An elite captured economy

In the middle of a professor being lynched, a despot getting a guard of honour and a community being forcefully converted, I yearn for hope. I seek light. I look for respite. And, I look for these far and wide. So when the W0rld Bank Country Director says at the Pakistan@100 report launch that we are on the “path to becoming a $2trillion dollar economy by 2047” – my knee jerk reaction is to flinch. It is to question this optimism in the era of gloom.

Make no mistake, this World Bank valuation is our potential not our reality. Despite what the World Bank says, despite what the Prime Minister says – elite capture of our economy is something that is not going away anytime soon. Dr. Hafiz Pasha, our ex-Finance Minister – values the elite capture loss at 860 billion PKR per year, a 2.5 percent share of our GDP. Another damning indicator is that despite having 30 million current accounts in Pakistan, only 600,000 businesspersons are tax fillers.

Meaning? Legitimised repression of all the classes – apart from the elite, of course. How so? Let us make an economic argument. The average wage per month for Pakistan is around 14,000 PKR. Think of sales taxes rising. Think of prices rising. Think of a gloomy entrepreneurial atmosphere. Think of imports getting more expensive through tariffs. This is what elite capture does for those who are marginalised.

But who are these parasites? A World Bank report points fingers on the industrial complex, private sector, bureaucrats and the landed elite. The point is not who they are. The point is they walk among us. To comment on them, these are not bad people. They walk among us. They have a widely respectable stature. But in such situations, we belligerent up through the vitriol of class antagonism. We say it is us versus them. The people versus the landed elite.

However, the elite are people too. The way to end their negative fallouts on society is not through a purge or any aggressive action. This class is too protected and embedded. In the 60s, one of Pakistan’s most revered economist Mahbub-ul-Haq claimed that 22 families controlled 66 per cent of the industrial wealth and 87 percent of banking and insurance. Now, the report in question from the World Bank states that this class has captured public representation in parliament. Industrialists are now monopolising the majority of representation.

How did this happen? Nonviolent capture of power. How will this go away? Nonviolent diffusion of power. This inequality does not need to be condoned and be swept under the rug. Rather, the broomstick needs to come out of the closet. Opinion leaders need to talk about it. Activists need to talk about it. Academics need to talk about it. Only then can it be discussed in every household. Only then can we awaken the latent empathy of those who ironically have too much.

Bear in mind, this is not unprecedented. The civil society has already shown its power with symbolic declarations when it occupied D-chowk. When thousands upon thousand of people came to protest against alleged corruption, the world took note. And soon, with all other factors being equal, there was some degree of impact in the eventual Imran Khan government that was elected. The end result was that a conviction against the norm of corruption was legitimised within the protester’s social spheres – parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents or who not.

While the verdict on the efficacy of this social movement’s end result is not my purview, the impact is undeniable. This sort of social movement can be utilised to remove elite capture in the long run. If there is enough sensitisation, future political leaders being voted in will be on lines of class rather than lines of political demagoguery. The end result will be that personnel with comparatively less industrial stakes will have parliamentary power. Think of the recent election of Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir of the tribal areas in KP. They will represent their constituency without a conflict of interest, and they shall have a clear conscience.

Cricket analogies have been the norm in Pakistan for the past few years. In proverbial and literal terms, let us hope that the organized civil society and the citizenry reform their surroundings. And, raise the standard for this tampered pitch we all live in.

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