Dr Khalil's Intellectual Space

Pak Political Economy +

Dr Khalil's Intellectual Space

Pak Political Economy +

The arrogance of economists

A friend was an economist proper, trained in a foreign university. When I tried to express myself on an economic issue under discussion, he told me ‘You’re not an economist.’ After keeping quiet on a number of occasions, I insisted ‘let’s see what I have got to say.’

Yes, I am not an economist, trained even in a local institution. I read Marxism, almost whole of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, and was involved in the politics of the Left for years. To many, that would be a disqualification!

I was taught economics by an illiterate, who could find a shop by matching its name written on a chit. From him, I learned about inflation, depreciation of currency, and the price of money.

But isn’t common sense one of the greatest teachers?

And like everyone is a philosopher, isn’t everyone an economist also!

Then I from a philosophical angle read economics on my own. Focused on economic thought, history of economic thought. On a few foreign trips, I listened to certain economists, like, Mark Skousen, Robert Lawson, Amartya Sen, Gurcharan Das, David Boaz, and others. (To me, Gurcharan Das appeared as the most provocative theoretician. And Robert Lawson, a very lucid one.) That sharpened my interest in and understanding of economic theory.

But economists proper instinctively look down upon economic theory. They take inappropriate pride in their specialized terminology, numbers and metrics. And like poets, they enjoy niceties of economic forecasting, relationships between various economic categories and financial derivatives, and their models and model-building.

Despite all their academic worth, their economics and econometrics are of no use to the general populace and the problems they face. They don’t bring their ‘heavenly’ economics down to the ground, and in their eyes that’s a coveted trait of their esoteric economics. That’s Paper Economics, like a Paper Tiger.

Do that entitle them to any arrogance? No doubt, the same arrogance may be observed in intellectuals and litterateurs.

Again, an anecdote explains it better. Years back, it was almost the concluding phase of the Lawyers’ Movement, and Talat Hussain (STH), a journalist, was conducting his show on Aaj TV. He had an economist invited to elaborate the (ever)worsening economic situation, who used to do his own show regarding economic and business issues on the same Aaj TV. He began by quoting numbers and figures, and CPI, SPI, GDP, CAD, FDI, BOP, etc. STH stopped him, what that means for the people. The economist dilly-dallied, you see that, you know that, and thus it ended.

No doubt, the academic excellence and research have their own value and help advance the science of economics. According to a study, ‘Half of academic papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, peer reviewers, and journal editors.’* But that doesn’t minimize their value and significance.

As far as economy on the ground, that is, civil economy is concerned, economists lag far behind. Since they are well-versed only in the Bookish Economics, and I would term it as the state economics; all their efforts exhaust in imposing the state’s economy on the real civil economy where wealth is created. But it is here that their theory and practice stop.

It is in this civil domain where real economics happens and functions. Hence, it is this economy they need to know and be trained in. It is here where they need to enrol for the all-important internship and discipleship, not in the classrooms and libraries alone. It is this ‘battlefield’ wherein they may learn and form new theories serving the science of economics.

Whatever prestigious degrees the state economists obtain, they must dive into the domain where real economy functions. Like better they do an internship with a vendor, vegetable-seller, shop-keeper, small businessman, small farmer, Aarhti (middleman), trader, an industrialist, an importer, an exporter, a custom-clearing agent, a tax-lawyer, so on and so forth. It is here that they need to practice the theory they learn in their books and universities. And it is here that they would see the naked reality of civil economy fretting before the functionaries of the state economy, that is, taxmen and regulators and of course the long-shadows of the state economists. That may help them learn economic theory in action.

Yet another anecdote. We two friends were sitting with one of ours at the Akbari-Gate market of Lahore. It was a shop/office, where they used to sell industrial chemicals. The friend, one of the proprietors, had his Gold Leaf packet on the table, and we were enjoying the tea. Two persons came and without uttering a word sat on the two vacant chairs. One of them picked up the Gold Leaf packet, got one cigarette out and lighted it with his own lighter and started smoking.

We were stunned as we two didn’t know them and thought them to be some acquaintance of our friend. But the friend was also red with outrage. He asked them: Who you two are?

From the CBR (Central Board of Revenue), they replied. Then the FBR (Federal Board of Revenue) used to be CBR. He asked them to go upstairs to their office where his elder brother was who used to deal with these things.

Let the economists, who help the state (and thus state economics too) by inventing ever newer taxes and digging up ever newer sites from where taxes may be accrued and by devising ever newer regulatory regimes, go and do an internship with such a businessman. Not at all, most economists would prefer to do an internship with an office of the tax-collector and tax-spender.

So, may I ask our Pakistani economists what their economics is all about, helping the state and the statists or the Riyasati Ashrafiya live off the wealth created by the civil economy or the people, or helping the people live in freedom and harmony with each other and mutually getting better off by meeting each other’s needs by producing and exchanging quality goods voluntarily under a government mostly minding its protective function!

Dear state economists, take some time out to reflect and see what your arrogance is worth!

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