The only certainty in long-term projections, as tersely stated by John Maynard Keynes 90 years ago, is that “in the long run we are all dead.”

This, too, was acknowledged in the just published report of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, encaptioned “Now for the Long Term.”  It is a product of a one-year study done by noted experts from 13 countries. It focused on how governments can tackle their dual responsibility of meeting the immediate needs of citizenry while, at the same time, laying the foundations for sustained development in the future.

Modern polity is mired in short-termism. Its immediate compulsions are such that it is difficult to find a Shah Jahan driven by an enduring passion to build a Taj Mahal for future generations. 

There are also socio-cultural dynamics that impede progress. In Pakistan, it is a rabid pursuit of the rapid buck. Accompanying it is the continuing excess baggage of foisting and entrenching the junior breed of the already over-privileged in the public domain. The focus is on the next election, not on the next generation, thus ensuring that the political culture remains polarized and dysfunctional.

The virus is in the West, too. The October shutdown of the US government was driven in part by a powerful push from moneyed vested quarters to prevent the broad expansion of public health care.

Exclusion is a key issue. Those included inside the big tent want to keep barring the excluded. Australia, despite its enormous size and puny populace, keeps cruelly blocking beleaguered Muslim boat refugees from entering its waters. The European Union continues to keep excluding Turkey. The United Nations keeps excluding a major Muslim country from a permanent veto-carrying voting seat on the UN Security Council. The Nuclear Club remains off limits to any aspiring Muslim nuclear power. And the Palestinian dimension, which is at the heart of the tensions roiling Western-Muslim world relations, remains purposely sidelined. 

Despite the claims of Western elites of being global in thought, some actions suggest that they remain local at heart. Arguably, the Norwegian Nobel Committee that deprived Malala of the Nobel Peace Prize did so, in part, because of latent prejudice and fear of presenting a high-profile platform and forum to an articulate young Pakistani who would then have the capability to take positions contrary to Western interests. Norway was the site of the July 22, 2011 mass murder of 77 people, including young Muslims, by anti-Muslim terrorist Anders Breivik.

There is nothing holy about perpetuating a structure, be it local or global, that fails to deliver the basic indices of good governance – health care, education, merit, rule of law, and a forum where the aggrieved can air their grievances. Inequality, injustice, and inaccessibility, unless reduced, can create social havoc, as evidenced by the Arab upsurge. Talk won’t do unless backed by practical action-oriented steps.

Entrenched venality and ineptness are massive roadblocks on the pathway to good governance necessitating, therefore, an overdue shifting of gears. Theories floated and propounded in academic conferences and reports can take you only so far. Can you teach common sense?

The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.