Take a look at this table, from a new paper by Arjan de Haan. It shows the last 15 years of social policy initiatives in China and India, and their breathtaking scale.
And here’s a chunk from the accompanying one pager:
‘Though social spending in both countries appears rather low, and many deficits remain in terms of effective social protection, social policies in both countries are evolving rapidly, with, for example, in China the world’s largest rural medical insurance programme, and in India the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGA).
Political and institutional differences between the two countries have a big impact on how social policies evolve. In China, social policy reforms are directly driven by the large-scale privatisation which created large gaps in social protection and growing inequalities and social unrest. The public policy choices made in the process are the outcome of political contestation— as they are elsewhere—in turn having significant implications for state–citizen relations. While striving towards universal coverage, China’s social policy choices show strong elements of a ‘productivist’ orientation, keeping social spending low (despite the stimulus package after the financial crisis) and, for example, poverty alleviation programmes focusing on enhancing productivity and economic transformation.
Approaches in India show remarkable differences from those in China, driven partly by history, partly by political differences —though social spending in India too has remained low. Despite an ideology of universalism, social programmes are often targeted. Political pluralism and ‘vote-bank politics’ have contributed to manifold and often uncoordinated schemes. India’s social policies have a much stronger emphasis on ‘welfarism’ than China’s— protecting livelihoods or well-being, with less attention to economic transformation—for example, in terms of promoting a rural–urban transition. Like China’s, and perhaps inevitable given the size of both countries, India’s social policies are implemented through decentralised structures, with notable successes in terms of enhancing citizens’ participation in implementation, but also potentially under-serving the poorest areas and increasing fragmentation.’
And if you found that a bit hard to take in, here’s my translation of the interesting bits:
1. China and India are introducing basic (low cost) welfare systems on a massive scale, and very fast
2. China initially tried privatising everything, and services collapsed, risking a potential political backlash. So the government jumped into building a welfare system, but wants to keep its eyes on the prize – economic growth. Social policy is about creating healthier, better educated factory workers.
3. India’s more complicated, with a lot of rhetoric about rights, less of a focus on churning out the next generation of workforce (or on where they live), and politicians trading welfare concessions for votes on a small scale, creating an unholy mess overall. India’s deep rooted caste system means decentralization can lead to the lower castes being ignored by the incipient welfare state.
Of course quantity does not mean quality. Lots of criticisms for corruption and inconsistency – e.g. receiving different payments depending on where you are registered, but still an extraordinary transformation.