Thursday, 13 February 2014

A Policy Dinner



There is a lot of agreement that education is the way forward. Oh yes educate them the more you can the better. Give them skills. Give them education. Love it.

Here I am sitting at dinner with donors and the rich industrialists --an interesting combination. So well meaning. So comfortable with each other. So much agreement. They have all the answers. If only they were given a free rein all would be good.

So the donor says we need more taxes and the rich people all say oh yes, but the fault is the middle class undocumented sector. Yes if only those dirty people who work hard could be forced to pay. Yes the ones with all the advantages and the SROs are already heavily taxed. Yes the SROs are a problem but we will have to phase them out slowly. They all nod.

The conversation moves to trade with India. Yes we must but then you know there is protection on their side. So what should we do? Imagine if there free trade and no borders much like European Union. What if we could reverse Partition. Wow we would do so much good. If only we could wipe out history and engineer people. If pigs had wings.

They were all talking about my subject. They were all for education. But the last thing they wanted was my opinion. Like the Taliban, they were in agreement and knew all the answers. Did they have the need to listen to someone who has some knowledge of the subject. No.

On questioning them a little, I noticed that they had not even read what the Pakistani economist writes. Why should they since they are comfortable in the supposition of the donor thinking. So all we needed to do was reinforce each other's beliefs. Not try to learn from research and education.

Yet we need to educate them. But then it dawned on me, I was one if them. I was not supposed to be at the table. "Them" don't tell us. "Them" don't participate.

We educate them. Then a clever person came up with this "don't educate them, give them skills." After all they will work for us. That is all. But skill training has not worked in the past. It will now. Because we know what the demand is. Them will do what we say. It will be all right.

I tried asking what is the objective of economic policy and where will growth and employment come from. Investment is at a low and does not bode well for employment. These were trivial questions that may preoccupy an economist but not these giants of thought.

So they will send me even for a PhD with Nobel prize winners. They will even encourage me to write and offer solutions but not to change their minds. If I disagree there is a knowing smile and glances exchanged to ignore this. Our beliefs must not shake. Taliban are less subtle but belief is belief.

I tried to raise several possible hypotheses. Maybe taxes are not the key to progress. People have written that government expenditures and the size of government may be a bigger problem.

Maybe we have too great an emphasis on stabilization. Some people argue growth and employment will only happen if we prioritize structural reform.

Maybe education has to be accompanied with empowerment to think and contribute to debate. Education must lead to jobs.

Maybe we should review the market organization and regulation to see why investment does not take place.

Hey did you read that some poor Pakistani economist has been writing about the need to vitalize domestic commerce and construction to generate jobs. And that requires a wholly different kind of deregulation that we have not even begun to talk about.

Folks, the Government is broken. Some Pakistani economists have prioritized reform of Government in particular civil service reform.

The international consultant may not have the whole picture. The Pakistani economist has a different analysis and evidence. Listen to him. Give him some room. After all the west grew because of their own thought and policy.

But believers are believers. They do not read Pakistani thinkers. They did not want to learn. Only to reaffirm faith. The only fool was me who bought into their education paradigm. They only want "them"  to learn enough to "stand and wait". Don't think!