Delhi When I first flew into Delhi, it was a wild experience. Three or four long lines of people in dilapidated, entry hall waiting forever on hard concrete floors. My first trip was with a delegation of organizers and many of the women regaled us with stories of coming off of a 14 hour flight and not knowing what to make of the squat toilet as an only option. Now only a dozen years later there’s a gleaming airport here with newly carpeted concourses, a bank of twenty or more customs agents, speeding everyone through. Well, maybe not exactly speeding since there was a computer breakdown, but what’s a five minute delay, when from touchdown to home base was hardly an hour-and-a-half, when that used to be just the time through Customs.
Part of the difference is the huge, and controversial, expenditure and graft of India’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games two years ago in Delhi, but the other part is reflected in the chock full nonstop plane from Newark to Delhi. Sure there were the usual tribe of businessmen in first class, but compared to the past, it was a mixed crowd with the majority Indian, and in the other seats a milk run for Indians visiting relatives and children in the United States or vice versa to India. This was the great, emerging middle class of India on the move. In a country with over a billion people, an emerging middle class of 150 million and growing is an economic power. And, with the impending elections and the rise the Common Man Party and the newly found concerns about public corruption, they are force to be reckoned with, even if they are still a long way from power.
Eduardo Porter of the Times reported on studies of the last twenty years of globalization and the good and bad news. The good news is that globalization has reduced inequality worldwide by creating a middle class in China and India, and that’s what I can see in the airports in India, and in neighbors like Greater Kalish II, where I have now stayed in a rooming house off and on over the last decade as I visit. A traditional sweets shop in the marketplace is now a Benetton clothing store for example. Two convenience stores are now one as prices have risen.
The other side of globalization though is the increased inequality in the United States and some other developed nations. Porter quotes Damon Silver of the AFL-CIO though saying,
If there are hundreds of millions of people that were in abject poverty one generation ago and are not anymore, that is an important and positive thing. But I don’t think we should accept radical inequality as a necessary corollary of equal development.
But, it’s not just the United States, because as easy as it is to notice the emerging middle class here, it is also impossible not to also notice how little the areas where we organize in Delhi, Bengaluru, and Mumbai have materially changed. When I get to Mumbai at the end of this visit, undoubtedly in Dharavi I will see some improvements in our organization, but in the slum itself, I will also see the continuing encroachment of development moving to eliminate the jobs and homes altogether as the clock keeps ticking. Here in Delhi over the next couple of days, I’ll hear about the progress of the shelters we assist in running for the city for migrant workers, and their miserable existence, helping fuel this growing middle class will perhaps feel a bit better, but be fundamentally little different over the last decade.
Porter also mentions the fact that even as some level of global inequality is being relieved by globalization the American problem of increased efficiency of production with a decreased worker share is also being exported to China and elsewhere exacerbating inequality between the rich and workers even as a middle class is built. Whether the issue is globalization or not, development without equitable distribution is not only unacceptable, but a tinderbox for the future on a worldwide basis as well.