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OP-ED: A boom in Bangladesh

  • Published at 03:03 pm June 27th, 2020

What does Bangladesh’s future look like?

The race has started.

Pretty soon we will again be hearing the most used-phrase in the US presidential election: “An American dream.”

Trump and Biden both will vehemently try to prove themselves as the staunchest supporter of this “American dream.” A dream that neither George Washington nor the founding fathers had dreamt, a dream which was not even known to Abraham Lincoln.

Earn and consume

The dream that was created and instilled by post-World War II capitalism to strengthen itself and to inspire the Baby Boomer generation (1946-1964) to consume more. “Earn and consume” was the tagline for the boomers.

Capitalism was trying to overcome the shock of the shortage of “man,” the first and inevitable pre-requisite of the production line after World War II , unlike today. And the boomers conformed.

Thus, capitalism slowly started to transform itself to consumerism. The concept of brand and brand affiliation had evolved. The boomers built the US into a super power, laying a very strong foundation for the American economy by producing more and consuming even more.

The boomers built a sustainable economy based on spending. The boomers not only contributed to the US economy but also had their mark in American culture, from the hippies to hip hop.

These boomers were the ones who fought and died in the Vietnam War or opposed the war, arranging processions and written petitions. America made the best and utmost utilization of the boomers in all aspects possible in the last century.

Now these more than 70 million boomers are at retiring age and daily 10,000 boomers are retiring and claiming social benefits. Once the builders are now proclaiming their dues.

Thus, an immense pressure is being created on the US economy. This situation was predicted earlier and was termed as the Silver Tsunami, a situation Bangladesh will be putting itself in around 2050.

A far-fetched problem?

According to World Bank Data, from 2015 to 2021, an additional 48 million people will be joining the work force of Bangladesh (aged 18 to 60). On an average, 9.6 million people will be joining the work force every year until 2021.

Is Bangladesh taking full advantage of this dividend? With the present rate of unemployment amongst the youth (42%), it seems the country is endowed with a “divine dividend” which it does not know how to utilize.

Yearly, in total, one million jobs were created from 2015-2018, which is three million jobs during the period against 29.4 million people being added to the workforce. 

From 2019 till the first quarter of 2020 the job market stumbled like the share markets of the country. Baffled, Bangladesh is failing to take any advantage of the situation and ending up sending this workforce worldwide, legally or illegally. They die in the sea going to Malaysia or in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe. 

Two visions

The two visions the government had declared were on the basis of these millennials: Vision 2021 (to become a middle-income country by 2021) and Vision 2041: (to become a developed country by 2041).

Both are on the basis of earnings (and spending as well) of these 48 million millennials. However, neither were new job opportunities created nor was there any huge foreign or local investment. On the contrary, billions were siphoned.

And now, with Brexit done, AI marching in, and the Covid-19 outbreak, it indeed is too late for Bangladesh. 

Considering the present economic state of Bangladesh, it is obvious that the government of Bangladesh will not be able to arrange employment for this new workforce of 48 million in the next five to eight years.

What about RMG?

The most labour-dense industry in Bangladesh is readymade garments. It has already been compelled to terminate or lay off at least 400,000 of its employees. Automation and the emergence of Vietnam as a garments manufacturer have put the Bangladeshi RMG business on the back foot.

Vietnam is emerging as the next garment capital of the world due to Chinese support and, specifically, five reasons: a) Shared borders (easy and faster transportation of raw materials from China), b) leaders with similar ideologies, c) easier terms and less bureaucratic FDI terms, d) available skilled labour, and above all, e) Vietnam is in the list of US’ MFN (Most Favoured Nations) and thus enjoys trade facilities in the US.

Considering the above, the RMG sector might end up losing its dominance in the GDP of Bangladesh. Even if the RMG sector survives, it will not be as labour-dense as it used to be and would not be able to contribute as it did to the economic growth of the country.

The RMG sector might end up losing its glorious role as the biggest employer for the unskilled masses. Thus, this divine dividend has turned out to be a nemesis for Bangladesh and has left us with two specific options and, unfortunately, neither is inspiring.

Dog eat dog

Considering our failure in employing these millennials, the first thing these millennials will try is to do is go abroad by any means. More dead bodies of Bangladeshi millennials will be found in the Arab Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the South China Sea.

A few might escape death and join as illegal workers with minimal payment. But that is not all. 

The ones who will stay in the country will first search for jobs and get frustrated. And this portion will probably become the majority.

A demand the government will not be able to fulfil. The complaint will turn to grief and outrage. They will come down to the streets and snatch away what they need.

Bangladesh will become a land of chaos for sure and local or regional groups with arms will rise like in Libya. There will not be any law and order and no one to govern the country as most of them will flee and the ones who can’t will be lynched by the mob.

Bangladesh will become a failed state which had earlier proclaimed a GDP growth of above 8%. Another paradox in economics!

Ajeyo Rohitashwo Al Quazi is a human resources professional and Founder of Bishshashe Bangladesh.

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