Staff Writer – Archi

According to a survey of 21 major nations conducted by the Pew Research Center, Indians today stand out globally in terms of their declining optimism. The study says Indians have lost more faith in their country’s economy – and its future – than other nations over the past year. Our low spirits are now comparable to the recession-hit West, and not to emerging economy peers like Brazil or China.

While 84% respondents in Brazil and 83% in China display confidence in their economic future, only 45% Indians feel the same optimism about their economy improving in the next 12 months.

This is a huge decline relative to economies once clubbed together with India in a league of possible breakout nations. This reflects a large drop of confidence within India itself, optimism falling by 15% from just one year ago.

In a surprise revelation, about 61% respondents preferred a free market economy over a statist system of opaque patronage and tight control.

About six-in-10 think most people are better off in a free-market economy, even though some are rich and some are poor.”

Indians treasure their traditional culture even as they embrace modernity. Most Indians want a small government and want the freedom to get on with their lives without government interference. The survey says almost half (49%) have lustily thrown themselves into modernity, but an even greater number (52%) worry that they are losing their traditions and four in five persons (79%) want this culture to be preserved.

About half (53%) believe that it is more important for Indian society that everyone be free to pursue their goals without government interference rather than the state playing an active role in guaranteeing that nobody is in need (25%).

There are some palpable concerns that are fuelling such pessimism. About 80% respondents stated unemployment was a huge concern. In addition, 79% stated rising prices were a massive worry. Among other problems, 71% stated concern over growing crime, 70% over corrupt officials – and 92% squarely blamed the government for the economic quagmire they found themselves in.

Seed seller. Photo courtesy pbs.org

This dovetails with the empowering belief two in every three Indians stated – that people can succeed if they work hard. However, despite individuals willing to work for a better future, the most worrying revelation is that 66% or two-thirds of the Indians surveyed felt their children would have a difficult time even finding a good job and becoming wealthier than themselves. That’s in painful contrast to how half the Indian respondents said they were better off than five years ago, two thirds adding their standard of living was better compared to their parents’ at the same age.

Clearly the economic reforms initiated in the 1990s benefited large groups of people in important and empowering ways, laying the basis of today’s aspirational India. But those aspirations have been hit hard by the government’s persistent inability to push through with the next phase of reforms as well as clean up gathering cesspools of corruption and cronyism. The government would do well to heed this and other signs of the darkening public mood across the country.