In This Review

An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions
An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions
By Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen
448 pp, Princeton University Press, 2013

India has experienced two decades of rapid economic growth, yet half of Indian households lack indoor toilets, nearly 40 percent of the country’s adults are illiterate, immunization rates there are among the lowest in the world, and 43 percent of its children are underweight. The benefits of growth have flowed to the top 20 percent of the population, while the profoundly poor -- who represent 28 to 80 percent of the population, depending on where the line is drawn -- have gained little. The authors, two distinguished economists, use unfavorable comparisons with Bangladesh, China, and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, among other places, to shame India’s politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, media, and self-interested economic elites, whom they blame collectively for the country’s pattern of “biased growth.” Against those who want to address poverty through further market reforms, Drèze and Sen argue that India needs more (albeit better-run) public services and redistributive social programs. But given the scope and severity of the problems they describe, it seems like a leap of faith to argue, as they do, that the system can right itself by means of “public reason” and greater political pressure from the poor.