From basket-case to garment superpower

This article seems to use Bangladesh as a prop to beat Pakistan’s governing class over the head, Beg, borrow, repeat: Pakistan’s IMF addiction continues even as its finance minister leaves. It’s a pretty strange thing in 2019. In the 20th-century Bangladesh was known for the early 1970s famine, as well as periodic catastrophic floods.

A minimal amount of research will show that it’s not all roses in Bangladesh. There are huge governance issues, overreliance on textiles is probably not a good long-term optimum, and human capital accumulation may not keep up with the shifts toward a high-technology 21st-century economy (most of the world’s population will have to face this though).

So here is the weird thing I want to note: this blog gets about 10x more traffic from Pakistan than Bangladesh. And, it gets 100x more traffic from India than Bangladesh. This blog gets more readers from Singapore than Bangladesh!

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40 Replies to “From basket-case to garment superpower”

  1. Each country on the road to industrialization kick starts from somewhere, some industry. Then it diversifies into other industries

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  2. “this blog gets about 10x more traffic from Pakistan than Bangladesh” – although it is not highly indicative, IMO that factoid shows how much less internationally engaged Bangladeshi educated class is still, compared to Pakistan.

    Banglaesh’s economic transformation happened without commensurate development in the high end of human capital, world-class university educated professional class. However, in developing and utilizing human capital among poor, undereducated people, Bangladesh left Pakistan to dust long ago and even outstripped many regions of India.

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      1. This goes slightly too far Arjun. Bangladesh is a model for the muslim world. Bangladesh doesn’t have enough freedom of art and thought. 😉

        Indian Islam is more open and universalist. Bangladeshi Islam was this way until 1947.

        In my view Malaysia and Turkey plus freedom of art and thought are models for India. India’s way is ultra pluralism/openness/multiplicity/freedom.

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  3. Shafiq R
    “this blog gets about 10x more traffic from Pakistan than Bangladesh” – although it is not highly indicative, IMO that factoid shows how much less internationally engaged Bangladeshi educated class is still, compared to Pakistan.

    However, in developing and utilizing human capital among poor, undereducated people, Bangladesh left Pakistan to dust long ago and even outstripped many regions of India.

    I would suspect scaled for per capita (or literacy %)* traffic to the blog, Sri Lanka too is also very low.

    *A better indication would be traffic per tertiary (university) educated population.
    Even then I imagine, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka traffic would be low.
    I know in general , Sri Lankans only have passing curiosity of India and or rest of South Asian history/culture (other than Bollywood and Cricket).
    Same in Bangladesh ?

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      1. Saurav, you are such a relentless genius (along with several others on this blog). What you have written instantly reminded me of that other serial Kasauti Zindagi Ki (or Ke) which used to come when I was a child (I still occasionally watch the Kamalika theme on YouTube lol). I heard recently that that serial also was/is super-popular in Sri Lanka.

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    1. What exactly can Sinhalese read here? Outside of Razib, the site has a anti- Muslim, upper class Indian Hindu nationalist vibe. This more or less follows the Indian upper middle class in metros except Chennai. What have the Sinhalese and SL Tamils or Bangladeshis get from that?

      The overseas eelam Tamils follow Tamil TV, and politics , even more religiously than I do. However they are not BP followers.

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      1. Outside of Razib, the site has a anti- Muslim, upper class Indian Hindu nationalist vibe.

        i suspect i’m the only one who is friends IRL with literal hindu nationlalists of deep commitment, and very friend with the ‘ex-muslim’ community.

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        1. I meant that your posts have a completely different vibe; like who will be calculating the coeffcient of relationship between two characters in a TV show?

          I meant that most of the other posts and responses are fairly in line with expectation; one can close the eye and expect it to ahve been written in 1996 or 2005; nothing there for Srilankans or Bangladeshis to read.

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          1. like who will be calculating the coeffcient of relationship between two characters in a TV show?

            these characters are from books. the TV show is an adaptation. if u r talking about jon & dany. remember, aSoIaF>>>GoT

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    2. That does seem to be the case. Both Sri Lanka and BD (Sri Lanka, in my anecdotal experience, consciously so, BD maybe not the consciously) try to stay out of what is a rather toxic “Indo-pak” subcontinental dick size contest..

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      1. Omar, both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh get attacked a lot by Jihadi Islamists who likely have support from deep state GHQ.

        Do Sri Lanka and Bangladesh regard these terrorist attacks as unavoidable and just move on with their lives?

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  4. podcast:
    pakistan 20x
    india 200x
    vietnam 3x
    burma 8x

    (downloads vs. bangladesh)

    the difference btwn india and pakistan is proportion to population. bangladesh is not.

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    1. Pretty surprised at those figures for Vietnam and especially Burma! Can’t imagine why a country with way more population and way more English users like Bangladesh would lag Burma.

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  5. I suppose you’re inherently pessimistic about Bangladesh/SA’s development prospects, Razib?

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        1. What is the “cow belt”?

          I am optimistic about UP. For the first time that I have noticed UP has good governance and pro business and deregulation policies. Visual appearance misses a lot. But visually UP is rapidly progressing.

          Some think a majority of UP muslims might vote for the BJP this year. UP is India’s muslim heartland. However UP’s improving situation also gives Hindu voters the chance to vote for parties other than the BJP. Fewer UP Hindus might vote the BJP in this election.

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  6. Even though the language of law in Bangladesh is English (and hence the de facto national language in the long term), its official status there is much more precarious than it is in India, or even Pakistan. Hence, at the current time, Bangladesh has proportionally far fewer speakers of English than Pakistan.

    This might be the principal reason for this blog not getting the expected amount of traffic from Bangladesh.

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  7. Considering the subcontinent , Bangladesh outshines its neighbors.

    Also on the blog readership i think there is hardly much to talk (or contestation) about Sri Lanka or Bangladesh topics. Mostly issues are settled , so no (major) consternation–> no controversy.

    P.S: Since the blog also does not talk much about cricket, it also loses Bangladesh readership , since lot of my Indian bengali freinds visit Bengal cricket forums and supposedly its always war there 😛

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  8. Banglaesh’s economic transformation happened without commensurate development in the high end of human capital, world-class university educated professional class.

    There was this funny quip from some Indian – “I prefer Bangladesh to Bengal – the same level of Islamism, but far less leftist craziness”.

    In other words, perhaps a lot of the “world-class university educated professional class” are arm-chair elitists and self-servingly promote corrosive activism that destroys industry and engineer public preferences towards non-productive signalling?

    India’s problem may be as much the high levels of “education” of its elite as the low levels of education of its non-elite.

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    1. In other words, perhaps a lot of the “world-class university educated professional class” are arm-chair elitists ….
      India’s problem may be as much the high levels of “education” of its elite as the low levels of education of its non-elite.

      I agree. Most of the readers here probably fall into the “world-class university educated arm-chair elitists”

      Possibly, me as well (is that proper grammar). Defend myself by saying that I am trying to live off the land (agri and tourism) and doing most of the work myself. Yes, I clean the bathrooms, wash the sheets, water the lawn and plants.

      When the there are visitors, one after another then I do pay locals to wash the sheets and at times clean the rooms. The local never clean the toilets to my satisfaction, and often I have to clean it again.

      Yeah gods, I have become a low caste Sakkili who cleans the toilets others use. Not a bad life though.

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      1. I think this comment is too convenient. A number of us have small businesses in India, with attendant, but real issues. The issues are the following:

        1. Supply chain is inhibited by infrastructure, and we need to locate the factory in Bangalore, chennai, Hyderabad or around the Pune-Mumbai-Gujarat road network.

        2. The wage rates for workers in these areas are continuously increasing.

        3. Engg. college and polytechnic grads in the south continue to look forward to US/Middle east, and IT; industry cannot compete at those rates

        4. Electricity supply and costs are a much larger part of cost, than in China and US.

        5. Shipping goods from the ports in the south is becoming harder and costlier once again.

        6. Water and land costs.

        7. banks are the primary financial institutions that work off state mandated rates.

        8. Bankruptcy laws have been refined, but execution is lacking.

        9. Chinese exports are overwhelming.

        There are more issues, but these are real issues than saying labor does not clean or elite that promote collectvism. This elite has basically become irrelevant, and Indian labor is willing.

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    2. Bengal’s high educated elite are in a class all by themselves. They are uniquely non-entrepreuneurial, over-intellectualizing, over-political, salary-focussed. Bengal’s unique history of long British administration, huge influx of high-educated, higher-caste Hindus from East begal after partition, are probably the main reasons. However, their lack of development focus doesn’t negate the value of quality high education. In most of the developed states of Western and Souther India, educated class led the way in economic transformation.

      Bangladesh lack of good quality white-collar workers is acute. “According to data produced by the Bangladeshi Ministry of Home Affairs, as many as 500,000 Indians were staying in Bangladesh illegally in 2009.[1][2] They were found working in different establishments such as NGOs, garments, textile, IT” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indians_in_Bangladesh). In the famous garments sector of Bangladesh, many Indians work in the trade, merchandizing, technical jobs.

      Since the opening of the Indian economy in the early 90’s, India’s huge english speaking population has been a killer advantage and Bangladesh’s lack-off, a crippling disadvantage.

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      1. @Shafiq, Good comment as usual. What is your take on why labour-intensive industries like textiles are doing well in Bangladesh but not in India where only capital-intensive industries seem to survive? Libertarian-types typically blame labor laws – while I would like to believe that, it also seems that some states in India such as Rajasthan experimented with labor reforms, and it isn’t clear if that has actually helped.

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        1. Garment exports is not a viable business in south India any more, because of continuous increase in labor costs. The business runs entirely on low labor costs, but now, in Thirupur and Ludhiana, the monthly rates are 8,000 to 10,000 (120-150 $, almost the same in Vietnam), and thus no longer viable. In contrast, Bangladesh monthly labor rates in 2017 is about 65$, whereas in China, it is closer to 2200 RMB or 300+$.

          The only way this can work in India is the garment businesses to move to Bimaru states where the monthly wage rates are closer to 5000 rs/month or 70 $. In Tirupur, the garment manufacturers have continued to hire from Bihar and Manipur at 5000-6000 rs/month. I cannot see how this business is sustainable in south India, Gujarat and Punjab. However, poor infrastructure limits the move to north India, because there are cargo aircraft available to fly out to US and EU from CBT and Cjhennai airport; yarn and cloth is being produced in 600+spinning and weaving mills that is quickly converted into garments to reduce the length of the value chain. How the chain will function with transport of yarn and cloth to northern states, and then shipping garments to US/EU, is anybody’s guess. I estimate that it will add a few $ to each piece shipped. Vietnam survives because shipping from china and to west by ships is much cheaper.

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          1. There is a pretty serious effort being made to connect the Gangetic plain to the Bay of Bengal via water transport. The waterway from Howrah to Prayag is already operational, and there is a serious effort being made at extending this all the way to Noida. This is not without significant technical challenges, but where there is a will there will be a way.

            https://urbantransportnews.com/iwai-starts-preparation-works-to-connect-prayagraj-to-noida-with-waterways/

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          2. To Vikram:

            Slow supply chain, and limited value addition.

            The value chain is:

            cotton (field to ginning mills); Polyester (factory; MEG/P-xylene to PTA->raw polyester)

            ->yarn (pure cotton or polyesteror blended) in spinning mills

            -> Yarn->cloth in weaving mills

            ->knitted or textured yarn to garments

            The present day value chain in India is Mah/Guj/AP gins and gujarat/Mangalore polyester to spinning mills in TN and Maharashtra. Namakkal and Punjabi trucks move them south and west. Spinning mills convert them to yarn and cloth in weaving mills. garment factories knit or texturize yarn, to garments.

            This value chain took 100 years to form and involved large scale relocation of mills from Bombay to south.

            In contrast, vietnam, bangladesh, Srilanka or cambodia purchase cloth from China and tailor them to garments. The value added is small. Chinese cloth is moved in ships that have 100,000 dwt tonnes to Singapore, and then break it down to feeder contaiuners to Colombo, Chittagong and Cambodia/Banngkok. This is a well done value chanin that adds cents/garment. Breaking down the current Indian value chain to move to UP/bihar will make this less competitive. Not that it cannot be done, but the profit margin is just not there unless the $ becomes > 100 Rs.

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          3. To Vijay: You seem to have a good grasp of the Garments trade and supply chain. One more important thing about Garments industry is that it is very much cluster-intensive. Production facilities tend to cluster in a geographical area. There are many reasons, having a large common labor pool, access to transport, logistics, Government and financial facilities, common infrastructure for foreign buyers etc may be reasons. Garments clusters tend to develop organically, from bottom up through private entrepreurs. Transporting garments clusters wholescale into a different region probably will not work.

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        2. There are many causes but the main cause in my view is wage suppression. Bangladesh has very lax laboor protection and the business elite and govt collude to keep the industrial labor force totally cowed. India’s labor force not only enjoy much greater legal protection but also they have high political clout. People outside cannot imagine the life of a typical garment worker in Bangladesh. Earning barely enough to keep body and soul together, living 4-10 person in a 150 square feet room where people sleep by turn and working in all kind of ungodly shifts with joke of a overtime. However, for most girls this life is still preferable than being a child-bearing slave to a misogynist lout or being a burden to parents. They at least gain have some freedom over own life.

          From millions of remittance workers in Mideast, Europe, South East Asia, to millions of Garments workers, Bangladesh’s prosperity is mostly built on sweat and tears of poor working people.

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          1. Yes, I forgot about the use of girls in 15-22 age at sub-5K/month rates in large numbers. Many garment shops hire them for 7-8 years and they leave at marriage. This input has reduced significantly in the recent years, as population growth rate has also reduced. nonetheless, It will be difficult for the garment industry in TN because the labor rates have increased, and hours per shift has reduced.

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    3. My mom has an Indian degree in sociology and can’t even tell me who Durkheim and Comte are. I get that it’s been decades, but I guarantee you that I can tell you the derivative of x^2, by analogy.

      Indian education in the hard fields may be alright, but it’s a travesty otherwise.

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  9. Vijay, the Gangetic plain is not a major grower of cotton, so integration with the garments supply chain would not be the main objective. Value addition in the West UP area has mainly happened via sugarcane. Other cash crops would have to be sought for the Gangetic region.

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    1. Tbh, making sugarcane is basically exporting water…India (and Pakistan) will have to find another way to rise…

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      1. Well, its value added to water and other resources. The water scarcity in the Gangetic plain is economic, not physical. Yields can potentially rise four times higher. Shouldnt throw away competitive advantages.

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