EDITORIAL: It’s no surprise that the Pulse Consultants Survey, which interviewed 2,000 people from all social and financial classes between 13 and 21 January 2022 to see how they cope with inflation, found that 72 percent of the sample struggled to make ends meet. It’s also no surprise that this trend has worsened in the last couple of years, from 59pc in July 2020 to 68pc in October 2021 to more than seven-in-ten people now.
It also shows that this is not just a post-lockdown, international-commodity-rush-driven phenomenon, as the government claims. Rather, a very large number of people were finding it difficult to manage expenses even when the pandemic had just set in and the lockdown was about to come into full force. And for the last year or so the revival of international trade and travel as well as geopolitical tensions and supply bottlenecks have pushed up all important commodities to make an already bad situation, at least in Pakistan, much worse.
The breakdown shows that the middle class is worst affected, which is only to be expected. The bottom of the food chain barely survives in the best of times, and the top of it is never too bothered about things like prices, so those that are reduced to relying on their weekly and monthly wages to survive bear the brunt of high inflation.
They are unable to meet payment deadlines, pay bills, and in case of persistent inflation with sticky wages, the education of their children is compromised as well. That explains why the survey found half of them doing extra, part-time jobs on an everyday basis to make things work. 28pc also resort to borrowing, creating and then feeding a vicious cycle that always ends in ruin.
Now, if our political and social traditions are anything to go by, this report will become just another punching bag between government and opposition parties. The main debate will revolve around whose time has been worse for the people and almost no attention will go towards doing something about the situation. After all, each day wasted in getting a handle on inflation - at least the mafia, etc., driven type that can be handled - the more ordinary, hardworking people that form the backbone of the nation have to suffer for no reason at all except that those in the position to solve this problem are unable to do their jobs properly.
Both the State Bank of Pakistan and finance ministry are pretty confident that inflation will start to come down from the next quarter or so. But they’ve been wrong about it so many times, and each time the people have suffered for it, that only seeing is now believing for most of them. Besides, they’re betting on international markets to calm down, but that is not happening; at least not in oil.
Such situations cannot last for too long without seriously disrupting social as well as political life. As more and more people drop below the poverty line, crime will inevitably rise. And then more state resources will have to be deployed towards defusing a time bomb that will only keep ticking.
The point is that however high inflation was in the past and whoever was responsible for it, the present government must still answer for prices of essential items, which have nothing to do with international commodity trends, having remained unbearably high for unforgivably long.
Such surveys show just why the use of data analytics has become central to high-level decision-making across all spheres. Now, for example, people know better how runaway inflation has stretched the working class to the limit by forcing most people to do more than one job.
This ought to make working out targeted responses at least a little bit easier. But even the best efforts amount to nothing if they are not taken seriously where it really matters. For, everybody knows that meeting expenses has become a big problem, but nobody knows what is being, or what is going to be, done about it.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022