Development / 31.08.2020

Economics is strange, full of odd things that are rarely challenged. It is a bit like religion that one is supposed to accept without asking any questions. When I was studying the subject in college, we were told that there were three factors of production -- land, labour and capital -- of which the first was fixed and the other two were mobile. In simple terms, this meant that while your piece of land stayed where it was your body and your money were not rooted in the same way. Out of college, one got to appreciate the difference between something being mobile and the same thing being freely so. Thus, while labour and capital are technically not fixed to one place, their movement can be restricted in any number of ways. The movement of capital can be constrained by border controls and limits on convertibility. There was...

Development / 19.08.2020

Now that we have discovered all the “essential” workers who were invisible to us, or to whom we had closed our eyes, what are we going to do? I mean, the people who keep our cities and buildings and homes clean and functional. Is it really alright for them to live the way they have been living all these years -- in some hovel, making barely enough to eat, working Sundays so they can accumulate enough leave to visit every four months, for a week, their parents, wives, and children forsaken in some faraway village? Is it really alright and acceptable to you? Is it mandated by some God on high? I know it before you can say it. We are back in the days of the Roman pantheon and there is a Market God except that now he doesn’t stay atop Mount Olympus but in Hyde...

Development / 15.08.2020

For the life of me I can’t figure out why Aitchison College students still have to wear those things on their heads. I was reminded of them when a retired teacher shared a chapter of the autobiography he is writing adorning it with the picture of a bevy of boys milling around him all capped in that anachronistic headgear.  Before jumping to conclusions I decided to check with a former student and was educated about the origins of the institution as the Punjab Chiefs’ College in 1886. I was informed that this headgear was part of the proper attire of the Punjab chiefs of the times and it was only natural that their offspring, the future chiefs, would continue the tradition.  That much made sense except that very soon after, the British renamed the college for a wannabe chief of their own, one Mr. Aitchison. Not just...

Development / 15.07.2020

How amazing that governments all over the world that could not find any money for public health or education have now, all of a sudden, discovered they can conjure up over ten percent of GDP to revive the economy after the COVID pandemic. What this means is that we don’t have to worry where the money will come from. Governments have signalled they have it and presumably they have figured out how they will pay for it -- by monetizing the debt or growing out of it or inflating it away. What this does mean is that we can move on to thinking about the economy that is to be revived with all this money. Are we aiming to restore the wretched economy that was damaged by the pandemic? Was that economy really all that great? Weren't we fighting against its inequities all these years? Isn't...

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...