Let them eat cake!

Friendly Fire
Khalid Saleem
THE way things are moving in the Land of the Pure, what does the common man have to look forward to? To the mad dash for roti, kapra and makan have been added the ever elusive quest for electricity, water and fuel. For another, one had been led to believe that the Middle Class is, or should be, the backbone of any society! And yet every step we deign to take is aimed at squeezing the middle class out of existence. The wretched man in the street has yet to digest the heady diet of statistics that he had been force-fed over the past several years. (Remember the tidings that the Land of the Pure could be among the top five countries in Asia in terms of economic growth?). If statistics were horses, we’d all be merrily riding away! Alternatively, if statistics were the elusive “roti” we would all be feasting to our heats’ content. And now we find our finance experts looking for newer and newer ways to stifle the Middle Class. God save the common man! Not that one is interested in playing a blame game but isn’t it about time that we decided to set our own house in order?
Propaganda machinery notwithstanding, the fact remains that our economic priorities are horribly awry and have been for quite some time. Not all that long ago, the economic czars of the country were working in a frenzy to dispose of the family silver (by the way, into what kitty did the proceeds go?). And yet our planners – such as they are – projected a clear and focused picture of a country well on its way. But in which direction and to what end? Why is it that the common man (Lower Middle Class?) continues to have this queasy feeling that his lot is sinking rather than rising? Why is it that poverty keeps on increasing, just as the rich keep on getting richer? All in all, in layman’s terms, why is the micro-economy of the country not moving hand in hand with its macro sibling? Of course, the statisticians, the economists (and, let us not forget, the bankers) will all have plausible justifications for the whole phenomenon; but the moot question remains: where does it all take the common man?
How about a reality check? The price of property has boomed to high heavens; corruption over the years has touched hitherto unachieved highs; the shopkeepers have merrily kept on raising the prices of necessities at their sweet will. In urban areas, the municipal authorities squeeze water supply at their will so that they can then sell the water by the tanker-load to thirsty consumers in the black market at exorbitant rates. Natural sources of water are being contaminated with impunity, while the price of bottled water continues to spiral upwards.
The cost of living is skyrocketing by the day, while the purchasing power of the common man is continually going down. What is the man in the street to have faith in then: the word of crafty statisticians/economists or the facts of life? A certain empress in European history once used the phrase “Let them eat cake!” – or words to that effect – and paid a very high price for it. Empress Marie Antoinette, brought up in a very restricted and restrictive regime, could hardly be faulted for coming up with a simplistic solution to a seemingly simple issue. Can we not say the same about our financial and economic wizards?
An outstanding instance of the “let- them- eat-cake” syndrome is now developing in the privileged sections of our own society. Babies in such sterilized environments are now being weaned on “designer water”. One wouldn’t be surprised if children in these protected pockets eventually grow up to believe that nature provides water in airtight, sterilized containers – with or without designer labels! And yet, time and again, one hears the alarming news from vast segments of the country of people getting ill and even dying due to drinking contaminated water. Shouldn’t provision of clean and safe drinking water then be one of our top priorities? Let us face it, people can neither survive nor prosper on a diet of statistics alone.
Mere percentages thrust down the throats of common folks just will not do. If figures have to be quoted then should they not be in tangible, easy to understand and assimilate, form? When addressing the common man, should we not eschew the habit of talking of micro or macro- economics, or even of growth rates? If we have to, then why not measure our annual progress in terms of such yardsticks as: a) Number of additional persons provided clean and safe drinking water. b)Number of additional clinics and hospital facilities provided to deprived sections of society. c) Number of new and well-equipped schools opened in the public sector; additional children provided admission in such educational institutions. d) Number of additional midwives and paramedical staff provided in rural and far-flung areas. e) Number of additional trees not just planted but also nurtured. f) Economic and fiscal reforms that strengthen the Middle Class.
Once these little issues are sorted out, the nation may well be astonished to discover that such weighty matters as the growth rates and GDP – not to talk of macro and micro economics – will take care of themselves. Or is one talking out of turn?
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.
Email: binwakeel@yahoo.com

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