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Development / 13.12.2019

By Anjum Altaf The Prime Minister has praised his economic team for an ‘economic turnaround’ that comprises declines in the current account and fiscal deficits and increases in foreign direct investments and remittances. Unfortunately, all these are misleading indicators but one in particular is especially egregious and contradictory. Why is the increase in remittances considered a part of the economic turnaround and something that governments consider an achievement worthy of praise? Consider an anguished airport conversation with a Pakistani working in Italy and supporting a wife and two children in Pakistan. He used to send the equivalent of Rs. 50,000 per month in lira for family support; now the equivalent of Rs. 80,000 is needed to sustain the same expenditures. The increase in remittances is an outcome of greater economic distress in Pakistan. It is a false signal reflecting economic failure, not success. Before patting themselves on the...

Development / 17.09.2019

By Faizaan Qayyum YEARS after Uber and Careem gained popularity, there is a new service in town: Airlift. Unlike existing services, which would essentially function as online marketplaces for private commute, this service links up many more people by selling seats in larger vehicles. And if you were to believe their founders, it is the answer to our people’s transit woes. Almost as if on cue, there is competition. Swvl, another startup that originated in Egypt, has entered the market, and existing services like Careem are working on similar models to retain their share of commuters. But is a surge in capitalist interest sufficient to establish the positive value of these services in our cities? One thing is certain: services like Airlift and Swvl can significantly improve the plight of urban commuters just by virtue of their operational model. Where commuters could book a car on Uber, they...

Development / 17.09.2019

By Anjum Altaf I don’t believe there can be a way forward on our taxation problem unless taxpayers are given a fair and patient hearing and their concerns are allayed in a convincing manner. Let us consider the period from 1988, when the PPP came into power under Benazir Bhutto, to 2018, when the PML-N lost power under Nawaz Sharif. These two parties shared power during this entire period of 30 years except for the ten-year takeover by Pervez Musharraf from 1999 to 2008. Now consider the fact that no less than the Supreme Court of the country characterised the rule of the PML-N as that of a mafia and that Nawaz Sharif, currently in prison, was accused of siphoning money abroad and buying properties there with unaccountable funds. Consider also the fact that since 2018, the new government has spared no effort to tar the PPP rule...

Development / 22.01.2019

By Anjum Altaf Oxfam presented its new report at Davos whose main takeaway for India is that: "Indian billionaires saw their fortunes swell by Rs 2,200 crore a day last year, with the top 1 per cent of the country’s richest getting richer by 39 per cent as against just 3 per cent increase in wealth for the bottom-half of the population." https://theprint.in/economy/richest-indians-got-wealthier-by-39-worlds-poorest-saw-their-fortunes-dip-by-11-in-2018-says-oxfam-study/180630/ Shekhar Gupta at The Print has castigated this report in very strong terms as methodologically flawed and politically motivated. Please read the news item and watch Gupta's critique then write a comment with your own analysis. Where do you come out on this issue? [I wish he would stay still while speaking -- it is tortuous to watch] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=eBvdW4rfMYo Here is a set of expert opinions solicited by The Print: https://theprint.in/talk-point/oxfam-inequality-study-skewed-parameters-to-assess-wealth-or-disbalanced-economic-growth/181348/ Consider the three in conjunction with the following argument which inserts some much needed theory into the debate. https://thebulwark.com/is-all-economic-growth-created-equal/ Read this as...

Development / 09.12.2018

[Editor's Note: Imran Khan's suggestion to alleviate rural poverty by giving chickens to women was greeted with much ridicule but is there the germ of an idea there that public policy wanks can shape into a viable scheme? On the contrary, is there a convincing enough critique that can show how and why the idea might be infeasible. Myrah Nerine Butt took the first step in a blog published in Dawn on December 5, 2018 and I requested Faizaan Qayyum to comment on her article. Myrah and Faizaan were Teaching Assistants for a course (ECON 100: Principles of Economics) I taught at LUMS in 2013 and it is gratifying to see them both emerge as articulate public policy practitioners.  Myrah completed a MA in Poverty and Development from the University of Sussex and Faizaan a MA in Urban Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he...

Development / 30.03.2018

By Anjum Altaf There was a time not too long ago when the burden of disease seemed disproportionately biased against the poor. That someone was always dying among ‘these’ people was the irritated refrain of many an exasperated ‘Begum.’ ‘Fauteedgi’ (an event of death) was a dreaded word that came to be interpreted as a ready excuse to buy a few days off for the staff. Times have changed. It is hard now to find an affluent family without its own share of prolonged and painful illnesses and ‘fauteedgis,’ often premature. The speed at which graveyards are filling up in rich communities tells a story if anyone is willing to listen. What happened? Simply, money reached its limit in the ability to buy health. It could protect against many of the factors that caused the most mortality amongst the poor but lost its edge once the factors proliferated. Take...

Development / 20.03.2018

By Samia Altaf Two recent reports about Pakistan’s health system tell of deficiencies of far reaching significance. The first, from UNICEF, confers on Pakistan the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of deaths in newborns (neonatal mortality) in the past decade. It is now number one in the world, climbing from number three, and ahead of Afghanistan and the Central African Republic. The second, a National Nutrition Survey, informs that 45% of Pakistan’s children are stunted, suffering from chronic, extreme, and irreversible malnourishment that causes permanent physical and cognitive deficiencies. What would this half of future generations be capable of with its severely limited capacity to learn even if the opportunity for education is available? It would fall sick much quicker and get better a lot slower creating a permanent burden on the already constrained health service delivery system. The situation in other areas of...

Development / 05.11.2017

By Anjum Altaf Rather than asserting that the military and the judiciary could be criticized if criticism was merited, a distinguished minister has taken the position that parliament is just as sacrosanct and hence above being challenged. In anticipation of what is likely to follow, this being Pakistan, one cannot afford to lose any time taking to task another minister who has asked for the treatment. I am referring to a news item in which the Minister for Industries, Commerce and Investment has informed the Punjab Assembly that there would be “no tomato import despite mafia’s manoeuvring.” The minister is said to have elaborated that “now tomatoes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were being sold at Rs. 70 per kilo in the city and would continue to be sold till prices get further stabilized with supplies from Sindh arriving in the local market.” The justification for the policy is contained...

Development / 30.07.2017

By Anjum Altaf Every so often someone promises to turn Pakistan into an Asian tiger. It is not a bad ambition but it hasn’t happened yet. Not just that, we don’t seem to be moving forward much. All the more reason for an honest examination because knowing where one is starting from is just as important as knowing where one wants to go. With help of some illustrative numbers one can establish three points. The Pakistani economy is existing at a low level; it is in relative decline; and too many of its citizens are struggling at or below subsistence level. Getting from here to Asian tiger status would require something beyond more of the same. First, the state of the economy. The Federal Bureau of Statistics website shows that in 2015 per capita income in current prices was Rs. 153,620 per year or about Rs....

Development / 14.06.2017

By Anjum Altaf It is good that inequality is attracting attention in Pakistan because there are significant gaps in our understanding of the phenomenon. What is under scrutiny in the West is economic inequality which is only one aspect and that too a rather peculiar one. Inequality has at least two other important dimensions - political and social. Political inequality refers to unequal say in choosing how one wishes to be governed and within the representative form of governance such equality is now ensured by giving every citizen a vote. Although the struggle for political equality goes back at least four centuries, its full achievement is quite recent. Very few are aware that only around 15 percent of the adult population was eligible to vote in the 1946 elections in India. Women obtained political equality as late as the 1940s in some European countries and Blacks...