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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 5/8/17

Do we need Chicago Boys?

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From Milton Friedman M  ‹
From Milton Friedman M ‹
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In 1956 the University of Chicago and Santiago's Universidad Cato'lica--with the help of Ford Foundation--signed an exchange agreement to send young economics students to the United States to learn more about "monetarism," the theory that governments should refrain from regulating the market, whenever possible, with the exception of managing the money supply. Between 1956 and 1961, 25 boys came to Chicago and on their return they remake the Chilean Economy.

Don't get me wrong when you read the title of this post as I am not advocating the economic policies of Chicago boys. My motivation is the process by which these boys were created. In the last three months I have attended quiet some economic forums from Punjab Economic Forum to Pre Budget Seminars to Book launches and you will agree that we see same faces and same stances on every forum.

There are three categories of economists in Pakistan. The first one still dominates the public space; they are public celebrities. In their prime they struggled, got their PhDs on government scholarships, joined key positions and showed their feats. Now they are retired but more active, in advice and critical mode. They are mostly foreign especially US grads worked with IMF, ADB, World Bank career lines have good pensions to take care of their monthly expenditures. This category is now on the crusade to tell us the truth, show us the light as what the real policy-making is and how much wrongs is being done in today's economy. Mind it they will remind you of their golden administrative era as how they saved Pakistan, which was at the verge of death, and if these super heroes were not there today we would not have been breathing in a free and safe Pakistan. According to them the fact remains that just after they retired the state of economy has started deteriorating. These old gurus are super computers in telling the true statistics of Pakistan claiming the reported ones are incorrect and fabricated. I am curious to know about their methods of calculating these numbers with such accuracy. They are highly critical of the wrong doings of present government as if in their times government was a pure soul without any grey area. Another remarkable fact about these super heroes is they will pass such bold statements and predictions as if they are Pakistani Nostradamus.

The second category is the struggling mid-career economists, which includes both local and foreign PhDs, but they are in larger number as compared to their predecessors. Some of these mid careers are spiritual fan followers of these old super heroes and may end up having the same kind of career. There is some good research credited to these economists but lies a cut-throat competition to be the best of the best.

The third category are the toddler economists who have big dreams and want to be someone. They are either doing their PhDs or planning to enroll. Their number exceeds the first and second category but mostly are the products of Pakistani universities. Thanks to Dr Atta Ur Rehman for making this initiative but it makes me wonder that can we compete in terms of quality with the local produce of our neighbor like IIMs, Delhi School of Economics or Madras School of Economics. If we look at the employability most of these toddlers are unemployed and hoping with a PhD they can secure a teaching position at a university. The dilemma is that employers of good universities/institutions still prefer the foreign PhDs preferably US or may be UK.

Now comes my tag line that do we need Chicago boys? We need critical human-resource planning in terms of quality. If we have an established belief that US grads are superior to all others then why Higher Education Commission is sending the potential candidates for PhDs in Korea, Denmark, Ireland, Malaysia, China, etc. Even on their return they land up in average jobs. Government of Pakistan need to have a long-term human capital strategy by choosing the young economists send them to US supervised by best mentors. These chosen economists know where and why they are going and which positions they will be taking on their return. We need home-grown but foreign-trained HEC is running after China, Korea, France, Denmark scholarships. Let's focus on sending our aspiring youth to US only to get acceptability by the employers in Pakistan. If oldies think that their Pakistan was so much better and all mistakes lie in the present Pakistan then second-category economists need to stand and prove them wrong. Even the best performing economies have flaws and questionable policies but Ben Bernanke wont be saying loudly and sarcastically that Janet Yellen doings are all wrong. The oldies need to take a break and move to Florida (wish we had one in Pakistan) to spend their old age rather sharing their super-hero stories which we all remember as it's the same on every economic forum or book launching.

Government's prime focus should be these toddler economists as it should identify as who is suitable for what position and then send them for their higher foreign-brand education under great mentors so they know why they are going and what would be their duty on return. We need change of opinions and stances in our public space. Instead of sharing super-hero feats and statistics the oldies need to quote the second-category economists and acknowledge their work and research. The field of economics has changed 360 degree much applied and heterodox and we need Chicago boys to run the economy rather expats from World Bank, IMF, UN, or foreign universities who may be patriot but spent most of their lives in the West. One of my mentors would say that if an old lion does not hunt a deer it's because he does not have the energy to capture him. When our super heroes were young then they should have served Pakistan rather making a choice to work abroad. There is hardly any economy on the planet that is perfect and no economist can be right all the time. Our super heroes' first-category economists should be pragmatic and positive in approach. They should mentor the second-category economists and highlight their research and strategies rather sharing their success stories and predictions. Their role should be in preparing and mentoring the next league of economists and have faith in their judgement. If that's difficult then I wish we had Florida in Pakistan so they could spent their lives with their life partners in peace. If we want to make Pakistan an Asian Tiger by 2050 then create these Chicago boys and till they return let the second category can take care of the affairs if the super heroes give us a space.

The author is an Economist and alumnus of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, USA.

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Aneel Salman, a Fulbright Scholar, holds a PhD in Economics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. His current areas of research include public policy, institutional governance, climate change and the Pak Afghan security nexus. He (more...)
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