‘Everyone is an economist’
With global and national economies coinciding in their historic downturn, it is open season for all kinds of theorisers in English and Urdu to offer doomsday diagnoses of the “I-told-you-so” variety. Pakistan is condemned by some such analysts for having become “a slave of capitalism” in general and a tame camp-follower of the United States and its handmaiden institutions, the World Bank and the IMF, in particular, always looking for crumbs when it could presumably have an economic system all of its own. Armchair economists stare direly at you from the TV frame to warn you of what lies ahead unless Pakistan says goodbye to the global coalition against terror led by America.
Fortunately, Dr Akbar Zaidi, an eminent Pakistani economist, some of whose books are prescribed texts at school and college levels, has published a timely article in a paper which describes the free-for-all, one-sided debate going on in the media which tells us how hopelessly Pakistan and the world are mired in crises that no one can resolve. The government in power is hauled over the coals by these media pundits for “doing nothing” and each lobby is putting forward its own recommendations, unmindful of the fact that they are actually contradictory.
Here is Dr Zaidi’s description of the scene: “The huge media explosion, particularly in the electronic media but also in the English newspapers, has revealed how bare Pakistan’s scholarly cupboard is, and how charlatans have been crowned kings…Today, the electronic media has made bankers, businessmen, stockbrokers and journalists experts on the intricacies of economic and financial issues of which most know very little. Personal anecdotes, and not even informed opinion, replace any sound academic or general discussion about Pakistan’s economy or about the international financial crisis…Barring very few exceptions, most supposedly informed guests on these channels cannot distinguish between the capital market, capital investment or the capital account, yet speak with an authority which only reveals their complete ignorance”.
The plaint is justified if you take a cursory view of a day’s media mediations on the national economy. There is the politician in power who has to bear the brunt of the uninformed public that is burning tyres on the road; and there is his opponent who is actually secretly overjoyed that the crisis has come in handy to discredit the incumbent government and bring it down. The incumbent politician has his pet line serving as a diagnosis of what is happening to the economy. He points behind his back and says the crisis is inherited by him from the illegitimate past government of General Pervez Musharraf and that his government is now manfully engaged in the sanitary function of clearing up the rubbish (gandh) left behind by it.
The opposed politician, equally at sea about the economy, holds forth on the total lack of preparation of the government for handling the crisis which would have been tackled quickly and successfully if his party had been in power. Despite facts to the contrary, he accuses the government of not referring the crisis to the experts and of not having an actual plan on how to confront the meltdown. If monetary tightening is taken in hand to break the rupee’s headlong fall, he sides with the industrialist asking for low interest rates; if prices soar because of the “passing on of the real cost” on to the consumer, he stands on the road calling the government inhumane and insensitive to the plight of the common man.
Surprisingly, there is a third category of the politician too. He is the one who is supposed to have left behind the gandh. His job is the most convenient. He trundles out the good figures when the economy was supposed to be growing at the rate of 8 percent of the GDP and compares them to the deterioration that has taken place since the new government took over after the 2008 elections. In the final analysis, apparently, no one is to blame and the economy is hurtling down without a cause, if you listen to these gentlemen.
With due apologies to Dr Zaidi, one would like to add a fourth category of ‘expert’ who castigates the other three and, believe it or not, helps boost the ratings of his TV channel too [i.e. Javed Chaudhry, the notorious Taliban lover journalist]. He is best represented by the media’s top sound-bite expert whose favourite epithet for the politicians and rulers of Pakistan is haramkhor. He gives the audience a potted history of capitalism in which Jews figure as the first conspirators who thought up riba as the curse that will doom humanity and allow the Zionists to control the world. As long as Pakistan’s economy is under the dreaded regime of riba it doesn’t have a chance of a snowball in hell to survive, according to this view.
When will we get a break from such people? (Daily Times)