New technological possibilities should make Asia’s schemes cheaper to run than the West’s old ones. Britain’s NHS spent almost ten years and £6.4 billion trying to get its records digitised before abandoning the effort last year.
India’s new health-care scheme for the poor aims to be cashless and paperless from the start, using swipeable smart cards to make payments and convey information. In Pakistan over 140,000 poor people have received cash transfers over the phone under the Benazir Income Support Programme.
By 2030 Asia (excluding Japan) will account for over half of the world’s elderly and about half of the global burden of non-communicable diseases, like cancer and diabetes. If Asia’s welfare provision continues to widen and deepen, the region will host most of the world’s pensioners and patients. Asia may no longer boast a distinctive welfare model. But by the time Agus’s mother retires, the world of welfare will have become increasingly Asian.