By Hamza Sarfaraz
Dr.Parvez Hassan is one of Pakistan’s leading economists. As a Yale alumni who has worked all across Asia, in World Bank and with Pakistan’s chief policy makers, Dr. Hassan possesses a much deeper understanding of Pakistan’s economy and its true condition. So in a talk held on Friday 13th November, this topic was brought under discussion. The turnout was impressive with many people from the faculty and student body eager to hear his assessment of our ever important issue of the economy ( …or for the refreshments to be served later!).
The talk started with a poll conducted by the speaker. He placed three options for the audience to choose from. These were:
- Had Pakistan’s economy turned the corner?
- Are we struggling along still? or,
- Are we in severe crisis?
Accounting to the national pessimism we suffer from as a community, no one chose the first option. The third option, however, had an overwhelming majority. The audience definitely had no faith in Pakistan’s economy. Dr. Hassan, however, held a slightly different view to that.
We learnt much to our surprise that Pakistan’s economic conditions were relatively improving. Compared to 2008-2013 there was more growth. Everyone in the audience was provided with a set of statistics compiled by the ministry of Finance, State Bank of Pakistan and the World Bank with material related to GDP, GNP, Investment, saving, exports, education etc. He was quick to point out that most of the improvement was from external sources and remittances etc. Furthermore, he pointed that the trend was towards less saving and more consumption which might prove problematic down the road.
After providing the general outline, Dr. Hassan shed light on deeper issues within the economy including the crippling energy crisis, low literacy rate combined with the increasing number of young people within South Asia, misallocation, and structural weaknesses. He was particularly critical of the weak economic policy making and poorly muscled tax machinery. He also had his complaints about the bureaucracy. The decrease in domestic investment and its effects on future were discussed quite thoroughly as well. The economic jargon thrown around however felt relatively fun because the speaker went ahead and gave us quite a few examples of different economic decision makings within Asia. Korea and China’s economic models were discussed.
In his final note, Dr. Hassan reminisced on his time as an economic policy maker. He confessed his biggest career regret to the audience too which was that he could not manage to convince Pakistani policy makers to adopt an export based economy. Exports and imports balance was something he felt sensitive about and was quite critical of how the successive governments went about them.
The audience did not hold back their questions too, when the time came. Most questions were focused on discussing the Korean model of development that Dr. Hassan mentioned. Some also wanted to know his thoughts on whether there might be a new economic crisis looming on the horizon. He seemed less worried though. His overall assessment of Pakistan’s economy was critical but acknowledged the positive aspects of the economy too. Additionally, given the interest his talk created in both the students and faculty, the question/answer session continued informally after the talk ended and refreshments were beginning to be served. All in all, the opportunity to meet one of the country’s leading economists proved worthy of the time and by the end, display of the speaker’s merit had so exceeded our imagination that I was convinced against my initial doubt about the massive turnout of people too!