The US Presidential election has just concluded, and Barack Obama has been re-elected. Voters in exit polls said they cared most about the economy, but what they really meant were their own material circumstances in the economy. What may have carried the day for President Obama was the sense that he cares more for the middle class (where almost every American likes to place himself or herself) than his erstwhile opponent.
In fact, the choice between the two candidates illustrated clearly two very different conceptions of society and justice. Mitt Romney’s infamous remarks branding almost half of the country as lazy free-riders were in a centuries-old tradition of the rich justifying wealth as deserved through talent and hard work (or before that, as divine will). Romney and his party simply refused to recognise that inequality of opportunity has grown dramatically in the US, so that the growing inequality of outcomes is not determined on a level playing field. Growth in the US has been far from inclusive.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, has had a vision that is completely consistent with the idea of inclusive growth. Interestingly, in 2007, Ifzal Ali and Hyun Hwa Son of the Asian Development Bank provided a theoretical and empirical analysis of inclusive growth that resonates conceptually with Obama’s policies, as well as with what has been attempted in India. Ali and Son look at the distribution of opportunities across different parts of the income distribution. Thus, they focus on opportunities rather than outcomes such as income. In this, they are following the work of Nanak Kakwani and others. To make things concrete, they use access to health and education as examples of opportunities. They apply a specific index of opportunity to health and education data from the Philippines, to measure precisely how inclusive growth has been in that country.
As many have argued, health and education are to be valued in their own right, as well for their importance in helping to level the playing field for earning income. Barack Obama recognised this in pushing for wider and more equal access to healthcare, and for improvements in access to higher education through expanded federal student loan programmes. In some ways, then, the US agenda is not that different than India’s attempts to improve access to health and education across the country.
Of course the levels of development, institutional details, and scope and scale of challenges are very