Friday, November 9, 2007

India: Don't follow us, leapfrog us!

Thomas Friedman's excellent clarion call for mass transit. He argues convincingly for mass transit in India but I think there is a prophetic lesson here for the US:

Recently the Greenlands Flyover in Hyderabad opened to traffic to relieve some of Hyderabad's congestion. The summary result? Total gridlock at the bridge. Friedman writes,

"So what should India do? It should leapfrog us, not copy us. Just as India went from no phones to 250 million cellphones — skipping costly land lines and ending up with, in many ways, a better and cheaper phone system than we have — it should try the same with mass transit...The cost of your cellphone is a lot cheaper today because India took that little Western invention and innovated around it so it is now affordable to Indians who make only $2 a day. India has become a giant platform for inventing cheap scale solutions to big problems. If it applied itself to green mass transit solutions for countries with exploding middle classes, it would be a gift for itself and the world.

"To do that it must leapfrog. If India just innovates in cheap cars alone, its future will be gridlocked and polluted. But an India that makes itself the leader in both cheap cars and clean mass mobility is an India that will be healthier and wealthier. It will also be an India that gives us cheap answers to big problems — rather than cheap copies of our worst habits."

...Very apt and well put. A great analogy for how the developing world can excel in technological and industrial innovation (and teach the US something in the process).

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