‘The Use of Political Power to Achieve Economic Gains’

Illustration insert: despardes.com

by Umair Javed at Dawn: The Chinese state is remarkable in that it has struck a balance in using selective discretion to generate high rates of economic growth, though with accompanying inequality. Other countries that have managed this model well include Vietnam and Singapore, both of which have used state involvement to create prosperity. Increasingly, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Rwanda are following a similar trajectory.

There are two key reasons why political capitalism of this sort is less likely to be successful in the Pakistani context. A key ingredient in all successful cases listed is the presence of a technocratic, highly skilled, and motivated bureaucracy. Pakistan’s federal and provincial bureaucracies fail on all three counts: staffed with generalists in commanding positions, with low levels of average competence, and an incentive structure that prioritizes self-reward over some larger public service motivation.

Secondly, all successful examples of political capitalism have been highly centralized, one-party states usually created in the aftermath of some major political upheaval, like a socialist revolution that wipes out an entrenched elite and creates an autonomous state, or a major ethnic secession that creates a strong attachment of the population with the state. Pakistani decision-makers salivate at the prospect of a one-party state but without paying attention to those additional ingredients.

Neither is the current hybrid regime capable of undercutting an entrenched, unproductive elite (since the civilian part is drawn from the same elite), nor has it managed to incorporate large swathes of the population through shared national or ideational attachment. If anything, it has managed to do the exact opposite of the latter by marginalizing the most popular party and repressing its members and supporters…

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