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"Mobile phones cheaper than toilets," says Chandran Nair

Raleigh Addington
Raleigh Addington
editor at Chartwell Speakers

In a conversation moderated by Dr. Razeen Sally at Asia House, Chandran discussed the ideas behind his book Consumptiononomics (Infinite Ideas, 2011). He said that the world is heading for disaster if Asia continues to develop using the “Washington consensus”, which he defines broadly as liberal free market economics.

Speaking during the round table discussion, he argued that unless an alternative to consumption led development can be agreed upon, the environmental impact of billions more cars, and millions more factories, will be irreversible. The battle of the 21st century will be limiting Indian and Chinese consumption. Chandran doesn’t believe companies can act in the best interests of people; governments need to regulate.  Therefore Chandran sees China as a political model that could affect change. “I’d rather be poor and Chinese, than poor and Indian,” he said.

Western capitalism means the most impoverished have mobile phones (and look at pictures of Paris Hilton on them according to Chandran), but not sanitation. “When did phones become a necessity and toilets a luxury?” asked Chandran. It’s wrong economics.

Chandran Nair highlighted the availability of mobile phones in areas that lack the most basic amenities

Dr. Sally asked Chandran to define “sustainable development”. He suggested that growth was more important as it raised living standards. He pointed to the economic success of Japan and South Korea as examples for the rest of Asia to follow. After the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was an economic miracle that living standards in Japan almost reached parity with the USA by the early 1990s. Razeen concluded by saying that, in terms of development, China’s shadow was India’s future.

Chandran Nair is an environmental writer and speaker. He founded, and is CEO of, the Global Institute For Tomorrow.

Dr. Razeen Sally is Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is an expert speaker on Asian trade policy and the WTO.