Nehru and social capital
In the 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index, India ranks 138 on the Social Capital measure of the Index—the fifth-worst country globally, ahead only of Burundi, Georgia, Benin and Togo. According to the Index’s working definition, Social Capital is the accumulation of benefits accrued by a society whose citizenry is interconnected, trusting, and who engage in altruistic and charitable behaviour. The Index captures social capital performance through a number of variables that measure factors such as donations to charity, volunteering, levels of trust in society, and the willingness to help strangers. Notably, Indians show the least likelihood in the world to help strangers.
This is not a recent phenomenon though. The 1948 session of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council was held at Paris. MG Setalvad, India’s first Attorney General, was requested by Sardar Patel “to deal with questions of Hyderabad and Suratgarh on India’s behalf in the Security Council”. Mr Setalvad recounts:
It was Nehru’s practice to talk to the delegates at Delhi as the Minister of External Affairs on the basic viewpoints of India on various matters, so that the delegates might be generally informed in regard to the problems which were going to come up before the General Assembly In addition to these talks, he would, whenever he happened to be at the headquarters of the session of the assembly also meet the delegates. One observation which addressed to us when he spoke to us at Paris deeply impressed me at the times and has always remained in my mind because I have found it tragically true in my experience of men and affairs. He advised us to work in co-operation and observed that, in his experience, Indians were apt, when working together, to differ and pull in different directions rather than co-operate. He expressed himself pithily by saying that, if one Indian left to himself could muster one horse-power of energy and intelligence, two Indians put to work together, would produce the total output not of two or more but nearer half a horse-power. That was one of our weaknesses which he told us we should avoid. [My Life: Law and Other Things]
Even if it is an Indian socio-cultural characteristic, does it really matter? Perhaps it does. In his book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Francis Fukuyama wrote about low-trust societies such as China, France and Italy, which are family-oriented and have relatively low levels of trust among strangers. He argued that low-trust societies have to negotiate and litigate rule and regulations while high-trust societies like Germany and Japan are able to develop innovative organisations and bring down the cost of doing business. According to Fukuyama, the level of trust based upon shared norms is the most pervasive cultural characteristic influencing a nation’s prosperity and global competitiveness.