: David Kestenbaum with our Planet Money team brought back this story from India.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: You know how you take a trip, and sometimes the most interesting thing is that it makes you see your home differently? That happened to newspaper columnist Karan Thapar. He recently left his home - India's capital, Delhi - which can feel kind of crowded and broken down. He went to China, Beijing, and what he saw made him jealous.
: There was nothing that I could find that seemed poor or Third World or shabby or dirty. The buildings are immaculate, they're resplendent. The roads are eight-lane-wide and awe-inspiring.
KESTENBAUM: Both countries are about the same size, over a billion people, but China is three times richer.
: China has reduced child malnutrition to something like seven percent. In India, it's still an astonishingly high 47 percent. In absolute numbers, there are more children suffering from malnutrition in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
KESTENBAUM: Delhi these days has plenty of poor people. Some have come in from the villages to do construction work. This woman, Raj Khumari(ph), says she makes 110 rupees a day, about $2.40.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING A ROCK)
: (Through translator) What can you do with 110 rupees? You can hardly buy anything nowadays. You can probably get a bottle of oil in a day, and soap.
KESTENBAUM: So what system of government is best for economic growth? Well, who really knows? But since we're in a democracy, let's debate it. Here's economist Partha Sen, director of the Delhi School of Economics.
: Democracy in an everyday sense, you know, in terms of getting things the poor need, has clearly not functioned. Somehow democracy has failed us.
KESTENBAUM: Partha Sen says he'd rather live in India than China, but he sometimes feels burdened by democracy. To have fast economic growth, you need a government that can do things, build infrastructure. But democracies are intended to move slowly, and India is famous for slow.
: We are a democracy. We like to argue about everything. So things move slowly. Infrastructure is very poor. Roads are very underdeveloped. Trains are still not okay.
KESTENBAUM: Power goes out.
: Power goes out. Water is a problem. China invests a lot in infrastructure. So China, they are on the ball. We are not.
KESTENBAUM: The Chinese government does not have endless parliamentary debates and legal battles. It does not ask a lot of questions. It does things: builds roads, trains, power plants, all those things on Partha Sen's list of complaints.
: It's a fine balance.
KESTENBAUM: This is Eswar Prasad, an economist who has straddled both worlds, India and China. He's an advisor to the Indian government but he used to be the head of the China division at the International Monetary Fund. And here's his take.
: We economists think that a benevolent dictator - a benevolent dictator with their heart in the right place - could actually do a lot of good.
KESTENBAUM: David Kestenbaum, NPR News.
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