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People are the wealth of nations

Dr. Mahbubul Haq was Pakistan’s 13th finance minister from the period of April 1985 till January 1988. He was a Cambridge, Yale and Harvard educated world-respected economist and joined the United Nations Developmental Program soon after his departure his post in Pakistan. During his tenure with the UNDP, Dr. Mahbub created and launched the Human Developmental Reports and from which emerged the HDI (Human Developmental Index). While GNP/GDP statistics measure national wealth and productivity, the HDI takes into account overall human development and besides income per head also includes amongst other measurements, life expectancy, schooling, employment and gender inclusivity. While the GNP growth rate may be a indicator of a country’s overall financial ‘opulence’, the HDI takes into account how the population has developed and progressed, in other words it reports on the ‘upward mobility’ of its population. In a time where fewer and fewer people own more and more of the country’s wealth, GNP/GDP statistics paint a very limited picture of a country’s actual wellbeing measured not by income, but by its most important component, its people.

While Pakistan’s GDP has risen steadily over the last decade, almost 100% growth from $137.2 billion to $ 271 billion, it has actually dropped in its HDI placement from 135 in 2006 to 147 in 2015 out of a total of 188 countries indexed. In this period, its population has grown from about 161 million to 189 million showing a growth of about 17%. What this effectively says is that while the country’s overall wealth has increased, it has not filtered down and been used to improve the quality of lives of the whole population. In other measurements, Pakistan ranks 121st out of 155 countries with regards to Gender Inequality. The report shows that only 19.3 % of women reach secondary education compared to 46.1 % of men, while female participation in the labour market is 24.6 % compared to 82.9% for men.

Successive Pakistani governments have been used to pointing to basic income statistics to showcase the overall progress of the country but the extremely limited budgetary allocations to health and education do not lie. While there has definitely been an ‘upward’ shift in global news headlines with regards to Pakistan, these are limited to financial and economic interpretations and as figures have shown, these do not get translated into well-being for everyone.

What is required is an identified policy that clearly highlights first an acknowledgement that the government is responsible for the well-being of its less fortunate population to raise their standard of living. Secondly, to answer how this will be done and finally an official adoption of statistics such as the HDI to showcase its actual performance.

One has to look no further than Iran that has seen its HDI ranking improve during the most crippling of economic times. The key is accountability and an attitude of equality – key components of any form of governance.

“Mahbub was that rare combination of thinker-doer. A former Minister of Financein his home country Pakistan, he was acutely aware that theoretical debates werenot enough, and that we have to think about policies that make a difference inthe lives of people. Articulate, persuasive, he was a thought leader, parexcellence. He knew that it was important to bring together the best people he could find to debate and promote ideas about human development. His Cambridge friend Amartya Sen became his close partner in this journey. Other luminaries like Paul Streeten, Gus Ranis, Frances Stewart joined this core group.

Coincidentally Amartya won his Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 1998 for his contribution to welfare economics. In this way, two powerful South Asian voices came together- a Pakistani and an Indian, to advance the notion of humandevelopment, best captured by the first sentence of the 1990 Human Development Report, that “people are the wealth of nations”.

From ‘ADVANCING, SUSTAINING HUMAN PROGRESS: FROM CONCEPTS TO POLICIES Khalid Malik, Director, Human Development Report Office, UNDP’.

Ali Gokal

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