Last week Dr Hafeez Sheikh was under public scrutiny for being oblivion to the rising price of tomatoes - being a finance minister, he should have knowledge of rising prices when price hike is the biggest headache for the government. The issue that needs reflection is the disconnect of the elite from the ground realities of common man. Food prices constitute around half of consumer basket for lowest income groups, while for elite, it's a non-issue. Quality public sector education and health facilities could be life changing for masses, while the elite have private solution at different price points. And the list goes on.
Recently, one of the multilateral dignitaries visiting from DC in a closed group discussion surrounded by elite said that there is a disconnect between the elite and the poor. The gist was that there are two kinds of Pakistan - one is for the elite which is at par with any part of the world while the masses live in a different Pakistan. The issue is not new. Dr Ishrat Husain wrote a book in 1999 "Pakistan: The Economy of an Elitist State". And 20 years down the road, elite capture has only increased. It is becoming the worst form of elite capture in the world. It's not about political party or establishment enhanced role or business groups' lobbying.
The fight is on the pie that is available to elite, and it is shrinking, by virtue of persistently having excluding policies. The core issue with this government or any other government is not incompetence or corruption - it is collusion. All kind of lobbies or interest groups are deeply entrenched, and they get what they want irrespective of who is in power, irrespective of civilian or military rule. The modus operandi is the same.
Rent seeking is at the core, and everyone knocks down the doors of power and becomes part of power elite, for their respective share of rent. The dead-weight loss in the economy increases, and the poor's chances of moving up through optimal allocation of resources become thin. The media is also part of elite club - a number of news channels have been bought by rent seekers to protect their economic rents. And the celebrity anchors became part of elite and think and act like elite.
The policymaking is in favour of elite and the system is running for elite. A former SBP Governor once said, "This country is for the elite, by the elite, and of the elite". There is no representation of non-elite in any decision making or amongst influencers. Anyone who wields power is only becoming part of the elite - and the natural inclination is to safeguard system that favours him or her at the cost of masses.
For many expat friends and family when weighing the option of moving back to Pakistan- the biggest consideration invariably is to have a battery of servants around. In DHAs, and other similar localities in the country, there is higher number of servants living in a quarter to serve lesser number of masters occupying bungalows. If these servants' kids become empowered, who will be left to serve the elite?
People take pride in manifesting their charity for the poor, but this writer has seen many of those bickering about annual rise in minimum wage. Elite do not pay the direct taxes and are fine with increasing indirect taxes which skews the burden to low and middle income groups.
The resilient way for any country to move up the economic ladder is by creating a vibrant middle class - and that would only happen when the lower class has opportunities to grow. And for that, the will of the elite, to let go the sense of entitlement, is a prerequisite. There are many businessmen around who do not pay their employees fully for the contribution, but help them out in days of crisis - making them indebted, and buy their loyalties. This is kind of modern slavery. Unfortunately, such conversations usually get buried in drawing rooms as the writer and some readers too, are beneficiary of this elite capture.