The human mind, a masterpiece of technology, at an unconscious level can only focus on matters perceived from experience to be relevant. In simpler terms, humans see what they want to see. The authenticity of this statement is evidenced by personal experience. Being an accountant, while scanning a newspaper, advertisements relating to the profession — even the smallest ones — stand out ever so prominently. Contrarily, a friend in the construction business can only see a request for proposals relating to his business, and at a conscious level both remain unaware of this remarkable feat.
Unfortunately, this puzzling characteristic of the brain is not limited to just seeing — it extends beyond to understanding and feeling, wherein lies the dilemma. The ruling elite cannot begin to comprehend the hardships of the populace; their brains are just not tuned for that. In fact, in this case, it would be harsh to vest blame completely on the rich; even the middle class is unable to appreciate the drudgery of living faced by the poor. Consequently, without an understanding of the problem, the solution remains ever elusive.
This truism becomes starkly evident when forced to follow the camera’s eye, courtesy the electronic media. Even at a personal level, most times wonderment sets in at what is deemed newsworthy by the ever-active news channels. Why on earth do the media gurus believe that the proceedings of the highest court interest the poor man who is struggling to find employment while deprived of the basic necessities of life? On a lighter note, has anyone else noticed that the Supreme Court (SC) news is not hogging the front pages anymore?
All through the past couple of decades, national governments have been focusing on key economic indicators, which, according to pundits, supposedly were to ensure the well being of the populace. Unfortunately, nothing went according to plan. After years of high economic growth, booming stock markets, rising property prices and a farsighted monetary policy, globally, the final result is an extraordinary increase in income inequalities. Once the dust settled, more and more people were out of jobs, have been foreclosed out of their ancestral homes and are failing miserably to make ends meet.
And all this while the minions of the rulers continue to postulate theories that prove that all is quiet on the western front. The latest floozy is that capitalism will naturally address income inequalities in time with a growing population. Curiously, how much time is left remains unanswered and were they not, till very recently, trying to implement birth control policies? Even when time has disproved all popular and fancy theories, including the great moderation and the efficient market hypothesis, capitalism is still touted to be a panacea.
In spite of the ‘bloodbath’, lessons remain unlearned. Even now, the key social and economic indicators are what governments across the globe focus on, and they continue to believe that everything is running smoothly. There is a complete disconnect from what keeps the majority awake at nights, and unless the top echelons of society figure that out, things will not change.
Let us go stepwise. Freedom of speech is a highly publicised issue for the educated class. The disconnect is, how many Pakistanis, out of over 180 million, can even spell ‘freedom of speech’, let alone understand what it means? A free independent media is projected as an amazing achievement for the well being of Pakistanis. The disconnect however is, how many Pakistanis, out of a population of over 180 million, own a television? The stock market is the barometer of a nation’s economy; it is booming and hence good times are back. The disconnect is, how many Pakistanis are, out of 180 million, invested in the stock market? Further, the manner in which the stock market gains translate into betterment of the poor continues to be a mystery.
Property prices are booming in all the big cities in Pakistan and, in fact, speculative trading in certain schemes overshadow the stock market. The disconnect is that the struggling poor, if they even own property, which is not stuck up in long drawn Dewani litigation, can only sell at a discount on forced sale values and note that the underlying assumptions vis-à-vis clean ownership, are quite unrealistic. GDP growth is expected to improve this fiscal year and the fiscal deficit is expected to be controlled; no point deliberating the expected improvements through monetary policy. The disconnect is that increase in unemployment remains unabated. Increasing minimum wage is definitely the right step, after the creation of employment. Frankly, inflation is perhaps the biggest disconnect for the majority of Pakistanis. The majority cannot even comprehend that inflation is under 10 percent.
Considering this total disconnect with how the majority lives in current times, the cake quote by a French Queen, if it ever was uttered, becomes understandable. Loitering around shopping malls in the key cities of Pakistan, the contrast becomes even more visible. Buzzing marketplaces and tremendous consumer spending definitely create the illusion of an ever improving quality of life. If shopping malls were an indicator, Pakistan would most likely rank in the leading developed nations of the world rather than a country struggling with ever increasing load shedding, gas shortages and security issues. It is indeed time to connect, if the ideology of Pakistan is indeed the primary objective.
The majority of Pakistanis give two hoots about the apparent priorities of the government, and this is the majority that makes the difference in every election. Do not get this wrong; while the government has to manage the overall economy, the point is what comes first. Perceptions matter more than actions if the poor classes perceive that their lot is worse off. They would care less about whether the rulers are elected or not. A particular working class comment mirrors the sentiment: forget about power, gas and water, it is not even safe to walk the streets.
Sitting in the lap of luxury, the leadership can hardly get any idea about the rest of the populace; the mind will not have the capacity to compute something that it has never experienced. The solution simply is directly obtaining the masses’ view as to what matters for them, and prioritising budget allocations first towards their needs. The leadership needs to establish a process through which the common man’s perspective can be solicited regularly to establish whether decisions take cognizance of his needs.
If the aam admi (common man) is not involved in the decisions of the government, guess what happens?
Islamabad is now infested by ideologically driven young men and women, none of whom are just ...