Wealth Does Not Rain from the Sky
How well our prime minister put it last week, while inaugurating a hospital in Rawalpindi, urging citizens to “stay strong” in the face of rising inflation and promising that the country “will make it through this time” and that his government would try its best to “fulfil the basic needs of the people”.
For indeed wealth does not rain down from the sky but does not even emerge from the earth without hard work. His aforementioned pronouncement was very timely because the capitalists with their mansions adorned with inscriptions of Hādhā min faḍli Rabbī (“This is by the Grace of my Lord”) and the Islam-selling mullahs, who fatten on the formers’ scraps, have been emphasising for the last 70 years that wealth is a Divine gift. It is not a creation of people’s labour and hard work but Allah makes whoever He wants wealthy and keeps poor whoever He wants to. It is also true that everyone whether he works in the fields or factories should work tirelessly to increase productivity. When productivity will increase, so will the export and trade, and the country will earn more foreign exchange with a more prosperous people.
The prime minister’s advice is highly regarded but what is the solution to the problem that the people who create wealth in our social system with their sweat and blood indeed are the very people who are also deprived of it.
Nobody can accuse our planters and labourers that they are shirkers and accustomed to earning their livelihood for free. They go to work under the shade of stars and return home in the twilight of evening. They increase the productivity of the country by working day and night in fields, factories and offices; increase exports; earn foreign exchange, but the reward they get for this hard work is that their huts neither have light nor water. Although the homes inscribed with Hādhā min faḍli Rabbī even have electricity during the day and the grass of their lawns is kept fresh by the abundance of water, they neither get the facilities of conveyance nor medical aid; there is no adequate arrangement for the education of their children. Moreover, there is the danger of redundancy and unemployment.
It is foolish to even mention the remaining socialist countries because all the basic means of creating wealth (land, mines, key industries, etc) there are a collective property of workers; even in the developed countries of the West, the capitalists have long since realised that productivity cannot increase until the workers and planters are mentally and materially satisfied.
This is the reason that workers in capitalist countries like Britain, America, France and Germany too have the basic necessities of life, but there has been no change in the mentality of the capitalists and landowners of our country, not even in Naya Pakistan. They pay a worker as if it is charity.
But the people have proved by voting in the recent elections that they are now aware of their historic responsibility and economic right and want to have their rightful share in the production of wealth.
We are sure that the prime minister really wishes for the prosperity of the people with all sincerity but the problem is that prosperity does not come merely by staying strong and keeping calm (Ghabraana Nahi Hai!); because the experience of the last 70 years is a witness that people have remained strong and kept calm, and the productivity of the country has also indeed increased but the people have become more miserable instead of being prosperous.
Secondly, if indeed prosperity is a function of production then to increase the latter it is necessary to have a fundamental change in the present social and economic system of the country. To increase production while remaining within the capitalist system means that the quantity and rate of capitalists’ profit must be increased. This will not benefit the workers at all.
The prime minister, while mentioning the rise in prices, said that the real reason behind inflation is the indebted power and gas sectors. Here several questions emerge naturally in our mind. Firstly, are the power and gas sectors really indebted; secondly who has created this problem; and, thirdly, should there be some enquiry into the elements which have created this indebtedness?
In our humble opinion, this indebtedness is artificial and assumed, not natural. If by indebtedness, it is meant that there were uncertain times in the market, it is submitted that in the country there have been uncertain times indeed not just for the past one year but many years. Then what calamity has occurred after the elections and immediately after the start of Ramazan that the prices of essential commodities suddenly increased?
In the last few months, neither the production of factories and workplaces has decreased nor has any earthly or heavenly calamity struck due to which the production of food, vegetables and animals could have decreased. Then why are the prices going up? Are these articles too, like capitalists and middlemen, afraid of socialism? Prior to the elections, in the days when demonstrations, strikes and sit-ins against the last government were in full force, the excuse of uncertain times could have been acceptable, but nowadays the stable government of Naya Pakistan is established in the country. In this situation, the logic of indebtedness cannot satisfy those people who expect a cure to the pain and reform of the circumstances from the government.
In the last few years, our country has received billions of rupees in aid from foreign countries. Aid from China, aid from Saudi Arabia, aid from the United Arab Emirates, aid from the United Nations, aid as per the various agreements between Pakistan and America, and just last week from the International Monetary Fund and aid from God knows which other plans. The ordinary Pakistanis thought this aid would benefit their own lot. There would be an abundance of basic necessities and prices will come down, but the conditions became worse. Similarly, when more factories were set up, there were plenty of cotton clothes, the production of sugar increased and other manufactures began within the country, people began to think that now the prices of goods will certainly come down, but their fortune was not fated to turn, so it did not. The wave of mirage could not become the wave of water.
Readers will remember that just before Ramazan when inflation started to hit, the federal government had appointed a committee – as well as provincial cabinet committees for price control – so that strict watch could be kept over those who increase the prices of basic commodities and to give exemplary punishment to the culprits. Alas! We are unaware of the details of the dutifulness and performance of these committees, but the continuous increase in prices itself reveals that they have been unsuccessful in fulfilling their responsibility. And now by increasing the petrol price, those in power have indeed granted a reason to others for increasing the prices.
Ghalib had written praising this manner of cure and sympathy:
‘The gift of surgery, a present of a diamond, a scar of the heart as offering
Congratulations Asad a sympathizer of the life of the friend has arrived!’
What is needed is from the federal and provincial governments to fully feel the importance of this issue and to devise a countrywide plan to solve it and to attempt to make it successful with the advice and cooperation of all the political parties.
The reasons and dynamics of overpricing and profiteering are not concealed from anybody: a defective import policy; bribery, favouritism and political wheeling-dealing in the distribution of licenses and permits; the increased influence of profiteering and black-marketeering big businessmen and mill-owners among the ministers and authorities; the rich being hand-in-glove with the smugglers; and the wish among the members of the upper class to accumulate as much money as possible whether by hook or crook and in the least-possible time; these are the basic dynamics and reasons behind inflation.
If the government wants to remove overpricing and hoarding with the sincerity of heart, it will have to come out of government offices to bring into movement and obtain the practical cooperation of those people who are the most afflicted by overpricing and hoarding.
*The writer has been trained in Development Studies from the University of Leeds in the UK and has also worked at the State Bank of Pakistan as a junior officer, as well as taught economics and development at some of the most prestigious universities in Pakistan. He can be reached at: [email protected]
The writer, is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic, and an award-winning translator and dramatic reader currently based in Lahore. He is the recipient of a prestigious 2013-2014 Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship in the UK for his translation and interpretive work on Saadat Hasan Manto’s essays. His most recent work is a contribution to the edited volume ‘Jallianwala Bagh: Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry’ (Niyogi Books, 2019).He is currently the President of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He can be reached at: [email protected]