An Indian Development Mystery

Tonight I'm flying to Doha and then Hyderabad, India, where I'll be staying (and blogging!) for the next two weeks -- with a short train trip to the state of Kerala, on India's southwestern coast, thrown in for good measure. I am especially excited about seeing Kerala for the first time, in part because it's supposed to be jawdroppingly lush and in part because it's a bit of an economic mystery. I was looking for some good data on the state and found this old chart from Amartya Sen's great book Development As Freedom:

600 kerala life expectancy.png

The data is a little old, but the obvious point of interest here is that Kerala has the lowest per capita GNP and the highest life expectancy of any other place on the chart. It does well on other Human Development Index measures as well. There are lots of competing and overlapping explanations for why this is the case, including (1) early Christian missionaries raising educational standards and literacy to an unusal degree; (2) The unusually high number of residents who work elsewhere and make remittance payments; (3) The unusual level of political involvement in the state; (4) Statewide healthcare and food guarantees. An explanation not on the table is rapid industrialization. Kerala has little of that, which is part of what makes the place odd.

But more updates after 25 hours of flying.