The government cannot do everything for you

Published: March 18, 2013
Email

Pakistan has almost always had a heavy presence of the state in the places that it should not — the economy. PHOTO: REUTERS

It is a paradox that I have failed to understand:

Pakistanis tend to hate their government, think of it as corrupt and incompetent, but at the same time, we feel that the government should do absolutely everything for us.

The average Pakistani sees absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of the government setting prices in energy and agriculture.

They see nothing wrong with the government blatantly discriminating against some industries by giving others preferential treatment in the tax code and regulatory structure. And most people do not seem to have a problem with the fact that the government owns vast swathes of the entire economy.

Ordinary voters, for instance, appear to think that the only way a person can get a job is if the government provides him or her with one.

The idea that jobs can be created by the government simply getting out of the way and letting private sector firms create jobs is a concept that does not seem to penetrate our thick skulls, no matter how simply it is explained.

The truth, of course, is that the economy does best when the government restricts its mandate to that of a regulator of, and not a participant in, the marketplace.

For example, the banking sector employs about three times as many people now as it did when it was entirely owned by the government. And instead of needing billions of rupees in bailouts every year, it is one of the government’s most reliable sources of tax revenue.

The fact that Karachi is the one city that has both a privatised electricity company and the most reliable supply of electricity is not coincidence: Karachi’s utility is better managed because its owners have a profit motive and it is also effectively regulated by the government.

One could blame Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for this extreme fondness of the state, even as we are aware of its extreme shortcomings, but the truth is that Pakistan has almost always had a heavy presence of the state in the places that it should not — the economy — and a very light presence in the places that it should: education, health, law enforcement, and infrastructure development.

In the next election, voters do not seem to face a choice when it comes to a reorientation of the role of government.

That is just a debate that the Pakistani public is not interested in. A pity, because that is the one we really should be having.

Read more by Farooq here or follow him on Twitter @FarooqTirmizi

farooq.tirmizi

Farooq Tirmizi

The author is an investment analyst. He tweets as @FarooqTirmizi (twitter.com/FarooqTirmizi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad

    Very true. Capitalism will make the economy grow and expand, leading to more jobs and tax revenue for government.

    However political instability will make businesses flow out of the country, and that is whats happeningRecommend

  • Gilani’s ghost

    Why don’t you leave then? Who is stopping you?Recommend

  • IZ

    @Gilani’s ghost – really tired of these kinds of comments. When people write about the problems they perceive in the country it is because they want to change it for the better. When people who want the country to improve are asked to leave and go somewhere else it is usually by people who have no interest in the betterment of their society. If you disagree with the author’s ideas then say why you do so.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @IZ: You have taken @Gilani’s ghosts comment literally…………I read it as being cynical, frustrated and a slap on face of government for their abysmal failure.
    Our previous PM was as bad as you can get but this statement of his on TV was beyond stupid.Recommend

  • IZ

    @Parvez – i can see how @Gilani’s ghost’s comment could well be sarcasm. Thanks for pointing that out and if I missed the point of the comment then I apologize.Recommend

  • Mohammad

    We don’t want government to do anything for us, but at least provide us reasonable conditions to take care of us? is it more to ask? Can you please ask government to provide us basic necessities of life… water, electricity & proper law & order?

    Recommend

  • Sajida

    The gvt provides less than poorest African countries. Enough said!Recommend