We have \'economy\' but no \'economics\'
Abu Hena | Published:
August 17, 2016 20:41:20
October 21, 2017 21:22:28
Mao Tse-Tung once pointed out that heat may be applied to stone or an egg, but the fact that chicken comes from one and not from the other is due to their internal structure. So is the case with our economy when we come in contact with advanced economies and international agencies. We respond according to our own system, organisation, behaviour, attitudes and circumstances not according to the projections and objectives of others. From that point of view, our society is anthropologically different and it requires special insight to investigate into our economic and social behaviour. Historically, it was the command economics which was imposed on us by the dynasties who came from the steppes of central Asia. It was they who influenced our behaviour and economic conditions. They clamped our agriculture and nascent trade in their grasp. In Europe, on the other hand, Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century became a great source of economic growth which was the outcome of the rate of return on developing new techniques and applying them to productive process.
Our environment was never biologically unproductive. We have abundant warmth and moisture for growing crops provided the monsoon comes. When rains come and floods do not damage the crop, our plant production outstrips others. A greater frequency of disasters, however, has increased the uncertainty as well as risk. Political risks are even more acute. Our economy is politically embedded and this factor is decisive for the way it performs.
Our rulers have a propensity to use people as objects, not humans. Mounting revenue needs of the rulers and the governing classes tended to restrict productive investment on the lowest scale. We have good land of high arable productivity which is the home of highly dense population. The resource endowment which includes natural gas, coal and petroleum is also not helpful because we buy technology from outside which reduces us into buyers of our own goods and services at a high cost.
Thus, our command society has always been coordinated by tradition. As a result, we always have 'economic problems' but no 'economics'. It does not mean that we do not carry on the fundamental activities of production and distribution that are universal prerequisites for survival. But we hardly have distinct knowledge required to understand our economic life. It simply means that it is a kind of understanding without which society's solution to the problems of production and distribution remains incomprehensible.
Market organised system is very different from that of tradition or command. Traditional society has sleepwalked through history. The command societies which still pervade our life pursue the goals of powerful individuals. But market society is in the grip of subterranean forces that have a life of their own. The motion imparted by these forces gives the society the kind of dynamism which is called 'economics'. We all are familiar with this dynamism, whether we have ever read a book on economics. The first wave of dynamism was the Industrial Revolution. The second revolution gave us the railroad, the steamship, the production of steel and along with them a string of economic activity-the business cycles. The third was the electrification of life. The fourth rode on the automobile and the fifth took us to the electronic and digital age. The bomb, space travel, lasers, semiconductors, the touchstones of the modern time, all bear on them the fingerprint of dynamism, which is the norm of daily life. In the ultimate analysis, 'economics' means systematic patterns, a kind of trajectory, and a certain orderliness.
Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, command is the indisputable means by which the government has purposefully tried to dominate the ways and means of production and distribution whether it originated from an Annual Budget carrying poverty alleviation measures or an annual development programme (ADP) creating occasional employment opportunities for the unemployed. Neither the budget nor the ADP is capable of giving the required impetus to market-organised system which must have a life of its own, moved by subterranean forces. Economic development may be viewed as involving change before gain. Development implies changes in the economic structure because of reduced employment in agriculture. This may happen with the emergence of part-time manufacturing in farms and in farm-cottages. Such "proto-industrial" sector may create goods for sale and development and growth may go together. A network of power and authority must come into existence in the form of farms, household industries, and trading link, free of state control.
The obvious question posed by such a social order is: what should be the duties of the state? The new development left three duties of great importance which the state must perform. They are, first, "the duty of protecting society from violence and invasion", second, "the duty of protecting, as far as possible, every member of society, from the injustice or oppression of every other member of it", and third, "the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be to the interest of any individual or group of individuals".
Putting flesh and blood on the three public duties defined by Adam Smith gives the state the main functions of revenue administration, accounts and audit, civil service management, foreign affairs dealing with international relations including trade and commerce and expatriates, law and order and a host of all other developmental, promotional and regulatory activities. These functions must be arranged in the most orderly manner possible so that planning and efficient implementation of policies are done smoothly.
The writer is a former MP.