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Defunct economists at work

Pakistan is in the throes of a serious dilemma inasmuch as the functional aspects of the economy are not working. This happens when the fundamentals are not sound. The structural difficulties are such that the policymakers will have to seek outside help. We started on this in the 1960s with Ayub Khan trying to get things going. FM Ayub tinkered with the constitution, with the democratic system (Americans gave him massive support), with the economic systems and with the coming to terms with India via the Indus Basin Treaty. Ayub’s time is also remembered for the increase in agriculture production and the improvement in the industrial system.

The dilemma is that no economic policy can be considered to be absolute and time neutral. There has to be in-built flexibility based on discussion and debate. Instead our policymakers are involved in terminal statements that do not encourage any kind of debate. The West has been able to manipulate us to a degree that has led to the current impasse. Even if there is withdrawal from Afghanistan by the US we know that the West cannot be our friend unless they have and see some benefits. The West as some one remarked are fair weather friends while Chinese have been considered as all time friends – through thick and thin.

It certainly seems so. What system did the West give us? It gave us Neo-Classical Economics (NCE); an economics in which trade-offs have been suggested. Some of the dismal dilemmas that the NCE has suggested are in the realm trade-offs that require that we must sacrifice equity for efficiency, to attract business we must lower taxes or as we have done never tax the business community but let them at the throat of the poor, to prevent inflation we must keep an army of people employed. We must allow unnecessary ministries to exist, nay let them be to serve as graveyard of the management system, to motivate workers we must have unequal wealth. These trade-offs have a reasonable ring to them. At the policy levels such trade-offs become paralysing stand-offs in which no one gets what they want.

Consider how these policy packages have played out for the most seriously impaired province of Balochistan. Nothing has worked in those packages except the jobs were provided not to the people of Balochistan but to the cronies of the minister irrespective of the domicile of the person.

Economics has turned hypocritical and fraudulent. The current manifestoes of the parties are another matter out of this world. I tried to sum up the cost factor in implementing these policies. Leave the time span alone the cost to the exchequer is impossible to bear. We go on being impressed by actions taken by the political-economic system of a country without realising the sweat and blood that must have gone into making these suggestions.

The marginal areas and the fragile areas abound in this country and with the passage of time bad governance will ensure what will happen to the unfortunate poor in this country.

The options for these areas are not forthcoming. Are economists then to live in a fool’s paradise? They live in large towns and are totally disconnected with the rural world. They simply are not tuned to suggest anything to the world that we see in the rural areas for there is where the next action will have to be. The economists are low operators and find some escape clause or another.

What has gone wrong with our people that take everything that are thrown at the public? This will continue as such till living conditions would become so desperate that the volcanoes would erupt. Such an eruption took place in former East Pakistan. Do we seek another such eruption? I do not think that any one in their right mind would ever do such a thing. Then why are we so thick as not to understand the compulsions of the poor? Consider what is happening to land sector?

The lands of the poor are being usurped. Institutions are used for political purpose and whereas I thought that Punjab had an excellent bureaucracy one now understands why they are doormats to the power block. Why not tax the rich trader? Consider what is happening in the food sector? All matters that were under control only recently have now shown a surge and as some political party chiefs have started a mafia like operation to add to their assets. The objective of all in the provinces is not to annoy lest they are transferred. The civil servant has become a snitcher carrying fag orders of the political system.

This wasteful territorial expansion has many ramifications besides land speculation. Recently there have been some major politicians that were involved in land scams. The sons and daughters of the party chiefs are as usual playing truant in the system. There is a need to expose them. What good is an expose you will ask me? Much good at the moment will not be there but the fact that a document has been created means that there will be action at some stage.

They tell me growth is good for the economy yet they do not tell me what is the difference between pristine growth and meaningless growth? Urban growth is the easiest to achieve and yet as has been proved time and again this bubble will some day burst.

Pakistan does not have the wherewithal or the abilities to handle the requirement of and compulsions of urban sprawl. Finance ministers of the past have been talking of urban growth. Well you have Karachi where society of a traumatic kind is growing. They will soon be trigger happy. The policing have to improve by leaps and bounds. Work the sums for me.

Why cannot we as educated and powerful individuals understand that the poor have an equal stake in this country? Yet the effort all along is to make life miserable for the poor. There is so much disruption that the economists have left the consideration out of their algebraic functions. Is Pakistan capable of handling its issues in a just manner or will the junket tours continue.

Why should the powerful appropriate the lands of the poor? Why should the power structure seek dispensations that are not available to the poor? Why and wherefores my country has to bleed? Why have we what we have in terms of tyrannical powers? A number of questions that could have been answered by the new government but they have not. What kind of wishful thinking was there in their manifestoes? Did they ever think that they would have to translate the manifesto into action?

Try what Paulo Ferreira the Brazilian priest said ‘to be is to live’. Obsolete thoughts of defunct are not needed.

Dr. Zafar Altaf, "Defunct economists at work," Business recorder. 2013-07-13.
Keywords: Economics , Social sciences , Democratic system , Policymakers , Finance Ministers , Economic policy , Economists , Balochistan , NCE