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Manufacturing or Services? An Indian Illustration of a Development Dilemma - Working Paper 409

Amrit Amirapu and Arvind Subramanian
June 10, 2015
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Manufacturing has historically offered the fastest path out of poverty, but there is mounting evidence that this path may be all but closed to developing countries today. Some have suggested that services might provide a new path forward, while others have expressed skepticism about this claim and consequent pessimism over the future growth trajectories of developing countries. We contribute to debate this by using a multi-sector growth framework to establish five important criteria that any sector must exhibit in order to lead an economy to rapid, sustained, and inclusive development. These are: 1) a high level of productivity, 2) “dynamic” productivity growth (i.e., high growth rates coupled with domestic and international convergence), 3) expansion of the sector in terms of its use of inputs, 4) comparative advantage, or alignment between resource requirements of the sector and resource endowments of the country, and 5) exportability. We then compare the performance of manufacturing against specific service subsectors under each of these criteria using India as a case in point. We find that many of the virtues exhibited by the manufacturing sector (such as high productivity and international and domestic convergence in productivity) are shared by some service subsectors (such as Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate). However, in the Indian case, these subsectors also share manufacturing’s flaws: they are all too skill intensive and hence unaligned with India’s comparative advantage. This poses further difficult policy questions for India and other developing countries in similar positions, which we attempt to consider in our conclusion.

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