India’s villages and towns, far from the gaze of foreigners and the urban elite, have been on a tear. Over the past decade new roads have been built. Almost everybody these days has a mobile phone. Electricity has become more common, as have computerised land records. Fewer people have to spend time collecting firewood, using bottled gas instead. New houses built with walls and floors of brick or cement are more durable than wooden huts, and need less maintenance.
It means people can turn their energy to starting businesses and escaping subsistence farming. Poultry production is booming, as it has become easier to get chickens to market. Villagers eat more processed food—India’s artery-clogging pudding, gulab jamun, now comes in packets, made in small factories in nearby towns. Better communications are vital. Mr Mishra compares two villages 15 kilometres (9 miles) apart, near the city of Bhopal in central India. One has been connected to the road network since 2009. The other just has a dirt track. In the first, land prices are three times higher, wages are 50% higher, and far more people commute and engage in market gardening.
Official figures occasionally offer glimpses of the transformation. For instance, fewer than half of workers now say they are farmers. Yet statisticians struggle to capture the change. Measuring an economy in which the informal sector generates half of output and over nine-tenths of jobs is a tough task. The GDP data depend on infrequent surveys of productivity.
Soon, however, the figures will go through one of their periodic rebasings. The last rejig was in 2004-05. Mr Mishra thinks the next one could revise India’s GDP up by 15%. Pronab Sen, chairman of the National Statistical Commission, reckons it will be perhaps 8%—in line with earlier revisions, although he adds that the spread of mobile phones and their economic effect makes things unusually uncertain this time. Raghuram Rajan, the new head of India’s central bank, reckons a revision of 10% is possible.
A bigger economy is good news, but it raises two questions.…