Long time readers of this weblog will recognize Zachary Latif. Zachary and I have been having exchanges on various topics on and off since 2002 on the blogs. His early opinionated musings on cultural and historical topics were a definite prod for me to venture out more vigorously into this domain. As a Pakistani Baha’i educated and resident in the West he offered me a window into a very different perspective from what I’d ever encountered before. In particular he challenged me in 2002 when I blithely repeated conventional wisdom about the economic rise of India and the stagnation of Pakistan. He had numbers at his finger tips. I did not.
Since that time it is arguable that Pakistan has become more, not less, important to Americans. How is Pakistan doing? To look into this I decided to use Google Data Explorer, focusing on trend lines comparing the various South Asian nations.
I invite readers to construct more charts. It’s easy enough. I would say that the last 10 years has been mildly on the less encouraging side for Pakistan in relation to its neighbors. Its economic growth has consistently been lower than India’s for years, so the gap in per capita income is growing. Additionally, Pakistan has not gone through a demographic transition yet. Though Bangladesh remains poorer, its fertility is now far lower. The main reason that the population growth numbers are not further apart is that Pakistan has a relatively low adolescent fertility rate, so the generation times are presumably longer. And note the infant mortality numbers, in 1990 Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan were in the same ballpark, but now Pakistan is the standout, and not in a good way.
Of course there are positives too. Pakistan has far more foreign investment than Bangladesh, which is why I log-transformed the scale. And the trend for something like measles immunization is positive, and pushing saturation. Looking at the data the image in the media of Pakistan being a “failed state” seems a bit much, though as Americans our stake in what happens in that nuclear armed nation is great, so even a small probability is of concern (also, I don’t have data past 2008).
But let’s shift to India. And this is what really surprises me: on some social indices India is not doing so well. Why? Look at life expectancy:
Pakistan has maintained its lead, but Bangladesh seems to have switched places with India. The gaps here are small and of no great account to me, the question is why India is not doing better despite impressive economic growth? That is because “India” is many nations, and several of these nations have entered a phase of rapid economic growth and development, and others have not. The total fertility rate of the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 2006 was 1.8, the same as non-Hispanic whites in the United States. For the massive northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which is more populous than either Pakistan or Bangladesh, the total fertility rate was 3.8, only a little below Pakistan’s. India has within it both Bangalore and Bihar, so the aggregate data is masking both the economic dynamism and the outrageous poverty.