Earlier this week, the Privatisation Commission decided in principle to lease out Pakistan Steel Mills for the next thirty years to a private investor. Numbers were thrown at us to justify its privatisation; the 200-billion-rupee deficit accumulated so far and the 2-billion-rupee monthly loss it makes; the 26 billion rupees injected over 30 months by the government to revive the sick giant. Numbers were thrown at us as if it is only numbers that count.

Did the government do anything to fix the problem at PSM and make it profitable? Or did it consider it enough to pump in those billions that padded up its deficit without producing any results? Did the government expect a sick concern to turn itself around without a plan or professional management? With no production activity at the Mills since July 2015, did the government expect it to generate revenue? Clearly, the government was never serious about reviving PSM as a public sector enterprise. That’s a no-go area.

Anything that benefits the public sector is considered a cardinal sin in the numbers-laden bible of neo-liberalism and, as is obvious by the policies and rhetoric of not only PML-N but the entire spectrum of our power elite, our so-called leaders are blind followers of this new religion. They have no ideas of their own that could lead us to a prosperous future. Obediently, they follow the neo-liberal commandments to reap their selfish short-term rewards in this world, in dollars.

Our ministers and opposition leaders, bureaucrats and experts, believe in the numbers and commandments spouted by their IMF and World Bank gods as believing souls believe in the verses of their holy books. They must do as directed to receive the loans and grants on which their governance stands. They wouldn’t dream of doing anything that could revive any public sector entity as the neo-liberal bible clearly commands them: Thou shall privatise the entire public sector! Revival of public sector entities is just another hollow slogan that they raise during election campaigns.

Let’s not mistake it: The government is focused on privatising public sector entities, managing them with a view not to revive them but to prepare a case for their privatisation. Not long ago, a joint session of the parliament passed a bill to convert Pakistan International Airlines into a private limited company. Along with the PSM, a number of other public sector entities are targeted for privatisation this year. And there’s nothing new about it.

For some time now, privatisation is the sacred buzzword for our governments; military or civilian, PML-N or PPP, federal or provincial. Governments change but the Privatisation Commission remains. Political parties play their musical chairs but the neo-liberal music in the background stays the same. It plays on even when generals take over. The numbers thrown at us vary but they talk about the same things; growth rates and GDP, foreign exchange reserves and FDIs; all those faceless figures invented to conceal injustice and poverty.

As Noam Chomsky said, “That’s the standard technique of privatisation: Defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital”. The mega-buck corporations that would like to own everything and their puppets in governments who don’t mind selling public property to them for peanuts, happy for their measly pieces in their mega-buck pies, are in it together. So, who will watch out for the public interest?

It’s true that governments all over the world are dancing to the same neo-liberal tune but that doesn’t make it a good tune, let alone a sacred tune. Just look at where it has brought us. Since the so-called end of history and the self-proclaimed victory of capitalism, we have seen our world become a harder place to live, especially for those that fall in the lowest economic bracket. Even in the so-called developed world, they have been hit hard by cuts in spending for public welfare.

Today, what the eight richest people in the world own is equal to the combined assets of 50% of world population at the bottom of the human heap. This is not by accident but the planned outcome of neo-liberal economic policies imposed on governments around the developing and developed worlds, and those in between. These policies extract wealth from the poor and the weak at the bottom and transfer it to the already-fat cats at the top of the rotten heap.

Of course, there’s more to it than unjust distribution of wealth. There’s the rampant violence of wars against those who do not bow down to the gods of neo-liberalism and their exploitative commandments, violence that annihilates peaceful societies and turn beautiful thriving cities to death-filled rubble. There’s the rampant violence of irresponsible corporations against nature and human dignity, maximising profits in ‘business-friendly’ destinations with lax labs or laws and environmental regulations.

The new religion of neo-liberalism, being imposed on the rest of the world by the so-called civilised-west, is not just an economic system. It is a way of life. It inculcates a value system that defines for its adherents not only the world but also their place in it. It defines our self-image and even our purpose in life. It reduces our understanding of human existence to a collection of numbers. Our purpose in life is to improve those numbers.

Surely, there are other ways to look at the world and our place in it. But it seems our leaders are bent upon privatising the public mind, by convincing us that neo-liberalism is the only way and converting us to their new religion. It suits them for sure. But does it suit us?

Imagine this: To strengthen the growing ties between Pakistan and Russia, which helped us set up the Pakistan Steel Mills in the 1970s when it was still the Soviet Union, a government-government agreement was signed between the two countries to revive the ailing concern as a jointly-owned public sector entity. The decision was taken to emphasise the importance of cooperation in inter-state relations. Though the agreement guarantees a promising future for the PSM, it is essentially a symbol of Pak-Russia solidarity.