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Editorial

August 9, 2018

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More of the same?

For all the hoopla about economic mismanagement by the previous government, the PTI – the party most likely to form the next government – remains short on details regarding its possible economic plan for the country. The little detail we do have suggests that the PTI seems to be promising to implement the same set of policies – only better. The expected nominee for finance minister, Asad Umar, has promised ‘quick decisions’ and ‘quick measures’ to strengthen the economy. He has also pointed out how the PML-N had failed to privatise any state-owned organisations or resolved any other major crisis. The PTI leader has also suggested that decisions regarding exchange rate and monetary policy should remain the purview of the State Bank of Pakistan, seemingly to separate politics from economics.

Umar has promised a new FBR chairperson who will be willing to take on the task of reform as well as autonomy to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The PBS remains key to data manipulation about the economy and it would be interesting to see if the PTI goes down that route. So far, the narrative is hard to tease apart from the one promised by the PML-N’s chosen finance ministers, whether it be Ishaq Dar or Miftah Ismail. If the PTI is promising the same set of policies as the PML-N, can we expect the country’s economic fundamentals to change?

The lack of imagination on what to do with the economy is not a surprise. Since the 1990s, all major political parties have touted the same economic agenda that can be traced to the end of the cold war. The IMF and the World Bank promoted the economic ideology of neoliberalism, which involved the roll back of the state sector and the creation of ‘autonomous’ regulators. Much like the IMF, which has told country after country that their economic failure exists because they have not implemented policies correctly, the PTI seems stuck in the same narrative. It seems the party’s promising to implement the neoliberal economic agenda better than the PML-N. It would be good instead if the PTI looks genuinely towards China, as PTI Chairman Imran Khan has promised and the revolutionary poet Habib Jalil once provoked, to understand how that country became an economic power house.

China’s economic success rests on a state-centred approach to economic development, which has involved restricting imports for decades to strengthen the country’s industrial production. No industrial policy in Pakistan can work as long as cheap global imports continue to flood the marketplace. Perhaps the PTI will break the mould and prove that neoliberal economic policies actually work. Perhaps the PTI itself will not really have a choice. The party has already not ruled out going to the IMF for another bailout, with Umar admitting that Pakistan needs to find $12 billion. The decision on the mix of IMF and Chinese funding and bond issues will be made within six weeks. The path the PTI chooses will determine whether it will be able to keep up the dream of autonomous economic policymaking. For now, we have more of the same poverty of imagination.

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