Just about everyone wants to see India grow rapidly, most of all Indians themselves. The westerners want it because they feel they’ll have a better chance to sell their goods to a booming India, not really caring for India’s economic health.

But, high growth is not always the healthy way to go. Imagine an individual on steroids, and we can understand that the long-term effects of high growth are economic woes. Just see what’s happening to China presently after its rapid growth of three decades: massive debt, banks performing worse than India, uninhabited cities, and a greater divide between the rich, city class and the poor, rural class, such that political factionalism has quietly taken deep root in the hidden background, threatening to balkanise China into seven countries as major politicians struggle for power and influence.

We don’t want that in India.

Too much, too soon

Sustained rapid growth of above 7 per cent heats up the economy by injecting stimulus, causes inflation and ensuing consumer discontent, resulting in a faster grab for money by individuals and corporations, causing the mind to spin out of control and crash in some litigation suit or risky venture. Ever seen what happens to drivers when they increase vehicle speed? Yes, they are not always able to keep control, and in their recklessness, crash somewhere.

Even though more schools and government hospitals and roads and power plants can be constructed, and government jobs increased, the inflation dragon eats away at savings, creates madness in the escalating prices of property, and then pits family members against each other for inheritance of high value products. India is already seeing so much of the latter that family moral values have become an absurdity and a rarity. As the philosophers have advised over the ages, the destruction of moral values in individuals precipitates the downfall of national values. Recall the Roman empire in its dying days.

Too slow, too little

Too slow a growth, say between 1 and 3 per cent, is naturally unproductive, because business freezes up, investments in business and science and technology take a dip, while competitors stride ahead. Unemployment picks up, leading to social upheaval and family strains and disturbances of its own kind.

The type of situation that led to the Arab Spring rears its head where unemployment had risen to 20 per cent and 40 per cent. In a large, varied country like India, the opportunity for strikes, violent demonstrations, and pent-up anger unleashing itself arises all too easily. It’s quite obvious that no one is thinking of this scenario, but there is reason to expound on the benefits of very slow growth.

For one, traffic stops expanding at its maddening rate, resulting in relatively fewer accidents and arresting runaway air pollution, as car sales spiral downward. Water demand by industries falls, which eases the burden on our strained water resources. In all respects, economic depression is good for the environment as less trees get cut for development and mining. Less garbage and solid wastes are produced as consumers and industries simply consume less, thus easing the adversities on our overfilled landfills. Because industrial output falls, river pollution abates and fish begin to repopulate, improving food security. At the extreme boundary, we all know what happens to the environment if industrial output comes to a halt: the environment smiles and thrives. It is a breath of fresh air for all non-human species and Mother Earth.

Who’s listening?

But no one is talking of halting anything. The realistic battle is only between medium growth of 4 to 6 per cent and rapid growth of 7 to 12 per cent, while 6-7 per cent is a somewhat grey area that can cut both ways.

I have demonstrated how rapid growth leads to uncontrollable growth, generating chaos, requiring that interest rates be reined in, which businesses don’t like to really see. In addition, the economy moves faster with high growth than the ability of humans to manage it successfully: priorities for land-use planning, water consumption, energy generation, and farming go out of balance, resulting in more havoc than ever before. And the only one to prosper in this scenario is the inflation dragon, which consumes all.

I have also demonstrated how very slow growth can harm the human and national cause, our defence preparedness, research and development, and survival as a competitive nation. Hence, it is a simple conclusion that one must really grow at a steady pace, under controlled conditions — to keep our businesses, institutions, and society cohesively connected. It is much better to be content with security than risk insecurity; much better to know we will have a safe tomorrow than have the anxiety of an uncertain future.

The pressures to grow at 7-12 per cent are misplaced; they stem from an egoistic nationalism only, without consideration of time-tested economic consequences. Hence, the present speed of 5 to 6 per cent or 6.5 per cent is just fine for India, and India should withstand criticism from every quarter to stay its course. This is the speed to grow at. Just remember: somewhat medium speed — not very slow — but steady, wins the race.

The writer is a professor of engineering economy and engineering management at the University of Hawaii