Book Review | Socialism For The Rich, Capitalism For The Poor

Book Review | Socialism For The Rich, Capitalism For The Poor
Fayyaz Baqir's Civil Society and Pakistan's Economy: Robber Barons and Meritocracy discusses "how the prevalence of rent-seeking practices has undermined merit-based practices by increasing the cost of doing business and converting public loss into private profit by awarding inappropriate subsidies and imposing regressive taxes." The subsidies usually translate into socialism for the rich.

In contrast, taxes exploit people experiencing poverty. To successfully transition from a geopolitical foreign policy to a geo-economic, the book argues for a "domestic policy transition from kleptocracy to meritocracy.” For the nation to escape the clutches of kleptocracy, it's important to begin by identifying the reasons why we are where we are today.

The editor's introduction and the chapters—contributed by researchers and scholars in international relations, development studies, rights activism, policy studies, anthropology, law, journalism, and economics — convincingly diagnoses these reasons.

Despite seeing the nation's resilience as its great potential, Hassan Abbas blames "obsession with the security concerns, ... authoritarian tendencies and failure to give democracy a real chance" as some of the obstacles in realizing this and other such potentials. It is perhaps this absence of a real chance for democracy that causes politicians to make short-term decisions. Commenting on the failure of civil governments to achieve economic growth, Mukhtar Ahmad Ali points to the "short-term interests of politicians who are focused on developing political capital" to win elections by pushing for funds allocation for their respective constituencies and utilizing them inefficiently.

This means that the civil and military elite groups, as Uzair Younus and Imran Ahmad rightly point out, "extract rents from the state's subsidies, evade taxes, and siphon off their illicit wealth to off-shore tax havens...while the majority of citizens bear the brunt of the economic pain..." Ikram ul Haq also reinforces this: “Pakistan is a unique country where the governments—military and civilian alike—have frequently been introducing amnesty schemes allowing whitening of untaxed/undeclared assets."

In his chapter, "Pakistan's Achilles' Heel: Under allocation, underspending or underperformance”, Hassan Bilal highlights "inadequate capacity to manage monetary resources, and inefficient use of allocated monies" as one of the reasons for "calamitous results" in the country's efforts for socioeconomic development. On the other hand, Jennifer Bennett sees Pakistan's military alliances as damaging the country's internal political balance, where the army became "the dominant political force under US patronage.”

This weakened the political institutions, and the voters lost their power and respect. A common voter, state Khan, Khan, and Raghib, is also "challenged by a deep economic class divide, gender dynamics that exclude women, and deeply entrenched dynastic parties that keep political power within the elite ruling class." Safiullah Chaudhry's comment on the lack of Pakistan's women empowerment, Sayyeda Zainab Razvi's analysis of the vulnerabilities of the informal workers, and Sara Latif's pyramid metaphor to show the "wide digital divide" all point to reasons why Pakistan still struggles to ensure its citizens’ socioeconomic security.

However, despite these crippling obstacles, there is a silver lining for a positive, impactful change, and Baqir sees it. He also knows the modus operandi of bringing about a positive change, i.e., by "working within the system" instead of repeating the "many failed Arab Springs” in Pakistan. He also sees all his contributors as Pakistanis "who believe that a fair world is possible through work, love, and knowledge." His faith in the engagement of the civil society with the ruling elites is also the motive of his next book in the series, Silent Revolution in Pakistan: From Othering to Belonging, which I look forward very much to reading.

The reviewer is a visiting professor at McGill University and the author of the novel Sasa and is currently on a sabbatical from International Islamic University Islamabad.

Book: Civil Society and Pakistan's Economy: Robber Barons and Meritocracy

Editor: Fayyaz Baqir

Publisher: Routledge

Year of Publication: 2023

Pp. 227