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True path to prosperity

Huzaima Bukhari

“If we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor”—Muhammad Ali Jinnah       

The definition of prosperity for a nation is not confined to high gross domestic product or a high tax-to-GDP ratio but has a much wider and more significant scope. For this one can refer to “The Wealth of Nations” written by Adam Smith the central thesis of which was that the need for humans to fulfill long term self-interest results in prosperity. He firmly believed that people unconsciously promote public interest through economic choices giving rise to a free market force. As long as the people exercise these choices freely, the potential for prosperity remains great but interference by the government can produce shortages and surpluses.

The Smithsonian government’s responsibilities are limited to defence, universal education, development of infrastructure, enforcement of legal rights and controlling crime. He sees the government stepping in when people act on their short-term interests, thus legislating and enforcing rules to check frauds, adulteration, theft, violation of contracts etc. While cautioning against larger bureaucratic governments, he writes: “There is no art which one government sooner learns of another, than that of draining money from the pockets of the people.”

He believed that majority of the people practiced self-interest and his advice to them was that they should have an enlightened self-interest whereby they must work diligently keeping in mind long term goals, and learn the value of investments through savings, expanding their trade with technological advances. He suggested that the government should follow free market principles by keeping taxes low and allowing free trade across borders by removing all tariffs which he found to make life more expensive for the people as also stifling industry.

Could there be any doubt about the aspiration of achieving prosperity by every country in the world? To be happy, healthy, successful and prosperous are deep-rooted desires of individuals and nations at large then how come, with the exception of a few countries, the rest do not attain these objectives? According to sociologists, critical to the success of both people and their nations, are the values they profess and adopt. One thing is certain. Success does not merely mean making money and wealth but it also entails being happy and content.

Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI)—1n 2018 Survey Pakistan was at 136th position out of 149 countries—ranks countries in nine different sub-indexes: economic, fundamentals, entrepreneurship and innovation, democratic institutions, education, health, safety and security, governance, personal freedom and social capital. In 2009, out of 104 countries so surveyed, Finland ranked as the most prosperous nation—in 2018 survey its position is 3rd, while first and second is that of Norway and New Zealand respectively. For us, the case of Finland is more appropriate as it rose to high position after facing extreme difficulties. According to creators of LPI, the approach to measuring prosperity is not just material wealth but also in terms of happiness and quality of life. In fact, they note that that the most prosperous countries are those that have happy, healthy and free citizens. Something, in the nature of Riyasat-i-Madinah which our Prime Minister is so keen to convert Pakistan into.

At this juncture, it would be appropriate to mention that historically, Finland did not enjoy this rosy status. It was initially part of the Russian Empire and since 1917 after the Russian Revolution, has suffered immense political volatility. Having declared independence in December 1918, a brief civil war erupted between the German-influenced Whites and the Russian supported Reds that left many thousands dead because of disease, malnutrition or execution. The country fought the Russians in World War II (1939-1945) and its economic conditions then were so poor that women would cook food and carry it to the soldiers at the front. Not until the 1970s, Finland continued to be in political and economic quagmire.

On the economic front, the country has had to face many challenges, particularly in arable farming because of its climate and soil condition but the resilient Finn farmers managed to overcome these deficiencies by relying on quick-ripening and frost resistant varieties of crops, cultivating south facing slopes along with the richer bottomlands and treating the soil with lime and years of cultivation to neutralize excess acid, thus improving fertility. Compared to farming in other European countries, Finland boasts of a more efficient and productive agriculture.

As per LPI, “History is not destiny.” Although many of the countries falling in the higher ranks have long histories of prosperity, many others were in recent past, afflicted with poverty, oppression and unhappiness and Finland is one of those. To be ranked as number one is an honour for the country but this achievement did not come overnight. All the evaluated sub-indexes (foundations of prosperity) which are closely linked have to be developed simultaneously for the correct results and this can only be done when the end aim is happiness of the people. Where the sole objective is attainment of wealth at the expense of rendering lives of the common people miserable, no country can ever become prosperous in the true sense of the word.

When is a nation happy? Legatum’s answer is fairly simple. “Happiness is opportunity, good health, relationships and the freedom to choose who you want to be.” If Pakistan wants to join the category of the prosperous nations, it would have to reset its directions and adjust the sails of its ship accordingly. Seventy years ago, when Finland was grappling with its woes, Pakistan’s founding father determined the goal which was purely well-being of the people, especially the poor masses but somewhere along the years, we lost sight of this goal and deviated to more sinister ones forcing this nation to become one of the world’s most unhappy and indebted in the world.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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