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June 22, 2017

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Hurricane Sandy chased me out of Boston and since I could not get out via New York, I took a flight in the opposite direction to Mumbai. India has the most wonderful bookshops, full of the latest global hits at reasonable prices, but also Indian books that are not easily available abroad. Indian writers have a flair for the English language that is inimical and lyrical, reflecting the deep cultural respect for articulation, best summarized by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's book titled "The Argumentative Indian."

Where else can you get the latest book by former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, Gurchuran Das, called "India Grows at Night – A Liberal Case for a Strong State" (Penguin)? He basically asked the question: "How can a nation become one of the world's emerging markets despite a weak, ineffective state?" The view that "India grows at night while the government sleeps," is what he calls a tale of private success and public failure.

I have not found anyone who has expressed the current issue so elegantly: "The big story of the twenty-first century's first decade is how China and India have embraced the market economy and have risen. The common mistake is to think that the race between China and India is about who will get rich first. The truth is that both countries will become prosperous and reach middle-income levels. The race is about who will fix its government first. India has law, and China has order, but a successful nation needs both. If India fixes its governance, before China fixes its politics, India will win the race, as Raghav Bahl says. If neither succeeds, then both may get stuck in the 'middle-income' trap. To avoid that fate India needs a stronger state and China needs a stronger society."

This week, China's new leader Xi Jinping put in the national agenda the pressing need to tackle corruption. Dealing with corruption is today the highest priority in almost all economies, more so in emerging markets. Market forces alone will not solve corruption — the state has to take a leading role, but which policeman can police himself?

At Mumbai airport, I picked up a remarkable new book by N. Vittal, former Central Vigilance Commissioner in India, the post of which was created in 1998 to investigate corruption against Class I Indian civil servants, including state owned enterprises and bank officials. Entitled "Ending Corruption? How to Clean Up India?"(Penguin 2012), Vittal's book is a valuable practitioner's handbook on how to tackle corruption in large and complex bureaucracies.

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