Swedish author Jonah Norberg reveals how market liberalization is breaking down India’s centuries-old caste system and lifting millions of formerly impoverished Indian citizens out of poverty. [Dir: James Tusty, Maureen Castle Tusty/ 60 min/ Documentary/ Pro-Capitalism, Econ 101, Anti-Socialism]
The full documentary may be viewed here:
In the last quarter of a century, 250 million people have risen out of poverty in India. In sheer scale and speed, this is quite possibly the single greatest economic advancement in human history.
Pray tell, what type of government program brought it about? The world must copy this pattern at once. Was it clever investment in education and occupational-training? Perhaps a public-works program that created good jobs, generating a multiplier effect? Or maybe mass unionization of workers resulting in better pay and benefits?
This informative documentary from the producers of Free to Choose lets the question answer itself, through the stories of several individuals who actually experienced this sudden prosperity. Their stories have a common thread—for each, advancement was triggered not by some new helpful law or ingenious State spending, but by the repeal of such things and by the establishment of private property. The common thread is liberation from government control.
One of the strengths of this documentary is that so much of it is related first-hand. We hear a street vendor tell of being forced to pay bribes, of being beaten by police, of having his meager possessions confiscated, and of the courage of those who organized a political movement to fight back. We hear a man who was born “untouchable,” literally a person considered beneath human touch, tell how he started his own business, defying the impediment of caste because the new market economy gave him unprecedented mobility. We hear a man once considered criminal for farming “public land” (land it just happens his kin had occupied for generations) tell of the day when he was suddenly given a deed to his small parcel. These are very human stories, told simply by those who lived them, without the embellishment of dramatic music or photographs, but persuasive in their understated way.
The backstory of how India became so poor—and of the legal changes that sparked its long-delayed economic boom—are touched upon only briefly, but the upshot is that when India gained its independence in 1947, it inherited an expensive and cumbersome British bureaucracy, a problem compounded by the country’s newly-elected government, which enthusiastically embraced the economic wisdom of the day: full-scale socialism. The result was an expensive, debilitating sclerosis that continued until 1991, when political reformers took a chance on a degree of liberalization, triggering a boom that has sent Indian incomes up at a compound rate of 7.5% annually in the 25 years since.
These are decidedly upbeat events, of caste and corruption finally giving way to some measure of liberty and its bounty, and they are told in a polished, professional style, ably narrated by Cato Institute Senior Fellow Johan Norberg. The film could have packed a bit more emotional punch given the undoubted drama of these events—250 million stories of ordinary people rising from generations of desperate poverty and starvation to at least a degree of affluence—but what it lacks in warmth it makes up for in even-handedness and a factual character that will give it credibility across the political spectrum. No doubt that helped win it access to PBS, where it has scored large-scale distribution. This documentary would likewise make an ideal choice for classroom content.
External Reviews of India Awakes
“India Awakes demonstrates that the more the people of India are able to build, produce, buy, sell, trade, and invest with one another — and with the rest of the world — the more each person’s unique talents and skills can find their own valuable niche in meeting the needs of others, creating new wealth and opportunity at every turn.”
“In India Awakes noted Swedish author, commentator, and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Johan Norberg explores an inherited British bureaucracy which created layers of rules and regulations. However, globalization and economic liberalization have created fluidity between classes – and greater ambition. Norberg follows three individuals who are working to improve their lives, and in doing so, are breaking down the centuries old caste system.”
–Free to Choose Media
“There is something deeply moving about hearing a man tell the story of how he went from a status in which he was literally not to be touched, to a status as a millionaire, through the revolutionary power of markets. This sort of story hits us at a deeper level than yet another white paper from yet another free-market think tank. Watching this story last evening with my wife… brought tears to our eyes.”
How to See It
Note: The full documentary may be viewed online here.