This week on CBC Radio’s The World at Six they ran a sequence of stories about India and how it is now an “economic juggernaut” of the world (Powershift). I think that the series was okay and anything that helps people understand what is going on in other parts of this planet is welcome. However, the first day’s program was fun of example of how certain facts, while completely true, have entirely different meanings when they are placed in different contexts.
In talking about the growing middle class there was a short story about a modest house costing over a million dollars in the middle of the city. Because this story came directly off one of how more people had money it made it seem that the city was perhaps bursting at the seams of people with cash to spare. The truth, which can be found in the fantastic book Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, is that India’s cities have fierce laws limiting the heights of buildings which force an expansive population to live at a much lower density that others in the world. This limits the available housing close to the centers and with such a restrictive supply the demand from rich people can be much less to see the same price rises as in other places. It isn’t wrong to cite this as an example of a richer population, but it isn’t being completely honest with those who won’t understand the context.
Another “fact” that was talked about throughout the series was that the English speaking nature of so many in India was bound to be a huge benefit economically. While I have read this many times I have never seen proof that this casual thought was anything but. The Philippines have been saying this for ages and yet are poorer than many of their immediate neighbours. If it were true then how is it that Ghana is not doing better than it is with its English speaking and close proximity to Europe? It would be nice if reporters were able to question just a bit more or at least caution the listeners that these are things that are thought and are not proven facts.