小心翼翼，不让本国经济受制于金融行业的反社会倾向，这是正 确的——而这正是印度央行前副行长拉凯什•莫汉(Rakesh Mohan)的论文主题。
然而，谨慎不能成为惯性。阿查里雅列举的改革清单 恰当地包括了以下各个方面：“基础设施、农业、劳动法、银行业、能源、教育和零售业”。幸运的是，即使外部环境依然不如以往有利，像印度这样的大国也能够 维持快速增长。但外部环境不佳，反而会使消除内部增长障碍显得更为迫切。
正如《经济调查报告》中“增长的宏观基础”一章中所指出的，就连“印度让人不可谅解的庞大官僚成本也像是埋在地下的一笔宝贵资源”。如果政府摒除官 僚作风，将取得多么大的成果。不难想象，在很长一段时期内，印度能够保持每年接近10%的增长速度。按照保守的预测，按市场价格计算，印度经济十年后将超 过英国，二十年后将超过日本。我在“印度在世界上的地位”一章中提出，印度正紧随中国成为一个“尚未成熟的超级大国”，这里指的是一个生活水平低下、但经 济规模庞大的国家。
因为背负着虚荣的枷锁，而把自己弄得筋疲力尽的英国，应尽早把它在联合国安理会的席位拱手让给它的前殖民地。前提是，法 国也应同样把席位让给欧盟(EU)。不管这两国是否会展现出这种开明的政治才能（我推测是不会的），我们都正步入“大陆性超级大国”时代。亚洲将拥有两 个、而不是一个超级大国。
*尚卡尔•阿查里雅(Shankar Acharya)和拉凯什•莫汉(Rakesh Mohan)，《印度经济》(India's Economy)，牛津大学出版社，新德里，2010年