BOOK REVIEW

Political economy: Bangladesh perspective

Asjadul Kibria | Published: November 29, 2018 21:24:30 | Updated: November 29, 2018 21:36:33


Political economy focuses on the links between economy, politics, and society. As a result, it largely belongs to interdisciplinary studies and draws on economics, political science, law, history and sociology to explain the critical role of political factors in shaping economic outcomes. Those who follow the tracks of political economy to understand and analyse local and global development need to put in rigorous efforts. The latest book by M M Akash clearly reflects this.

Titled Bishwo Punjibad O Bangladesher Rajnoitik Orthoniti (Global capitalism and political economy of Bangladesh), the book is a compilation of Akash's nine selected essays and speeches in Bangla. Being a professor of economics at the University of Dhaka, he is well known for his left-leaning thoughts. But those who are familiar with his writings and works acknowledge that his analyses are usually substantiated with adequate data and substantive logic, no matter how passionately he views different issues from a left point of view. The present book is no exception.

The articles of the book have been written during the last one decade on different occasions. Nevertheless, the relevance of the subjects as well as the analyses is still fresh. Moreover, most of the writings are presented in such a way that one can get a global perspective of them despite being discussed in a local context. In fact, the book is divided in two parts. The first one spotlights the global capitalism in three essays, and second one sheds light on the political economy of Bangladesh in six articles.

It is worth noting that the current year (2018) is also the 10th year of global financial crisis which originated in the United States in 2008, and later spread to Europe and Asia. The first article of the book, written in 2009, lucidly analyses the reasons of the global financial crisis and its consequences for Bangladesh.  It thus prompts the readers to have a vivid flashback on the financial crisis.

In the second piece, Professor Akash deals with the historical evolution of neo-liberalism, the market-oriented economic philosophy, which expedites maximisation of free market and minimisation of the state. An additional thought-provoking feature of the article is the author's mention about the 'Beijing Consensus', which is gradually replacing the 'Washington Consensus', especially in the Third World.  Referring to John Williamson, the proponent of the Washington Consensus, Akash says: "The five-point Beijing Consensus are: (1) Incremental reforms as opposed to 'Big Bang' approach;(2) Innovation and experimentation; (3) Export-led growth; (4) State capitalism, as opposed to socialist planning or free market capitalism; and (5) Authoritarianism as opposed to democracy or autocracy.

"Seeing the above mentioned formulas, a question may arise. Are India of Narndera Modi and Bangladesh of Sheikh Hasina going in this direction? I have just raised the question. Surely the experts will discuss it later." (P-52)    Though the term 'Beijing Consensus' has been coined by Joshua Cooper Ramo, M M Akash doesn't elaborate on the issue and keeps his readers waiting for elucidation. In his third article, the professor talks about the French economist Thomas Piketty's best-selling book 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'.  In doing so, Akash sheds light on Karl Marx and his work and also compares and connects Marx with Piketty. This is a long article, where the writer tries to explain the consequences of the fast rising income and wealth inequalities as well as socio-economic disparity.

In the second part of the book, M M Akash focuses on different dimensions of the political economy of Bangladesh. In his discussion, the writer presents a number of questions apparently to spark further debates and queries to understand the current nature and the future path of the country's political economy. According to M M Akash, "In our country the future direction of the bourgeois class will depend on the existing characteristics of the state-power. So the discussion will be incomplete without a discussion of politics...I will ask a few questions in this regard. Question-1: Who are the main policymakers in Awami League, the political party in power now and in main opposition? Are the big plundering bourgeois, or the independent party-leaning politicians or the so-called advisers believe in Western ideology, or in a coalition of different powers combining all of them, or finally a single powerful person who has successfully kept them all united by domination? Question-2: No matter whether Awami League or BNP stays in state power in the future, the influence of external forces, especially the US-India axis on them appears very high. Will the policymakers of these two parties be able to come out free of such an influence for the sake of the greater interest of the country?" (P-113) He also adds some more questions and finally asks whether the country will see a rise in both corruption and plundering along with some instances of growth where extreme poverty will decrease, but comparative disparity, inequality and discrimination will continue to rise. "Do we have to repeat the exercise from `a frying pan to fire' and from 'fire to a frying pan', as we have been doing since 1990?"  (P-114)

In this part of the book, two articles are likely to attract the readers greatly. One is on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the other is on the country's first Prime Minister Tajuddin Ahmad who also led the wartime provisional government of Bangladesh during the War of Liberation in 1971.  Professor Akash tries to briefly analyse the life and works of Bangabandhu and terms him both as a 'creator of history' and `tragedy of history'. He also terms Tajuddin Ahmad a 'creation of time' and also the person `who wants to overcome the time.' In these articles, the readers will find the courage of Akash in expressing his views independently, supported by facts.

Upon going through the book, one will definitely find it resourceful, thought-provoking and interesting. A few shortcomings are also there. The writer could have taken the opportunity to update some information by adding an annexure. Nevertheless, the main strength of the book is its clear analysis of a complex subject like political economy.  

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