The trickle down theory, which hit mainstream economic consciousness in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan in the United States, was turned on its head at the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit mid-November. Not in a frothing-atthe-mouth, or even overt, socialist way but by the oldest rules of capitalism. The world's top global corporations are all headed here to tap into a market of millions and millions of consumers, as India prospers. Consumers who are graduating to modest disposable incomes on the back of social spending, better paying jobs, and returns from a wide range of asset classes - land to gold to equities. All of which is benefiting the companies.
The summit, a once-a-year, non-pareil schmooze event but a little underwhelming this year, focused on economic inclusion, business models to tap into demand from the poor, the need to increase share of manufacturing in the country's economic output, and the imperative of executing on reforms. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, fighting the telecom spectrum scandal in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government (see the stress on his face in the picture above taken hours before Communications Minister A. Raja resigned), sounded the bugle on accelerating growth to over nine per cent. He may not have sounded very convincing but showed New Delhi's intent in pushing economic expansion.
Among the cheerleaders for customers at the entry level was Ben Verwaayen. The CEO of Alcatel Lucent, a maker of telecom gear, was emphatic about how businesses need to be opportunistic about India in the best traditions of market forces. "There is a huge opportunity for the corporate world to cash in. Where in the world do you find such large numbers," he asked.