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Dynamics of choice and opportunity in a free market economy

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By Huma Siddiqi

It is an inherent rule of nature that an organism tends to seek the maximum benefit with the least amount of effort. That explicitly depicts how we as a nation of consumers behave. But its flip side also explains the exact reason why predators go after the feeblest. We as consumers experience life as it happens to us mostly because we are hooked to our needs and not willing to even twitch a muscle for our betterment, it is but natural that the helpless consumer gets statistically gang raped by all possible corporate and regulates or the coalition of the two.
To expect that corporate or government (which we fail to even vote for and subsequently lose our say in policy making) are to bear the burden of all possible social responsibility for the consumer’s benefit is delusional. With this attitude of finding that one ‘Messiah’- who would watch over us and will be ultimately responsible for all social responsibility- we celebrate our entitlement to a perfect world, willingly foregoing our human dignity and wisdom. In this bargain we chose to remain clueless of how to accomplish anything on our own. After electricity and power failures we are experiencing CNG depletion. According to one news analysis, “In Pakistan the compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles in the entire vehicle fleet of the country stand at 26 percent which is third highest among all countries in the world that use CNG.” You will be pleased to know that our 3,330 CNG fuelling stations make up 18 percent of the CNG fuelling stations in the world and places Pakistan at the number one position for having the highest number of refilling stations. It’s another story that this unprecedented 24 percent Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2005 to date indicate that our ‘CNG monster’ is fast eating the legitimate gas share of other vitally important sectors.
If we try to analyse our plight rationally because the demand curve for domestic CNG users is so steep – almost comparable to that of demand for substance abuse users – it is a good trap and very easy to catch consumer’s by the neck. To add insult further to this painful realisation under the guise of privatisation of power sector government has kept its monopoly on the actual market and its distribution. It would not be news to some that it is also one of the sour realities that with skillful manipulation on part of experts utility users end up paying for the budget deficit of others sector too at the time of need. In a free market economy where such monopolistic agents exists and threatens to enslave consumers, the demand does have only a little the freedom to readjust itself. This is clear indication and an opportunity for the consumer to reevaluate the cost benefit of all options available in the market and shift to alternate sources be it in fuel or in power. Solar options may turn out to be the most commendable as this would free them of this handicap and they can use their valuable resources to more important things. But since the percentage of personal responsibility has always remained low in our agenda for social development, mostly we fail to truly appreciate the rewards of any personal accomplishment, and continue to experience life as a victim.
To be honest when we sit to rationalise the situation there is a trend that is evident, we as a society (inclusive of all segments) are confused what we really want. At one end we get carried away by the glamour of the Capitalist but when the corresponding market adjusts itself, hallmark of a free economy, we feel insecure declare this too much of a burden to bear on our incompetent shoulders. The immense corporate benefits that we reap everyday are totally ignored when we start our traditional cribbing. We react by singing praises for the social equality of the socialist society but there too the lack of the pleasure of consumption and the demand to give back quickly alienate us from its true enforcement. Where do we stand? No, let me rephrase it; what do we really want?
In all this debate about products and consumers we have deliberately ignore the dialogue on putting ourselves accountable for the effects that our unchecked consumption might have had on society. The mere availability/ presence of the life utility somehow instigate us to abuse a copious amounts into our daily routine. It is a fact that developing countries of the world unlike the developed nations show the highest percentage of utility consumption. It would be educational if we put in figures how many of us educated responsible citizens indulge in the abuse of utilities for the mere ‘pleasure of consumption’.
There is a magnanimous portion of our society that is involved in energy theft, both of electricity as well as CNG. Large segment of the population in Pakistan are addicted to overuse (let’s call it abuse) of utilities. We know the truth about the depleting resources! We know that power production is partly based on natural gas, which is equally consumed at our homes, offices and by our vehicles. And its pressure drops considerably in cold weather. All social responsibility basically grow out of personal responsibilities but of course in the dilemma of the present chaos ‘no snowflake in this avalanche is willing to feel responsible’.
Every privilege that we rush to pocket comes with a fair percentage of responsibility; in every possession that we display is nested a duty. It’s our disconnected arrogance that manifest itself as social chaos that we find ourselves in today. It is a sign of a mature society to learn how to be responsible for its own actions. Entitlement and true accomplishment are polar opposites. All entitlement have always resulted in fear and pain, accomplishment on the other hand brings happiness and productivity. If we are capable of seeing in the dark then this is in fact true opportunity.
I would close these inviting readers to seriously ponder on a news report I read online today from our next door neighbour, citing Indian newspaper; “Instead of organising protests against rising fuel prices, residents of Thamna village in Anand (Ahmedabad) have set up a plant that produces natural gas. Thamna Bio-Power and Organic Producers Company Ltd, owned by 700 farmers of Thamna, produces enough gas to run a 15 horse-power three-phase pump to supply irrigation water. But they are dreaming big … they want to produce 1,000 cubic metres of natural gas daily and sell to its farmers and locals at a cheaper rate!

Article published in Daily Times on 28th November 2012

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