Amartya Sen: India is the only country trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force

Sonali Campion and Taryana Odayar at the website of the London School of Economics:

SC: You have said that looking at the end point of a debate is not an ideal way of understanding the wider discussion. This seems relevant in relation to economic policy today, where developing countries aspire to high and continuous growth. What’s your view on the current Indian government’s manner of pursuing growth?

Amartya_Sen_NIHAS: Let me make a clarification first. The point about the end point not being the only issue asks what were the counter arguments that were considered? What were the different points of view that may or may have not have been aired, even if the end point is correct? That only becomes relevant when you agree with the end point. In the case of the policy as it stands now, that is not the case. I think the end point is wrong. The argumentation process is wrong as well, but there are two distinct issues here.

India is the only country in the world which is trying to become a global economic power with an uneducated and unhealthy labour force. It’s never been done before, and never will be done in the future either. There is a reason why Europe went for universal education, and so did America. Japan, after the Meiji restoration in 1868, wanted to get full literate in 40 years and they did. So did South Korea after the war, and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China.

The whole idea that you could somehow separate out the process of economic growth from the quality of the labour force is a mistake against which Adam Smith warned in 1776. It’s an ancient danger, and he might have been right to think that the British government at the time did not pay sufficient interest in basic education for all. Unfortunately that applies today to government of India as well. It doesn’t acknowledge the relevance of the quality of human labour.

More here.