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Changing the policy paradigm

  • Published at 12:05 pm June 4th, 2013
Changing the policy paradigm

The continuing violence and persisting danger of an economic meltdown suggest that new thinking is required to address the crisis of governance and the economy. The existing policy paradigm does not allow the formulation of policies that could overcome the crisis, just as the policy initiatives taken within it, have not worked.

It may be helpful therefore to consider the concept of the paradigm and then examine the main features of Pakistan’s existing policy paradigm to lay the basis for changing it. The word paradigm as used by the great philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, refers to the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science. In the context of social sciences, it is a fundamental framework of perception.

Pakistan’s policy paradigm has four main features.

The first is governance. Even within a democratic framework, governance aims to preserve the interests of the ruling elite, and the associated upper income strata. The institutional framework of governance systematically excludes the majority of the people from participation in the process of decision making which affects their lives. Electoral support of most politicians is built on the basis of establishing individual domains of power. These are maintained within patron-client relationships, where state resources are channeled by those in power to their dependents.

The second is the economy. In the economy, just as in the sphere of politics, the interests of the elite form the basis of policy, except as marginal handouts to the poor to keep “vote banks” intact. The institutional structure of the economy accordingly excludes the majority of the people from high wage employment, undertaking savings and investment and hence participating as subjects in the process of economic growth. As a consequence growth becomes unsustainable, and dependent on foreign aid, while mass poverty persists.

The third is foriegn policy. In terms of feature, India is seen as a permanent enemy, and this framework defines the perennial strategic objective of changing the Kashmir border in Pakistan’s favour to complete the “unfinished business of partition.” Accordingly, the trade off between defence and development in budgetary allocations must always be resolved in favour of maintaining a large nuclear, conventional and asymmetric warfare capability. It is logical therefore to maintain “strategic assets” of selected extremist groups, as part of the defence inventory. It is equally logical in the context of this strategic objective to conduct diplomacy with India with the primary objective of resolving the Kashmir dispute in Pakistan’s favour.

The fourth and final feature is ideology. In this realm, criticism of these basic postulates of policy would be regarded as unpatriotic. Similarly any fundamental analysis of the processes of growth and governance must be rejected on grounds of being “theoretical.” The only acceptable economists or social scientists are those who are “technocrats” that is, who are willing to work within the existing policy paradigm. They provide quick-fix solutions, which appear “practical” to those in power, because they do not require a structural change. This is inspite of the fact that these “practical” policy proposals have a dubious analytical base and which demonstrably continue to fail. The word structure in my view refers to the design features which determine the pace and pattern of economic growth. These design features are located in the institutional framework wherein economic growth is conducted by the elite and for the elite.

The literature of the New Institutional Economics shows that States survive and prosper if they have “adaptive efficiency” ie, they change their model of reality either when the existing model has failed to deliver, or new circumstances arise. This is demonstrated in recent history, by the contrasting fate of the Soviet Union and the US respectively.

As Pakistan’s crisis of governance and economy reaches a point of inflection, it is time to change the policy paradigm. One that regards greed as the basis of public action, affluence of the few at the expense of the many as the hallmark of development, and an adversarial relationship with a neighboring country as an emblem of patriotism.

We have arrived at the end of the epoch when we could hope to conduct our social, economic and political life on the basis of such a policy paradigm.

Dr Akmal Hussain is distinguished professor of economics, Beaconhouse National University. This article was orignially published in the Express Tribune and has been reprinted by special arrangement. 

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