Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Billionaire Raj

India is the largest democracy in the world, but its institutions have not met the standards necessary to propel the country into the group of "developed" countries. Perhaps that's an unfair ask, however, as the country is a relatively young one, having come out from under British rule only after World War II. In The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age, James Crabtree compares India today to the United States during the era of the robber barons.

The parallels are striking. A bunch of guys have gotten extremely rich, often using monopoly powers to do so in states where anti-trust laws don't exist. Inequality is high. The social safety net is either non-existent or doesn't work.

Crabtree demonstrates these parallels not with a lot of high level views or statistical comparisons, but with deep dives on a number of India's most influential players. You learn about tycoons like the Ambanis, and political leaders like current Prime Minister Modi.

There is some optimism about the future, as India's standards of living are clearly increasing. But there is also some realism in that it will be difficult to wrest power from those who benefit from the status quo, as corruption is a way of life.

There were too many details on some specific scandals, which I had to eventually skip. But otherwise, I found it to be a well thought-out book providing a snapshot of India's current opportunities and challenges.

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