Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi Lan Hongguang/ZumaPress

China’s Brittle Development Model

After decades of broad consensus that India’s democratic governance model was superior, many now are claiming that China's authoritarian model is actually more conducive to development. They are wrong.

NEW DELHI – After gaining independence from Britain in 1947, India was something of a poster child for the virtues of democracy – in stark contrast with China, which became a Communist dictatorship in 1949. Until the 1970s, it was widely argued that, while both countries suffered from extreme poverty, underdevelopment, and disease, India’s model was superior, because its people were free to choose their own rulers.

With China’s economic boom, however, the counterargument – that a repressive political system is more conducive to development – has gained currency. But while China’s recent performance has been spectacular, India’s model may well stand up better in the long run.

The conversation changed after 1978, when China surged ahead of India economically, causing many to conclude that India’s chaotic democracy was holding back its people. After all, if China’s leaders want to build a new six-lane expressway, they can bulldoze any number of villages. In India, widening a two-lane road could incite popular protests and be tied up in court for years.

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