IRSHAD SALIM — Last month, I shared an infographic called the “Pakistan Again Moment”, in which challenges (#1) and opportunities (#2) had equal weightage; The time available (#3) and space (#4) created due to Coronavirus pandemic lockdown were also had equal weightage, though not the same as #1 and, #2. Subsequently, the baseline gets shorter and is called “Decisions and Actions (#5)” needed — on short-term- mid-term and long-term.
This week, Mr. William Francis Mitchell, a professor of economics at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia and one of the founding developers of Modern Monetary Theory, wrote an article calling Pakistan government’s 10 Billion Tree Tsunami program a timely and a good fit to involve the unemployed labor and suggests that “the advanced nations should take the lead of Pakistan in job creation”.
He is against “shoveling federal money … to working families” to help them maintain incomes while in lockdown”. Instead, he suggests creating jobs that meet immediate and mid-term goals rather than handling their situation thru unemployment along with stimulus albiet relief to the businesses.
While Pakistan doesn’t have the luxury of such coverage for its workforce, the relief and stimulus to businesses may or may not trickle down due to various reasons — lack of documentation of most of the economy and dysfunctional regulatory practices are one of them.
According to the economist, the tree planting program are fast to implement if the institutional structure is already in place. It is labor intensive. And they are Green – serving longer run objectives as well as the short-term exigencies.
Jobs creation — if Job Guarantee mantra is applied, is “the only way that a government can avoid a major contraction in employment such as we are seeing around the world now”, says the economist. Through direct job creation, this can be avoided, he says.
While the Tsunami tree project is targeted at medium- to long-term aspirations – shifting the nation structurally – it is also solving the short-run problem, in his opinion — both observations are relevant to Pakistan scenario. It is the silver lining among the clouds of options available.
“The Pakistani government is so far ahead of the indolent governments in the West (UK, Europe, US, Australia) on this thinking”, he notes. Indeed, they are, as the tree program started couple of years back, and continues. This “Landscapitng” line item usually thrown at the end in construction, can be frontloaded and scaled up — nationally and province to province, in rurals and cities to cities.
“Setting up nurseries, planting saplings, and serving as forest protection guards or forest firefighters”, are some of the associated venues which also provide opportunities for workforce from other sectors — once things improve they can go back to their traditional employment — in short, the idea is scalable, and it is spatial too — jobs can be created where people live and need work.
A Farm to Market stream will also spring up with nurseries both in the rural and the urban, with the country’s youth bulge (nearly 64%) getting involved.
According to him, “(Pakistan’s) tree-planting program has increased its normal workforce by a factor of three – to cope with the employment of those displaced by lockdown rules”.
The professor in the graphic above compared three options which in his opinion were available globally: 1. A wage subsidy; 2. A Job Guarantee; 3. Business loan guarantees. The advanced nations by and large have been opting for #1 and #3. However, in his opinion, #2 (Job Guarantee) scores the highest number (Graphic below).
He used approximate weightings, which yield Job Guarantee as the superior one when assessed against the above criteria. And “making the Scalability criterion more explicit only goes to reinforce this conclusion”, he writes.
The Billion Tree Tsunami appears to be a winner not just for Pakistan as it’s labor intensive and scalable — other positives notwithstanding, but for advance nations also. In the mid-term and long-term, the green program can be piggybacked by unemployment coverage, and if possible a weekly or biweekly pay check system could unleash consumer spending thereby faster collection of taxes — direct (possibly), indirect (quite a bit).
In the graphic above, “a position at 0 means the initiative meets none of the requirements or the relevant criterion, whereas 100 means the intervention is strongly meeting that need”.
Tsunami Tree program strongly satisfies most of the criteria, and for Pakistan it is the low hanging fruit. All governments should be doing this, the professor says. THIS IS the “out-of-the-box” solution we should continue in Pakistan and advance nations should look at, instead of this home and abroad:
Grandma (Dadi Amma) is always right. “Think straight and simple”. Nature helps.
The writer is a business consultant and analyst based in Islamabad.