FARANGI IN TOWN: Defining prosperity —Ella Rolfe

India’s rise was kick-started by higher education institutions (a major high-return investment for any developing country and one that Pakistani politicians should take note of), not by enfranchising the dalit from a mud hut in Bihar

Hold the press; Pakistan is not a basket case after all. Something I came across this week suggested to me that Pakistan is in fact richer than India.

It was a map in Jeffery Sachs’ The End of Poverty, a work of vast knowledge with more than a small measure of idealism whose basic message is: we can achieve those damned Millennium Development Goals, and wipe out extreme poverty by 2015. It was written in 2004, and as far as I can tell none of its advice has been implemented. In particular, the final collapse recently of the Doha Round of international trade negotiations, which Sachs describes in glowing terms in his book, must have him grimacing.

His map illustrates countries deemed to be extremely poor (those with more than 25 percent of the population living below $1 a day) and those qualifying as moderately poor (above the extreme poverty level, but with 25 percent living below $2 a day). The former category is coloured in a deep blood red and the latter in a vibrant post-box red.

Apart from a bloc of states in West Africa, India forms the largest island of extreme poverty on the map; and where is Pakistan? It stands next door as a proudly vibrant, ‘moderately poor’ country.

This surprises me, to say the least. Isn’t India one of the world’s rising economic superpowers? Why then does Pakistan, widely believed to be a chaotic, ungoverned wasteland, have a lower proportion of destitute individuals than the juggernaut-like ‘Asian elephant’? Is this statistic revealing of less obvious factors in Pakistan’s political economy, such as the exploitation of oil reserves from areas such as Balochistan, or the effect of the Partition influx of wealthy mohajirs?

On the following page, however, Sachs offers another map that throws a spanner at such speculations. Here, the countries are ranked not by how many poor people they have, but by their average per capita incomes. And this time Pakistan is the poorer neighbour, with an average income (as of 2002) of below $2000, whereas India sits in the $2000-$4000 bracket.

It seems Pakistan has less extreme poverty, but less wealth overall. Is this something we should be proud of? Pakistan thus clearly has far less disparity in its society than does ‘democratic’ India.

I would suggest that a factor contributing to this may be Pakistan’s far lower population density: with large parts of the country being remote, rocky, mountainous and only able to support small communities, a lot of people maybe very poor but still have the means to sustain their own basic needs. In short, there is still enough space for everyone in Pakistan to survive even if not at a very comfortable level.

Is this a good thing? This depends on how one defines ‘poverty’. In pure monetary terms, the average Indian may be better off. The average Indian, however, does not have to contend with the shadows of missiles and F-16s on a daily basis, as do many in Pakistan’s northern and western provinces. This begs the question: are you poorer in a real sense if you have more money and possessions but have a higher chance of losing them in a nightmarish explosion of fire and dust? Peace is not just a practical factor in prosperity — it is integral to the meaning of prosperity.

Life has certainly become harder for the average Pakistani since 2002, when these statistics were collected; prices of almost everything have risen against wages despite the much-trumpeted economic growth achieved in the Musharraf era. Is Pakistan going the way of India, towards growth and further inequality?

Another thing Sachs is careful to point out, however, is that democracy does not automatically mean economic growth or prosperity. India’s rise was kick-started by higher education institutions (a major high-return investment for any developing country and one that Pakistani politicians should take note of), not by enfranchising the dalit from a mud hut in Bihar.

While I do not believe that an authoritarian government has something to say for itself in terms of enforcing growth through strong central rule, it is clear that democratic governments have to do more than ensure the health of democracy if they want to bring prosperity to their nations. National peace along with a sound economic plan, each impossible without the other, would be the best scenario. Is the current government laying plans to encourage the growth of skills and industry in Pakistan? If so, they should start telling us about them.

The writer is a staff member at The Friday Times

Source: Daily Times, 11/8/2008

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