Visions of Mahbub

From an article in Tribune by Murtaza Syed:

“Mahbub ul Haq taught me all I know about economics that is ultimately worth knowing. In a nation cruelly short of heroes, Mahbub, my first boss, was a shining light. As Chief Economist of the Planning Commission in the 1960s, he punctured the celebrated high growth rates of the Ayub era. He showed an enraptured domestic audience that state resources had been misused to create powerful monopolies that stifled entrepreneurship and only survived because of subsidies. As a result, the benefits of this growth had been hijacked by a handful of families, who controlled the majority of the country’s land and industrial wealth.

Later, as an adviser to World Bank President Robert McNamara, Mahbub launched a frontal assault on the false god of economic growth and its cathedral on earth, the free play of market forces. He pointed out that across the world, too, growth often fails to translate into better lives for ordinary people. Moreover, he argued that the mythical forces of demand and supply do not work when people are shackled by low purchasing power or a handful has monopoly power. To address this, he saw a vital role for the state in kick-starting the process of growth and ensuring it was equitably shared. Through these insights, he pioneered the paradigm of human development, and with it the vastly influential human development index which looks beyond GDP to capture other vital dimensions of human well-being like decent education, good health, political freedom, cultural identity, personal security, community participation, and environmental security.

Mahbub was a man ahead of his time. His eloquence reverberated on the world stage. He emerged as the spokesperson of the developing world, incessantly appealing to the conscience of richer nations. He is missed every day. Today, a quarter century after his untimely passing, his beloved homeland remains mired in desperate poverty and massive inequality. While most of our neighbours have taken off, we remain stuck at a per capita income of a little over $1,000 and every third person lives on less than $3 a day. Almost half our people are illiterate and less than a quarter of our women work.

Much like in Mahbub’s time, the fault still lies in the engines of our growth and the fickleness of our public policies. Our politicians are obsessed with growth at any cost but pull the wrong levers to achieve it time and time again: lazy, short-term stimulus that inevitably leads to painful busts as opposed to the long and winding road of structural reforms that unleashes prolonged growth through higher productivity and innovation. Short-termism associated with political cycles and an unfortunate lack of preparation and imagination among the economic teams of political parties is to blame.

Pakistan today is a country that can barely grow above 4-5% without finding itself hobbled by a current account deficit it cannot finance. Its growth model is too reliant on consumption, which accounts for a staggering 95% of overall output, while investment and exports make up just 15 and 10%, respectively. As a result, the country runs a perennial current account deficit, in stark contrast to the surpluses generated by the high-saving Asian tigers of the 1970s and 1980s.’

Continue reading here.

Posted by at 9:40 AM

Labels: Macro Demystified


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