A number of people in Pakistan have been arguing, in political, journalistic and intellectual circles, that the problems of the 'common person' are of inflation, employment, poverty, access to electricity and water on the economic side, and that of the threat of terror on the political side. But he/she is not concerned about issues of the judiciary, whether it be restoration of the chief justice or the issue of the award of extra marks to the daughter of the sitting 'justice', or the issue of the powers of the president as opposed to the prime minister or the fact that the current president is the head of a political party as well. And the list can be fairly long. It is true that the immediate concerns of most people in Pakistan, facing economic downturn, hardship and the real possibility of a meltdown, are about employment and inflation. How can it be otherwise? A majority of the people in the country are quite vulnerable to income and poverty shocks, a significant number, without getting into the debate of whether it is 30 percent or 40 percent, are poor, and/or are bunched around the poverty line, how can inflation, unemployment and economic slowdown not be concerns? If prices rise, as they have been in the last few years, and incomes do not, it would be silly not to be concerned. In fact the people should be more than concerned: they should be petrified. With the state providing poor quality health and education services, and almost no social protection nets, loss of job or purchasing power would be devastating. Similarly, for most of the people of the country, the fact that the state is not able to provide safe drinking water to the majority, cannot manage to provide uninterrupted electrical and gas supply to the country, should be a cause of concern for the people. Their well-being is deeply tied to provision of utilities and the quality of services provided by the relevant departments. But this is not the issue. There are two things to keep in mind here. If people are concerned about the fact that they might have to face poverty or hunger or unemployment or lack of good health in the near future, does this preclude them from thinking about other things or being concerned about other things or feeling passionately about other things? Yes, they might prioritise their concerns in a way that hunger and poverty come first, and they may even have a bit of a lexicographic structure for concern, but it still does not mean that they will not be or should not be concerned about other things. Even more importantly, though the concerns might be about inflation and employment, given the connectedness of various issues, one cannot separate these concerns from other larger and more medium to longer term concerns. Take any issue you like and the analysis will be more or less similar. In the case of inflation, we know that there is usually a tradeoff between lowering inflation and keeping higher growth. If you assume tighter fiscal and monetary stances (raise taxes, lower expenditures and lower monetary expansion) inflation is likely to come down but since you also squeeze demand directly and indirectly, growth is likely to also slowdown. Now consider a government that was more concerned about keeping a higher growth trajectory than about bringing down inflation, if a tradeoff was offered to them, would this not bring the economic and the political spheres together? Will the concern about inflation not also be a concern about what sort of government is in power? Think of the last government we had. A government that was dominated by the military, and though there was a Parliament in place, everyone knew and acknowledged that the power of the government was not coming from the people of the country, it was coming from the military. It was a non-representative government. This government was more concerned about growth figures than about inflation. For many years the economic managers of the time had just one job: to show impressive growth figures, whatever the cost, and to argue that if we could keep growth going for a longer period, poverty would automatically come down through trickle down and so on. The mantra was powerful. Impressive growth was shown, poverty was shown to have gone down and it was argued, repeatedly, that growth was trickling down and motorcycles and mobile phones were penetrating the rural and backward extremes of the country. The economy was pumped, through consumer financing and lending, through monetary expansion and relaxed monetary policy, to create the boom. And even when the chicken started coming home to roost, in terms of higher inflation, higher economic inequality and nearly jobless growth, there was no willingness to take on the issues. Till the last, the economic managers of the time kept arguing that we should pump the economy even more. The main finance guru of the time is still arguing that today. But it clearly shows what a non-representative government can do. It was not responsible to the people and was not worried about the voting power of the people so it thought it could ignore the majority that did not benefit from the growth and that got hurt from the inflationary pressures of the last year or two. When the polls finally happened, it was a day of reckoning for the last government. It is not a surprise that Amartya Sen has argued and shown that famines do not happen in democratic governments: democratic governments are responsive to the needs of the people and cannot afford to have millions killed or disenchanted. But the key message that we want to get across is that the political and the economic cannot be separated out in most cases. Take the issue of the judiciary. PPP is saying people are not worried about the issue of restoration and creation of an independent judiciary. But what has happened to the case of the missing people since the judiciary that was just starting to be independent was sacked? Will this judiciary take up the case and bring the agencies in line? Take a different example, the dictator, through one stroke of his pen, had disenfranchised some 95 percent of the people of Pakistan in the 2002 elections. By requiring candidates to be graduates, when most people in Pakistan are not, most people had been told that they could not be a part of the democratic system. And a non-independent judiciary had allowed this flagrant violation of the constitution to remain in effect for one election. How could the government be representative when most people in the country could not even contest elections by law? Similarly, the military and the US forces are killing people in the North of the country, and very often we just hear '10 suspected militants' were killed and so on. But there is hardly ever any inquisition, even post fact, to find out who the people who were killed were. Were they militants? Or were they just collateral damage. Can this judiciary force the government to be more cognisant of this? For those who think so, dream on. The constitution says access to quality education, at primary and secondary level, is a right of every child in Pakistan. Given the right is being violated, does anyone have the confidence in this judiciary to go to it and get the judiciary to have the right implemented? You know that that is not going to happen. But this is not just a distant concern. It is about access to education and health: concerns that are making most Pakistanis nervous right now. The issue is not really about which particular variables or topics are hot today and which are not. It is about the connectivity of issues and their ultimate dependence on the institutions that are present in the country. Our institutional structure is in terrible shape and this, more than anything else, is the main issue. It is not the case that if the institutions were right we would not have any poverty or recessions or inflation/unemployment, but it is true that if we had better political, judicial and social institutions, ones that are more responsive and responsible to the people of the country, these problems would occur less often, with lesser severity, would effect fewer people and for many, would get mitigated by other institutions (under social protection and so on). Economic problems are surely urgent and important, but it should not be forgotten that they are not isolated and cannot be resolved independently of other deeper and more rooted problems. The two cannot be as neatly separated as the political spin masters would like us to believe. If the government does not realise that now, it will any time it goes back to get a mandate from the people. If it really wants to serve the people of the country, it would be better off if it focused its attention on resolving some of the longer-term issues. The writer is an associate professor and head of the Department of Economics, LUMS E-mail: faisal@nation.com.pk