(Hemant Mishra/Mint)
(Hemant Mishra/Mint)

Opinion | While we celebrate wealth…

For any country to uplift its people, the benefits of economic growth need to flow evenly to the entire population

The count of billionaires in India is rising at one of the fastest clips for emerging economies, according to a report by AfrAsia Bank. In 2018, India had 118 individuals with more than $1 billion in wealth, up from just 9 in 2000. That places it at third spot in the list of countries with the highest number of billionaires, behind the US and China, which are home to 715 and 237 billionaires, respectively. That prosperity is rising is hardly a surprise, considering the quick pace of the Indian economy’s expansion, and it should be a matter of pride for all. But there are reasons to be concerned as well. According to an Oxfam report, India is among the world’s worst countries on income disparity. The phenomenon has worsened over the last three decades, resulting in as much as 77% of the country’s wealth concentrated in the hands of the top 10% of our population.

For any country to uplift its people, the benefits of economic growth need to flow evenly to the entire population. Lopsided progress would leave some sections behind even as the better off prosper, which could result in mass disaffection and social unrest. To be sure, India could simply be passing through one of the many phases that any economy in the course of development has to go through. The so-called “Kuznets curve", for instance, hypothesizes that as an economy develops, income inequality first increases and then begins to reduce. India appears to be in the former phase.

Yet, the basis of the Kuznets curve has been criticized for holding out hope without adequate justification. In other words, our policymakers cannot afford to be complacent. The country needs to provide all its citizens greater access to education, health and job opportunities, among other things. Equality of opportunity is a must, and that begins with the basics of good governance.

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