Yale University researcher Nikhar Gaikwad shared his arguments and findings on long-term economic change in India Monday afternoon in Oak Hall. Gaikwad used various data to trace Indian economic growth back to pre-colonial eras in the region.
Gaikwad, who specializes in the region of South Asia, began his presentation with a look at two post-colonial Indian cities: Mumbai and Allahabad. The two cities have similarly successful pre-colonial and colonial histories, but today Mumbai is far more developed than Allahabad. Mumbai is currently the wealthiest city in India and has the highest GDP of any city in South Asia.
Using these two cities as examples, Gaikwad laid out his argument: pre-colonial factors have huge positive implications, and are more important than colonial factors when examining a region’s economic growth as it relates to India. Focusing on colonial factors may lead to one missing the bigger picture.
He claimed that pre-colonial commerce fostered development by reorganizing labor markets, although territorial changes (relocation of high-end production) and social changes (the subversion of traditional caste codes) also played significant roles.
Additionally, East India Companies increased the region’s global trade by creating a new political landscape. South Asia produced a quarter of the planet’s global manufacturing output by 1750.
Gaikwad used a variety of statistical means to help support his arguments. Using a 1991 census, he generated a variety of outcomes intended to measure trade-induced changes of the pre-colonial era. Some of the figures he considered were literacy rate and the percentage of population working in the manufacturing sector.
He also went to the national archives of India in New Delhi to study the original correspondence between EIC Factors in India and the Court of Directors in London, finding that geopolitical factors were extremely important when selecting favorable sites for trade.
The geography of a certain site also played an important role. Natural harbors were appealing for trade, as they sheltered ships from dangerous weather, and mountains were also desirable as they shielded traders from the attacks of competitors.
Gaikwad pointed out that skills mechanisms were key to helping certain Indian regions outperform others over time, and perhaps the most important factor. Social dynamism was also hugely crucial, and can be traced back through time to the arrival of social entrepreneurship that expanded Indian markets and led to a certain economic adaptability.
Gaikwad believes that his findings on long-term economic change in India may be useful when examining the political history of the rest of the world. In Monday’s lecture, he made it abundantly clear that pre-colonial factors could have a strong positive impact on a region’s economic development.