Horace Greely famously may or may not have said:

“Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”

The phrase “Go West,” for those of us in America, often evokes a romanticized ideal of the western expansion of the country, wide open space, new frontier and exploring new lands…  manifest destiny! Also, in the UK the Pet Shop Boys created a totally awesome, yet underappreciated song, titled Go West!

Regardless, the idea of “Go West” is advice I think the US (and the rest of the world) should take in looking at today’s global economy, particularly as it pertains to China. China’s not a great place right now… yeah, the food can be pretty good but the rest of what Mr. Greely may or may not have said applies.

As everyone knows, for several decades China has been the bull of the global economy. GDP has been growing at double-digit rates, it’s said a middle class has been created with a population greater than that of the entire U.S., and China has increasingly flexed its newfound power throughout the world… And as long as we could sell more burgers, cars, iPhones and get cheap goods, everyone just sort of went along with it… We  just sort of ignored the “deplorable morals.” You know, freedom of speech is free only if the state approves of it, people observing religious beliefs are persecuted, there are no rights as there are in most of the developed world… I’ve never been comfortable with this totalitarian regime masked by consumerism… In fact a Berkeley-educated friend of mine, who lives in China, in trying to defend “freedom” there recently proffered this as an example:

Honestly it actually is. For so many people China outside of China, the government is seen as this giant oppressive boogeyman that is locking everyone up and that it’s a giant police state. Yes, there are lots of elements of that (prison labor for example), but the reality of it is in many ways, in the US one is much more likely to encounter the police for breaking the law than one would in China.

I can go down the street right now and buy any number of drugs or women right in front of the police station and no one would bat an eye (or wake up from their slumber). I could drive my Rolls Royce into a crowd of people and pay them off and avoid jail. I’m much more likely to be arrested in the US than I would be in China.

Now he’s a good guy, so I don’t want to singularly call him out, but this is what people who regularly defend China think. But the times they are a changin’ and that’s a good thing. China’s recent machinations in devaluing its currency, trying in vain to artificially prop up its stock exchanges which have been pummeled and various other central government attempts at control are failing.

And now all that sort of nasty lack of human rights, law and transparency stuff we turned our heads from, doesn’t seem so inevitable or OK anymore…

But instead of freaking out the world should see this for the good thing it is… (I could write a series of blogs on this but for now…) And the first step is to heed the advice of Horace Greely or the Pet Shop Boys and Go West… to India that is.

India is a country bursting with ideas, innovation and importantly, opportunity. But most importantly India, a country of 1.3Billion people, shares our core values… It’s the world’s largest democracy with a robust (to say the least) political process. There is freedom of the press and speech. They have the rule of law.  There is transparency in the financial systems similar to Europe and the US. To be sure India has its share of problems (like every country, well maybe Monaco is problem-free, other than enough berths for yachts…) but those can be addressed.

And if all that doesn’t make sense just on values, India’s upside opportunity is enormous… This chart from the gang at PwC shows just how substantial India’s growth is expected to be over the next 40 or so years:

As the chart on the right shows, India’s growth rate is expected to be 37% greater than China’s… and that doesn’t take into account what many foresee as China having to face the music (much like the book-cooking, channel stuffing internet and software companies of the late 1990s and early 2000s…) and the exponential effect the unleashing of India’s pent-up energy can do. This of course is being further fueled and encouraged by Prime Minister Modi’s Digital India initiative.

Think about this.  If you’re a business person going to China, it’s absolutely standard practice to bring a temporary laptop with you, because there’s a good chance what’s on that laptop is going to find its way to Chinese companies and the government, and it may have some nasty stuff on it when you come back. That simply isn’t the case in India… No one has to fear that.  Those sorts of things happen more frequently in totalitarian governments than they do in open and free societies. I want to bet my money on the country that’s free.

Long before I  started working with and for Indian companies I had been amazed that India and the US  didn’t have a closer relationship. Yes, there was the whole Cold War thing where maybe India didn’t do itself any favors, and the US has chosen some unsavory partners in that part of the world out of self inflicted necessity… but that is the past.  In the last few years I have been inspired by the people I meet in  India… by my colleagues here at Persistent Systems who are doing great things… and by the knowledge that our shared values are leading to ever greater cooperation between these two countries. As China continues to be China, I hope to see us all realize the opportunity if we Go West, to India.

Think I’m wrong?  Naive?  Long-winded?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!