Development is never neutral. It always has a price. We cannot change and improve things unless some lose and some win. In a country’s development, the majority of the people should win, indeed those who are at the bottom on the ladder. In all countries, even in the fairly egalitarian European countries, there are people who need help to climb the ladder, maybe some twenty percent on the lowest steps; then there are the sixty percent or so in the middle, who still want improvements; and there are some twenty percent at the top, with a small five percent who are filthy rich and become richer. In the developing countries, the percentages are different, with the majority of three-quarters or more needing immediate betterment of their lives and opportunities. Governments should have their priorities and policies right to facilitate change. Today, Pakistan seems to prioritize better than ever! Essential, though, is that people are given space and opportunities to participate in the country’s democratic development, and their own everyday life improvements, at their workplaces, schools, and communities. Choices are not only made at the elections but all the time.  

In several recent articles, I have discussed democracy and class issues. I have said that the European social democratic labour parties, from the 1920s and 1930s, played a pivotal role in building of the welfare states. I have especially drawn attention to the Swedish social democratic party and its leaders, making it possible for people to dream big and see the basics of their dreams realized, notably achieving: decent work conditions and salaries, improved housing and general living conditions, universal health care and social services, good primary education and possibilities for vocational and further education, all with a right and duty for all to participate in the land’s democratic development. Improved gender equality has been achieved mainly in the recent decades. 

In my articles, I have presented some examples, again mainly from Sweden, of ‘ordinary people who built the land’, as I called it, noting that policies and leadership are important, but still, it is the people’s labour that contributes most, their sweat, sacrifices, struggle, innovativeness, competence, and more. In Sweden, I also noted that in last century when the land’s development flourished, many leaders came from the lower classes, knowing better people’s needs, and those who did not, still worked for the uplift and welfare of the lower classes in accordance with the ideology and purpose of the labour party and other parties in the centre and left. 

It is important that ordinary people work together with their leaders, in political parties, labour unions and other organizations. The leaders must facilitate cooperation and development; only then can dreams be turned into concrete actions to the benefit of all, also those at the top. This simple truth is universal; it is common sense and it does not belong to any particular ideology, philosophy or political thinking. It belongs to all. Also, it is fundamental in all religions and faiths; God is for rich and poor, man and woman, educated and uneducated, and for geniuses and simple-minded, like me, and so on. God is for each human being, and for the whole humanity.

But politics is not neutral, as I began my article stating. It is built on values, choices and goals. If the rich and powerful want to stay separate from the poor and oppressed, they can do so. They can choose to keep most of the cake themselves and eat it alone. It will not last forever, but it may well last for a while, as it has in many dictatorships and countries with major inequalities. Colonialism was indeed like that, and in many countries, including Pakistan, it takes time to correct the past; here, many changes are still to be made. Labour parties and labour unions must be developed to ascertain development for all. 

In our time, when democracy is the model, notably that all people can participate in the running of their land, that means that rich and poor have equal say, laymen and learned, too. People have a right and duty to participate – and reap the fruits together. The more egalitarian and equal people are in a land, the more dynamic and innovative the land is. Economists and social scientists have documented this through research – and ordinary people have always known it. Recently, even the chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde, said it. But I am not sure if she would go far enough. I somehow have some reservations for IMF and the World Bank, and I even worked for the latter. Their ‘soul’ is American capitalism, I feel, more than people’s good.

A few days ago, a significant book was launched at a Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) event in Islamabad: ‘Growth and Inequality’ by Hafiz A. Pasha, a legendary professor, politician and United Nations top official. I was impressed by his proposals to the finance minister Asad Umar, three other ministers, and several other experts, who listened to Pasha’s proposals for the June budget and those of future years. I was also impressed by the top brass on stage and in the audience. I begin to believe that Pakistan now does have a government that will indeed try to tackle real development issues! The economy isn’t doing so well, and that will delay change and redistribution of wealth to ordinary people. It is always easier to do that when there is growth, as was the case in Sweden and Europe when they developed and included the working class in sharing the cake with the rich. 

Yet, let me not only boast of the achievements of Sweden and the other European countries. There are many things that could have been done differently, and there are things to do in future. Development is always more than growth and economic development. Redistribution of wealth is also political and based on priorities and choices.

The legendary Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander (1901-1985) was once asked what he thought they should have done differently during his long time in office, from 1946-1969. He said that one thing they could have done better was the housing policy. Instead of focusing so much of just building more units, blocks of flats, often in suburbs and artificial dwelling-towns without real life, they should have focused more on building communities and including the residents’ history and cultures. He was nostalgic about the atmosphere and togetherness about many small villages, towns and city neighbourhoods. 

The reminder does not only apply to housing policies; it applies to all new developments, certainly today when technologies change our daily lives so fast. We must always remember the cultural and human dimensions, not let one-eyed economists, engineers, architects and sector experts take over. Development is integrated and it is for the people, the ordinary small man and woman, not for the economists and leaders and their power point presentations. As always, development requires our participation because it is for all of us.