The Broken Ladder: The Paradox and Potential of India’s One Billion

In This Review

The Broken Ladder: The Paradox and Potential of India’s One Billion
By Anirudh Krishna
Cambridge University Press, 2017
314 pp.

Krishna examines the wasted potential of the two-thirds of the Indian population that is effectively locked up in villages by a lack of education, networks, and job opportunities. The belief that they can’t move up in society is well founded but also self-reinforcing, and Krishna argues that India will never succeed without tapping this reservoir of talent. With a mix of data and vivid anecdotes, he shows why the problem can’t be fixed with macro-level policies, such as easing licensing requirements, courting foreign investment, and building roads and schools. The bottom-up policies that he suggests—local control of school boards, village-level mentorship programs, internships for village children in cities, more rural libraries, empowered field-level officials and new local institutions to hold them accountable—are rooted in his development experience and aim to transform a culture of hopelessness. But it’s not clear who will carry out those steps in a country whose government and elites remain wedded to a city-centric development model.

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