Tuesday, 14 January 2014

No social or intellectual capital

It was like being in twilight zone.

I was at at local conference which is become and institution as it annually gathers a fine grouping of Pakistani social scientists to create a fine debate in policy and thought. Generally it is interesting and participating in it is fun.

As I keep saying conferences are for learning. But our intellectual for many reasons has never achieved relevance and is self consciously seeking attention but not through academic work. Combine this with ignorant and arrogant public policy which has no demand for research and provides no research funding. The result is that we have starving intellectuals whose product has no market.

Our conferences are anything but places for learning. There is no real debate. People are not even listening to each other seeking and testing hypotheses, developing models and analyses, accepting results, and keeping memory of past themes. There are no real paradigms and the approach is anything but scientific.

I cannot understand, how everyone in an academic conference begins by saying that we have all solutions and don't need to learn anything. All we need is implementation and political will. So there is no need to create knowledge. No wonder our intellectuals are irrelevant. If they do not produce knowledge and have no questions why should anybody--ministers or secretaries or civil society--pay attention to them.

Most conferences explore themes from a paradigm. They seek factors that explain some phenomenon seeking to find patterns, exploring associations in those patterns, and developing associations into models. Through presentations and debates they seek to deepen the understand of the patterns and models to seek simplification and indent iffy causal relationships.

For example, the question why is Pakistan not reaching self-sustaining growth, the refrain is we know the answer. Why is there no implementation? Ok what is it that should be implemented? Government must invest in infrastructure, education, health and other good things. Well earlier government investments in these areas have not panned out well. The answer is do more do it better. Ok what education and what infrastructure, can we sharpen at least that? The conference is not interested.

All they are interested in is tautologies. Growth does not happen because we do not invest. Investment does not happen because there is no political will. We say invest, they implement. Sparkling thought.

Then there is inclusive growth. Everyone says we want inclusive growth. Can we define what we mean by it. That is too boring!

Each speaker, each session is independent in content and in thought. There is no need to listen to questions or ideas posed by any one. There is no memory of research done in the past, of easier paradigms or earlier writings. But even when the previous speaker may have presented something that challenges what the current speaker is saying no worries who is noticing.

Conference organizers are not looking to sum up knowledge, culling hypotheses and models safeguarding results, initiating and preserving debates. Instead they are worried about VIPs. In academic conferences around the world VIPs are academic stars who parade their theses to spark debates.

Here conference organizers are running after ministers, secretaries and donors. Ministers are paraded in to make absurd claims, treated with kid gloves.they come and go learning nothing only for ceremonial purposes. But our academics feel good and heard.

Donor consultants fly in from the US and UK using our aid money, flying business class, claiming USD 2000 to offer platitudes with no meaning. They are the stars, placed prominently, next to the VIPs, with the label handle with care.

They did not know where to place me. They are good people and my friends. But they were uncomfortable. Here is a former State Minister of Planning. He has also written a lot of academic papers and has seminal pieces originating themes of domestic commerce, cities as engines of growth, pushed original thinking on perks/plots and the civil service reform.

But the current minister for Planning is making a claim that there was no strategic thought after the last Nawaz government and has initiated a vision 2025.this is despite Vision 2030, medium Term Development Framework and the Framework for Economic Growth, My academic friends are out to please him.

My academic friends participated in the conferences for the Framework for Economic Growth. Large conferences small conferences many of them. Some of them made numerous presentations at these forums. Some of them had also participated in the events for vision 2030. Yet to my bitter amusement, none of them wanted to recall those conferences. It was as if nothing happened before vision 2025.

By denying history, credit for intellectual work and the power of analysis, we will never be able to lay an intellectual foundation.

No intellectual capital!

At that session, I was invisible. My friends could not see me. Because they were busy pandering to the new minister. They did not want to draw on my experience and my academic background.

No social capital!

These are investments we must make. Conferences are for that. How can we understand this?