East Bengal/Pakistan catches up to West Bengal/Pakistan

Today I was looking on the internet to get some more information on the Pakistan election. Honestly, I don’t have a strong opinion….

But by chance, I ended up stumbling on articles like this, When East overtakes West:

…a recent article, “East overtakes West,” in The Economist has thrown a spanner in the works. The east is the erstwhile East Pakistan and the west is today’s Pakistan. It shows that the GDP per capita of Bangladesh is $1,538 and that of Pakistan lags behind at $1,470. This is the result of a GDP growth rate of over six per cent per annum in the past 12 years. One-third of the GDP is contributed by industry and the value-added garments exports are larger than India and Pakistan put together.

The truth is that Bangladesh’s better statistics in some measures are due to demographics. Per capita values will change in opposite directions if nation underestimated its population (as Bangladesh did), and another nation overestimated its population (as Pakistan did). Using PPP corrections and such Pakistan is still a more prosperous land per person. But it’s getting close. The trendline is definitely pointing in one direction. A piece at Brookings asks “Why is Bangladesh booming?” The author notes:

Once one of the poorest regions of Pakistan, Bangladesh remained an economic basket case—wracked by poverty and famine—for many years after independence in 1971. In fact, by 2006, conditions seemed so hopeless that when Bangladesh registered faster growth than Pakistan, it was dismissed as a fluke.

But I’ve always thought that the infant mortality and life expectancy statistics in Bangladesh were things that were more important to be proud of (and on this score Bangladesh does indisputably better than Pakistan). And curiously, on this measure, Bangladesh does even better than India! But to a great extent, that’s not a fair comparison, as India is a coalition of regions, while Bangladesh would just be a very populous Indian state.

More comparable is West Bengal. Bangladesh and West Bengal look to be at parity in terms of life expectancy and per capita GDP. And metropolitan Dhaka and Kolkotta now have about the same population, at ~15,000,000.

We live in interesting times.

28 thoughts on “East Bengal/Pakistan catches up to West Bengal/Pakistan”

  1. My mother, who is a public health physician, is very impressed by Bangladesh’s success in decreasing infant mortality. At a talk she gave, she mentioned the campaign to build proper toilets. Too many Pakistani children are still dying of diseases that could be prevented through proper sanitation.

      1. It also helps that Bangladesh doesn’t have a permanent “enemy” on its border that it needs to protect against. Thus, there is no need for so much military spending at the expense of human development.

          1. Pakistan needs to be able to protect itself in case it is necessary. But I agree the military gets too many resources at the expense of the people.

            Bangladesh doesn’t have a territorial dispute with India so the situation is very different.

  2. Could Bengal host the Bangla Olympics? [West Bengal and Bangladesh combined.] I wonder. If it happened, then Bengal will have arrived. A very large percentage of the population of West Bengal are Bangladeshis. For that matter there are many Bangladeshis in Delhi and many other parts of India too.

    West Bengal is a safe place for foreigners to travel and do business [regulations are another matter]. How true is this for Bangladesh?

    1. i don’t know that much about bangladesh. but i’m pretty sure until the recently ISIS attacks (which targeted foreigners) it wasn’t any worse than india. after all the country is a major export-oriented economy which supplies wal-mart and such.

      if bangladesh secularizes it will attenuate issues with west bengal. the differences between west and east aren’t macroregional if you remove religion (i.e., ppl in kushtia in western Bangladesh have more in common with West Bengalis than they do with people to the east of the jumna).

  3. The Indian government provides government security to prominent Sufi, Shiite, liberal Sunni (of the non Sufi kind) and atheist muslim centers and people. I think this is why muslims like India

    West Bengal has insanely tight security. Including many Hindu/Buddhist temples, centers, people. Christians get similar protection. And the security is good. In many parts of Bengal it is safe for single woman to walk or travel late at night. There remains a strong value system. But not all parts. Some Sunni areas are not considered safe any more. And there are Gunda (organized crime) heavy areas too.

    In general West Bengal has improved sharply economically and in terms of functionality. Security also appears to be stable or slightly improved.

    How good is security in Bangladesh?

  4. My uni was in West Bengal and I met many Bangladeshis (some from families settled in the Gulf, some from Canada and some straight from Dhaka) who studied with me. It was almost impossible for me to tell them apart from standard Poschim Bangla “bhadrolok”. One of the best tabla players at my uni was a Bangladeshi, who performed every year during Pujo.

    There is a regular train service between the two countries and it is very easy for Indians to travel to BD and vice versa.

    1. there are huge number of people (hindus) who have left the east since 1947, so there might be a reason. though other ppl have older roots in the east eg


      family legend is that when my paternal grandmother’s father or paternal grandfather converted to islam and bought out his brothers from their milk production facility all the brothers moved to kolkotta. this must have been in the first quarter of the 20th century.

  5. “In fact, by 2006, conditions seemed so hopeless that when Bangladesh registered faster growth than Pakistan, it was dismissed as a fluke.”

    I think this is true of both India/Bangladesh wrt Pakistan. Pakistan had stronger growth figures till mid 90s i think over India/Bangladesh. Specially under army rule. Also only in late 2000s, India exceeded the per capita income of Pakistan.

    It would be interesting to find out the effect of climate change in Bangladesh. Some estimates are that it would loose a lot of land, and that might create both internal as well as external migration. Considering the recent rhetoric in India about the whole “illegal” Bangladeshi immigrant, it would be dangerous times, specially if the Gov’t is not headed by Hassena

  6. Good to see the growth of entrepreneurship amongst the Bangladeshis. I wonder how much political sovereignty has contributed to this change of attitude because we see no such attempts by the bhadralok across the border.

    Goods exports in 2014-15:
    West Bengal: 9 billion $
    Bangladesh: 31 billion $

    But West Bengali agriculture is in much better shape.

      1. IIUC, you are saying that the production centres are owned directly by foreign investors and not many local capitalists are involved ?

          1. I think there has been a lot of process innovation.

            Around 160 Bangladeshis went to Korea in 1978, sponsored by Daewoo, to learn how to start and run an apparel industry, and then exported their first product (padded jackets).

            Today, 7000 locally owned production units employ 4 million people (mostly women) and export $28 billion in ready made garments – more than Italy, second only to China.

            That is a big change in forty years. Maybe not the same kind of innovation as one would find in a science lab or silicon valley, but still worth respect.

  7. I have been a bangla-optimist for quite a few years, and the data is finally bearing this out. It’s banglatastic.

    Bangladesh is the only nation state in South Asia (per Mazzini), which should lend it political stability, and it is unburdened by a rapacious military.

    It is now benefiting from a demographic dividend (birthrates have plummeted, but not too many old people yet) and unlike Iran, it is well placed to take advantage of the golden window. Plenty of other advantages — Education is solid, domestic market pretty large, savings ok, export oriented local capitalists, good connections to global markets.

    Its true that growth so far had been of the sausage making type — applying more capital to increase labour productivity, but there is still a lot to be gained until bdesh needs to develop its own Facebooks’ or Embraers’. Copying will work fine, no need for innovation yet.

    Under a moderately optimistic scenario,we are not far from a world where indian (bihari, oriya, etc) illegal immigrants try to sneak into bdesh to avail themselves of the jobs Bangladeshis just won’t do!

    1. ???There r 10 million bangladeshis only in assam. Throughout the country the figure may be much higher. We have to deport the illegal ones first to see that day.

      1. I’m standing by this prediction. Bdesh has stronger fundamentals than its big neighbours — Assam, Bihar, Orissa — and will soon surpass the other Bengal. That border fence will soon be used to keep out illegal Hindi speakers.

        Bdesh’s textile led growth is the classic development strategy, from New England in 1790 to Hong Kong in 1970. It delivers wages and opportunities to the poorest and weakest in society (young women) and profits for the most modernizing and dynamic class (local capitalists) that drive positive social change.

        In contrast, India’s service export strategy is historically unprecedented and untested, and in my opinion, benefits the upper middle classes more than the poor. It will not provide the mass uplift that Bihar/Orissa/Assam need.

        Let’s pick this conversation up again in the mid 2030s and see who turned out right.

        1. Ikram, there really was no ‘strategy’ in India. It was mostly luck that our IT sector grew like it did. Although South Indians capitalized well on it, but Delhi has cruelly grabbed the taxes to increase salaries for its work force (mostly Hindi subservient central government employees) and build its infrastructure. Look at the condition of Delhi, a revenue sink, versus Mumbai and Bengaluru which actually produce revenue.

          Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Haryana are genuinely industrialized though, with textile, pharmaceutical and automotive industries. But their achievements are under threat due to unchecked migration and Delhi’s expropriation.

        2. Population density of bangladesh is already one of the highest, it won’t be able to accommodate its own 20 million immigrants who r illegaly in india. There will be no space for hindi speakers to immigrate even if they want to. West bengal is also one of tge densest state in india.

          1. Population density of Mumbai is the highest in the world and it still faces overwhelming pressure from North Indian migrants. The key variable here is the desire of local elites to be entrepreneurial, which is utterly missing amongst North Indians.

          2. “The key variable here is the desire of local elites to be entrepreneurial, which is utterly missing amongst North Indians.”

            This is a joke right? North Indians (notwithstanding your claims that somwehow gujratis and marathis dont see themselves as North Indians, their religion, culture , tradition and politics is purely N-indian, unlike South or East Indian) regularly are the most entrepreneurial class. They crowd India’s top 10 richest people list with occasional entry of anybody of the south or Eastern India origin. The day a Thevar/ Gangopadhay will have the same surname recognition in India’s business community as a Agarwal has, is the day you can say other regions have really anything up their sleev

        3. Booming BD can only be good for India. Richer BD will provide a market for Indian industries both consumer and industrial. It will wean away youth from Al quesadilla type Islamic extremism. There will be less movement of people – ahem illegal migration- to other countries.
          It is a win-win situation and I hope your predictions come true.

      2. Karan, you are being a bit facetious here. Illegal immigrants in India are moving to the dynamic South and West as are migrants from UP/Bihar etc. Delhi is also booming because it gets to commandeer tax revenues and sustain expensive government jobs. Punjab and Haryana do have a native capitalist class (Agarwals and Khatris) but these are under threat from Jats.

        UP-Bihar-WB are some of the poorest and most desperate places on earth. There is no local capitalist class to speak of (except Marwaris in Kolkata), and these places sustain themselves by putting a huge burden on the productive parts of India.

        1. Yes I was shocked by just how dominant the Marwaris are in Kolkata.

          I remember there was a book on Enterpeneurs in Kolkata and I initially though Agarwal was a Bengali surname!

          Interestingly all these Marwaris have the exact same profile; they are family men + workaholics + Bollywood fanatics + with light exercise. It’s almost as they were designed to business..

          1. If you ask the bengalis , they dont have kind words to tell you about the “marwaris” 😛

      3. Ikram

        I do agree on what you have said on stronger fundamentals. But i dont thing you will see reverse migration to that effect. At most you might have some bengalis trying to get jobs etc, but not oriya, Assamese. Immigration does not depend only on economy, there are other factors too.

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