improving human capital, and increasing openness and regional integration. While there are some country-specific suggestions, the focus remains on this generalised set of recommendations, which throws up some interesting issues. For one, many experts have already enumerated the role of these factors as contributing to growth. In that sense, there does not seem to be much added value in this literature. At the same time, there are many factors that scholars have previously emphasised but which the Bank authors have chosen to ignore; for instance, the role of institutions of justice, and fair and transparent governance. Or, the issue of land reforms, which has a clear linkage with income and asset inequality. It can be instructive to try and understand why certain areas have been selected by the authors, and others neglected. For example, while highlighting the importance of bringing backward regions to the fore, the authors confine themselves to suggesting growth and investment strategies. Issues related to distribution through national taxation, land reforms and social security networks are not mentioned. Similarly, the work strongly emphasises the idea of service delivery, but there is almost no discussion of how services for the poor are to be financed, and what the responsibility of the state should be in this regard. In general, both the procedure for the selection of issues for discussion, and the policy identified for addressing those issues, is either whimsical and ad hoc, or based on criteria that are not shared with the reader. Once again, it is hard not to ascribe these lacunae to ideological and/or institutional prejudice. Unanswered questions There are other, more critical, problems with this effort. Growth and poverty reduction are important goals for all countries, and economic expansion is widely considered to be a necessary condition for poverty reduction. But surely there needs to be some debate on the sources of this growth and its linkage with improving livelihoods. Structural adjustment programmes forced Southasian governments to, among other things, cut expenditure. More often than not, the cuts happened in the development sector, which led to relatively lower investments in health, education, infrastructure and service delivery. It is important to recognise a possible link between this reduced expenditure and higher inequality, and the low human development indicators across Southasia today. Privatisation, de-regulation and liberalisation, as well as the other components of the reform programmes promoted so assiduously by the World Bank, have in all likelihood contributed to increasing inequality. Now that inequality and low productivity are being recognised as constraints to maintaining growth, the obvious solution is to accelerate the efforts of the state in improving these conditions. But will an expansion in these areas not lead to higher state expenditures, possibly larger fiscal deficits and some of the very things that will go against the much celebrated ‘reforms’ process of the past? For instance, what if settling conflicts requires more active intervention in markets, or more elaborate taxation structures? How do we square these circles? The authors ignore the possibility that some of the ‘constraints’ they have identified might have been created or exacerbated by reforms themselves. The more important question is whether addressing human development, infrastructure needs and inequality is possible with the policy space available under the Washington Consensus and the ‘structurally adjusted’ economies. There is a fundamental incompatibility between such social welfare initiatives and the
Bank’s prescription of a one-size-fits-all blanket reform package. “Economic Growth in South Asia” can be understood as an attempt to claim success for Bank-supported programmes, and as a tool for identifying areas that the Bank might be interested in financing in Southasia in the coming years. As an analytical or academic effort, however, it is quite forgettable.
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
The archive: 25 years of Southasia
Old Faces, New Precedents
On 11 May 2013, Pakistan went to the polls in a general election that will transfer power democratically for the first time in the nation's history. Nawaz Sharif has claimed victory for the Pakistan Muslim League-N.
From our archive:
Mehreen Zahra-Malik discusses novel means of holding corrupt officials to account in 'A coup by other means?' (July 2012)
Shamshad Ahmad on praetorian irony, Machiavelli's prince, and Pakistan's fight for constitutional primacy. (January 2008)
Zia Mian and A H Nayyar write about Pakistan's coup culture and Nawaz Sharif's 'absolutist sense of power.' (November 1999)