An emerging confidence

On the economy,the West is no longer the centre of wisdom or hope.

Written by Peter Kingstone | Published: December 11, 2013 1:05 am

On the economy,the West is no longer the centre of wisdom or hope.

Which country has the best answers for how to grow an economy? Where are the best opportunities for young people? Which country is poised to emerge as a global leader? For a long time,the rich Western democracies saw themselves as the source of wisdom about how to organise the economy and promote welfare. But,the US and Europe can no longer point to their societies as examples to follow,stuck as they are with anaemic growth and little improvement for most of their citizens. Instead,China’s influence is sharply rising while the BRIC countries are more confident about their own future than the US or the EU.

This became evident in a recent poll conducted by Ipsos MORI,along with the new International Development Institute (IDI) at King’s College London. Scholars at the IDI wondered how the years of bad news out of the West,coupled with more impressive growth in the emerging economies,had affected public views of global economic leadership. People from 11 emerging economies,including India,were asked three questions: which countries have the right ideas about the economy; which country offers the best opportunities for young people; which country will be the leading global economic power in the next 20 years.

On the first question,people were closely divided between the US and China with 28 per cent identifying the former and 26 per cent choosing the latter. India was not a popular choice — only 2 per cent of respondents thought India had the best ideas,behind the EU (16 per cent),South Korea (9 per cent),and both Brazil and Russia (5 per cent). But those numbers cloak a lot of variation. For example,only 16 per cent of Argentines chose the US,only a little behind the 18 per cent who chose China. Forty-three per cent of Argentines said they didn’t know or didn’t think any country had ideas worth copying. Indians,in contrast,expressed the greatest confidence in the US,with 43 per cent saying so and only 32 per cent choosing China. Among Indians,women,the young (under 35),the more educated and business owners tended to be more supportive of the US and by extension less so of China.

On the second question,the US was a more definitive winner. Twenty-nine per cent said it had the best opportunities for young people,while the EU got 18 per cent and China only 17 per cent. Again,Indians had the most favourable view of the US,while Argentines and Saudi Arabians had the least favourable. On this question,India fared better than on the first (tied with Brazil at 6 per cent). But what stands out here is that Indians were much more optimistic about the opportunities for young people in India. While 44 per cent picked the US as the best place for young people,Indians picked India second at 27 per cent — ahead of China and the EU. Those expressing the most confidence in India’s opportunities for young people included men,business owners,senior executives and people of higher income. Interestingly,younger people were actually less confident about India’s opportunities.

Looking to the future,the story changes. In answer to the question of which country will be a leading economic power over the next 20 years,52 per cent picked China while 30 per cent the US,only 12 per cent picked the EU. Again,India did better on this question,coming in just behind Russia for the fourth choice with 10 per cent. Indians,however,were less confident of China’s leadership. All the BRIC countries’ respondents rated their own countries’ prospects as a global leader better than the US’s,but Indians were especially confident. Fully 41 per cent of Indians chose India as a global economic leader,second (barely) only to China. But the level of confidence varied. Higher educated,higher income Indians,business owners and senior executives were particularly confident. And once again,the disparities were sharpest between young and old (only 38 per cent of people younger than 35 versus 53 per cent of those between 50-64). Those under 35 actually differed from the rest of those surveyed in that they also picked the US (39 per cent) over India and China.

Indians expressed more confidence that the US is still an important source of ideas,opportunities,and power than most other emerging economy populations. They also expressed a lot of confidence in their own future. But that confidence wasn’t uniform. The results suggested that the benefits and opportunities of growth are not equally distributed and both the young and the less fortunate are not as certain of the path that India offers its citizens.

The writer is with the International Development Institute,King’s College London

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