Common man’s blues!

The problem is the common man is asked to deal with not the natural environment but contrived and man-made conditions

Khalid Saleem December 02, 2019
The writer is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and ex-Assistant Secretary-General of the OIC

Post the last general elections, the economic soothsayers and tax-happy planners are having a field day in the Land of the Pure. Amidst the hullabaloo, the proverbial man-in-the-street is, meanwhile, learning to scrape through the hard way. Whether the latter manages to come through unscathed, or even survives the exercise, is moot. As things stand, portents have little to offer as consolation, least of all to the common man.

It is only the lowly man-in-the-street one can easily identify with. Bereft as he is of the knowledge of higher economics — macro or otherwise — and shorn of practically all that man is supposed to live by, his principal concern is less to achieve the next notch in “per capita income stakes” and more to keep body and soul together until the next salvo. The question is: where does he go from here, if anywhere?

With the once rosy promises of the powers that be (“Pakistan would soon be among the Asian Tigers in terms of economic growth”) to go by, he should by all accounts be on velvet. And yet he somehow cannot help feeling queasy at the pit of the stomach that “all is not well in the Kingdom of Denmark” and that his lot is sinking rather than rising.

Meanwhile — looking at the macro picture — poverty keeps on increasing, just as the rich keep getting richer and richer. Add to this the fact that the economic whiz kids of this blessed land look forward to disposing of the family silver and you have a picture that is getting murkier every day. The question that presents itself, begging for an answer is: is the country’s micro-economy moving hand in hand with its macro sibling? If not, then why not?

The portents hardly look promising. The price of property booms to high heavens; corruption touches hitherto unachieved highs and shopkeepers keep raising the prices of necessities at will. Sources of water supply are being polluted with impunity, just as the price of bottled water spirals upwards. Several hundred thousand children are denied places in public sector schools, while the Higher Education Commission pours billions into hare-brained schemes to produce — out of the hat — a handful PhDs (all in subjects of little import to a developing country like ours). The cost of living skyrockets, while the common man’s purchasing power dwindles.

What is the man-in-the-street expected to look forward to then? What does he give credence to: the hogwash of the statisticians/economists on the authorities’ pay, or the facts of life staring him in the face? The nation’s priorities appear to have gone horribly awry. Shouldn’t our planners be paying due attention to curing the ills that beset the common man, rather than nurturing illusory statistics?

People are only what they have been brought up to be. Such is the way with all species. One can hardly expect fish to thrive in desert sands. The problem is the common man is asked to deal with not the natural environment but contrived and man-made conditions. When a section of people are brought up in a bubble, where the atmosphere is conveniently controlled to the optimum degree, subjective rather than objective considerations take hold.

No people can survive or prosper on a diet of statistics alone. Mere figures thrust down the throats of hapless common folk just won’t do. If statistics have to be quoted then let them be tangible, easy to assimilate. When targeting the man-in-the-street, our advisers and planners should learn to eschew the habit of talking of macro or micro economic indicators or of strewing statistics in his path. Let the annual progress of the country be presented in simple, easily digestible, terms and not in complicated foreign jargon.

The name of the game is to sort out betimes the day-to-day economic issues. Once this is accomplished, our planners may discover to their astonishment that such ponderous issues as the economy’s growth-rate and GDP will take care of themselves. It is our priorities that are awry!

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2019.

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