Semester research: India’s engagement with the global economy

India is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world. After the past two decades, that’s something of an old story.

Yet such a blanket statement also washes over questions about what that growth rate actually means for issues of sustainable development, broadly define. India certainly has something to be proud of, yet it also faces serious hurdles in supporting its claim to a narrative of newfound power and prosperity.

My third large semester research project involved analyzing India’s link’s with the global economy, a phenomenon that really only began in the early 1990s when India shed its autarkic ways. Though “liberalization” started with steps taken almost a decade earlier, it was the serious risk of debt service default that spurred policy makers in 1991 to adopt austerity measures, devalue the rupee and begin a steady if slow process of external economic opening.

The paper looked at four core areas of engagement — trade, investment, debt and aid — and examined implications for sustainable development. A final section offers several policy recommendations for the future.

The ultimate conclusion is that while India has liberalized its economy it has also continued to protect key sectors, producers and businesses when it sees fit. India is far from a free-market economy but it has opened doors when in the name of national interest, which has both positive and negative implications for sustainable development. Its enviable growth rate will only continue to be a valid goal if policy makers also begin to consider measures to ameliorate some of the severe negatives that come with this capitalist economic development.

UPDATE: A trimmed down version of this paper was published by the Journal of International Service in the Spring of 2013. My submitted draft can be read here. The full issue can be found here.

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Semester research: The (de)evolution of Hindu environmental ethics

Pollution

I spent the semester tracing the evolution of Hindu orthodoxy and orthopraxy as it pertains to conservation, resource consumption and environmental stewardship from Vedic times to modern days through several key texts. Of course, the Hindu canon is much too large for any definitive conclusions, but these texts were selected by my professor as representative of the larger (vastly larger) body of texts.

You can read the full draft paper here. The academic abstract would go something like:

This paper examines Hinduism’s evolving attitudes toward nature and prescriptions of ethical environmental practice during the history of the religion. The paper critically considers eight texts that represent major trends in Hindu philosophy and practice, through the Vedic, classical, medieval and modern periods. In early times, Hindu society associated divinity and worship with natural processes. This was soon challenged by a renunciation theology that rejected the material/natural world entirely. Yet as polities and kingdoms swelled and expanded, social organization and material well-being became chief concerns of philosophers; the natural, wild world took on a negative connotation. Hinduism’s complex and changing cosmology further muddied the waters for questions of right action in environmental dilemmas. Nonetheless, there have been various counter trends with religious roots that may serve as a starting point for a Hindu-centric discussion of environmental protection.

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Semester research: The effects of agriculture on India’s forest cover

One giant poster

I spent the semester conducting a statistical analysis to explain variation across Indian states in forest cover change from 2000 to 2009. After a preliminary literature review, looking at deforestation across the world, I compiled a database of more than 200 relevant variables. From that I computed and tested more than 100 variables (averages, percentage change, raw change, etc.) before narrowing my regression to several key indicators of an individual Indian state’s economic reliance on agriculture and the presence of alternative lifestyles and livelihoods.

This culminated in a series of univariate, bivariate and multivariate analyses; I presented the research in a spring quantitative analysis symposium at American University. The poster is viewable here.

The ultimate conclusion from the research: Agricultural output value is strongly and negatively associated with forest expansion, coinciding with slow forest cover growth or even powering forest cover loss. In the alternative, a number other variables — all of which represent diversity in economic opportunity, livelihoods and lifestyles — have positive associations with forest cover growth. This all appears in several models of an OLS regression.

I’ve written a draft paper of the analysis that needs to be refined, edited and combined with an introduction, abstract and the results of my literature review — a summer project to be sure.

Anyone who wants some heavier reading can read that draft here. I’d welcome any and all feedback, even from complete strangers. (Forgive the writing. This was done in pieces and certainly is repetitive in phrasing.)

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Qutub’s towering past and my Dilli pigeons

Kabutar!

The blog has been on a month-long hiatus, the result of my end-of-semester workload and then a rapid departure from D.C. We’re back in action, though probably less frequently, as I’m on the move for the summer, working and researching overseas.

The above picture dates to my trip to India in December-January. My favorite Delhi flocks over my favorite Delhi landmark.

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