By: S. Akbar Zaidi
Pakistan’s economic development and social change over its first 66 years remained spectacular, yet commonplace, and in many ways tragic, observes the renowned political economist S. Akbar Zaidi in his book “Issues in Pakistan’s Economy”. In this book, Zaidi, who is well known as one of the most creative intellectuals and economists of Pakistan, has undertaken the task of not only describing Pakistan’s development efforts in its totality but also rationalising why our national policies failed to hold the country together. The third edition of the book deals with an extensive account of economic performance of the country, as well as the issues of state formation, class and society.
One can hardly disagree with Zaidi’s concluding remarks at the end of the first chapter entitled (“Understanding Pakistan’s Structural Transformation: 1947-2014”) of the book: Compared to what it was in 1947, the country seems like a modern, dynamic state – unlike, say, Afghanistan – but compared to other countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and South Korea, Pakistan’s achievements look minuscule. Zaidi’s analysis of past policies and his appraisal of sectoral and national policies, of the nature and quality of economic development is forthright and categorical. There is no attempt to soft-pedal opinions that are likely to be challenged. He criticises Ayub Khan’s functional inequality in terms of the Marxian criticism of the capitalist system. He is also sharply critical of the structural adjustment programme of the IMF. His explanation of Bhutto’s economic difficulties as ‘bad luck’ and sympathetic treatment of his policies may not be acceptable to many people.
The book, which was first published in 1999, is full of information nuggets, well-researched data and statistics gleaned from authentic sources. It would surely serve as a reliable reference document for scholars of Pakistan’s economic history and the country’s development as well as for those who seek to understand how social and economic processes have an impact on numerous outcomes and forms of structural transformation, and how state and society evolve in a political economy perspective.
Since the state and the nation would be discussing the state of the economy and debating income and expenditure proposals for the incoming financial year over the next four weeks or so, one thought it only appropriate to alert the official economic managers about the exhaustive work done by Zaidi on the very issues that they would be confronted with during what is considered to be budget season of the year. The book, as its back cover says, is about understanding Pakistan’s structural transformation over six decades in a political economy framework. The author examines how and where such transformations have taken place in the economy, society, in class and gender relations, in the manifestation of consumerism and culture, and other ways. The book has 27 chapters and all of them are highly instructive. A special feature of this book is the author’s mobilisation of statistical evidence in the form of maps, figures and tables, as well as strong arguments to support his conclusions. In addition, he has used box items to define and explain a number of concepts that other authors did not deem necessary. This reader-friendly approach is invaluable for the non-economists and students who should now understand such concepts as feudalism, tax elasticity and buoyancy, fiscal and budget deficits etc., more clearly. A number of controversial subjects have been dealt with in a way as to present arguments on both the sides.
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