Dhaka has shown real vision in its fiscal planning, but a turn toward authoritarianism could reverse its successes.
Shortly after Bangladesh became independent in 1971, Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security advisor, derisively referred to the country as a “basket case.” Bangladesh became associated with poverty, and for decades was seen as an economic laggard in South Asia, making woeful progress in alleviating mass poverty or promoting sustained economic growth. Many scholars and analysts feared that the country would remain a ward of the global community, acutely dependent on foreign aid. Some went as far to predict a Malthusian nightmare in the country, with its population outgrowing the availability of food.
Despite the dire expectations, military coups in 1975, 1982, and 2007, and a series of natural disasters, Bangladesh has in fact made significant progress in reducing poverty and in promoting economic growth. Last month, the International Monetary Fund forecast that Bangladesh’s gross domestic product per capita would exceed that of India’s in 2020.
The particulars of the IMF’s prediction are quite stark; it suggests that India’s GDP per capita, mostly as a consequence of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, is likely to shrink by 10.3 percent. Bangladesh’s GDP per capita, on the other hand, is expected to grow by as much as 4 percent.