The government is, therefore, required to outsource or privatize as less as possible. It is also required to engage with private sector from a position of well-capacitated public sector and, in turn, be better able to safeguard the long-term interests of the masses and the economy. This capacity is also important for better regulating the economic sectors. The government will have to come out of individual silos kind of working routines and collaborate more in a coordinated and focused way towards solving the main economic problems in the way of reaching equitable and sustainable growth.
Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs for example, has pointed out that ‘government can provide a tremendous amount of leadership if it’s dynamic’. One of the important foundations for playing this role also depends on the quality of public service. In Pakistan, however, a lot of reform – some of which the author has also suggested in his writings on public service reform such as having one public service for all sectors in which the government provides or should provide services, instead of separate civil and government service streams with separate technocratic and administrative services and in a routine and fast-stream way – needs to go in to improve country’s civil and overall government service into one, dynamic and well-capacitated public service.
The government needs to look more inwards in terms of capacity enhancement overall so as to be in a better position to engage the private sector and also look for policies that allow pre-distribution of resources such as bottom-up approach, and not just re-distribution of resources. Mariana, for example, by indicated in one of her talks about her recent book ‘Mission economy: a moonshot guide to changing capitalism’ that ‘…experimentation is key if you’re a value creator, it’s not key if you’re just pushing papers around, or at best, kind of, redistributing the value that’s created somewhere else. So, the idea that actually wealth creation itself is collective enterprise, and all the actors in both the public and private sector need to be investing within their own organizations is the ability to create value, interestingly was actually something that NASA was very aware of. So, the head of procurement… Ernest Brackett… had this really interesting concept: he said if we stop investing in our own kind of brain, our own research and development, then when we’re interacting with private sector organizations… we won’t even know how to write the terms of reference. So, he said in order to prevent, what he called ‘brochuremanship’ [like private sector coming with PowerPoint presentations these days]…in order to prevent us getting captured by ‘brochuremanship’, we ourselves need to remain capable, dynamic, and invest within our brain…’
The government apparently intends to do the bold things, making those hard policy choices that many previous governments have not. But they cannot pick and choose in a way that does not allow it to gather enough mass of change to make that ‘structural break’ from trickle-down approach to a bottom-up one. Macroeconomic stabilization, sustained economic growth, etc., demand the government take on needed responsibility, enhance its capacity in a much-needed considerable way, and fast, because for one, for instance, climate change crisis will most likely enter a non-reversable phase after a decade at least in the most consequential way of global warming, reaching a level not conducive for life as we know it.
The government must not lose sight of the fact that Pakistan is among the top ten countries that are likely to be heavily affected by the climate change crisis, especially in terms of already difficult water situation. Other reasons why the government should provide that mission-oriented, non-neoliberal approach is that experience, globally and in our own country, has amply highlighted for many decades now that unfettered markets, loosely regulated private sector, and limited, under-capacitated governments have not allowed economy to move in the direction of reduced income inequality and poverty levels, price rationalization, greater and much-needed welfare-oriented nature of state, dismantling of elite capture, better prepared government to safeguard the economic interests of the masses against a largely ‘profit-over-people’ mindset of the private sector, diminishing of disenfranchisement, and improvement in the overall quality of democracy.
And Pakistan has also gone through a long period of fighting terrorism, extremism, and radicalization over years of both as an exogenous shock of geo-political, regional situation, and also on the back of under-funding and planning in improving the quality of institutional, organizational, and market reform, especially one where government took the lead in both improving in-house capabilities, and also in being an equal, capable partner of business, both in terms of ensuring a more socially responsible atmosphere for economy, environment and democracy like pushing for a ‘no-excess-profit’ situation, sustainable growth, and greater influence of demos on public policy, and not moneyed, vested interests, whereby money and influence flowing from perpetuation of extractive institutional design on the back of collusion of politico-economic elites.
The government, if it really wishes, to make a structural break from the past, in the places mentioned above will have to choose one boat, and if experience of decades has taught us anything is that it is in adopting a non-neoliberal, mission-oriented and institutionalizing role of government, taking along other economic actors but itself leading from the front. A better capacitated government, playing the role of ‘investor of first resort, and not only lender of last resort’ will in turn better safeguard the returns on its investment into economy from the unjustifiable onslaught of the private sector and corruption in public sector, and will ensure that the returns from such investment flow back to the progress, prosperity of all the stakeholders of economy, including the taxpayers, whose significant investments in the first place do not go properly rewarded. These returns will, therefore, form an important addition to the national exchequer, in addition to the inflows from domestic resource mobilization.
The approach of just bandaging market failures may close those specific scars, but it will not stop the underlying reasons for causing new ones and even pushing the older ones to open again. It is, therefore, important that root causes are dealt with meaningfully and effectively. For this, the PTI government should imbibe the same sense of urgency and spirit of action that was reflected in the address to Congress on May 25, 1961 by President John F. Kennedy on the ambitious target of landing man on moon in a short period of time, whereby he declared: ‘These are extraordinary times, and we face an extraordinary challenge. …I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary, but the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions, or marshalled the national resources for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to ensure their fulfilment. …I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the earth.’ Our great economic challenges need that ambitious government leadership, who is willing to understand that it is its responsibility as representatives of people to do the hard thing of providing correct economic direction. – Concluded
(The writer holds PhD in Economics degree from the University of Barcelona, and previously worked at International Monetary Fund. He tweets @omerjaved7)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021