By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Peddling the carrot of an economic miracle may be appealing politics but is bad economics. It is wishful thinking on the part of its protagonists, a dream that can only remain unfulfilled
By now everybody in Mauritius knows that there is no such thing as economic miracles, whether first or second. After all this has been confirmed by their own experience, especially the purported second one. They have come to realise that the promise of a second miracle during the electoral campaign for the December 2014 general election was merely part of the rhetorical flourish that is an inevitable component of such campaigns as the competing parties go to any length to convince the electorate so as to win victory, and occupy office – which may represent a windfall for some who have proximity to power, but by and large leaves the population at large only holding on to expectations. By the same token, talk of changing people’s lives in 100 days is equally fraught with risk. And therefore, such glib pledges, though they add masala to the campaign, are best not made so as to avoid loss of credibility post the election.
By definition, it is not possible to predict a miracle, which can only be ‘diagnosed’ so to speak in retrospect, and that too long after the event. Even then, doubt always remains, especially among those with a scientific bent of mind. So peddling the carrot of an economic miracle may be appealing politics but is bad economics. It is wishful thinking on the part of its protagonists, a dream that can only remain unfulfilled, however sincerely convinced of their daydreaming the latter may be. After all, the state of the economy is a complex interplay of local and global factors which are always in a state of flux, although certain trends may be discernible over time.
To complicate matters, there are some critical situations that may suddenly burst on the scene and disturb or disrupt everything. The US-China trade ‘war’ over tariffs that has been precipitated by a sudden if not impulsive declaration of US President Donald Trump is one example of such an abrupt conjuncture that can cause major upset, as it has indeed done already. Although following the meeting of the two presidents on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Osaka, the US decision has been put on hold, there is no saying how long this will last, perpetuating thereby a situation of instability and uncertainty that impacts the whole world economy. Brexit is another such predicament of equal concern to us; it has now lasted several months and is as yet unresolved.
Perhaps that is why the cynic has described an economist as someone who will explain to you tomorrow why what he predicted yesterday did not happen today. Come to think of it, replacing ‘economist’ by ‘politician’ would perhaps be a closer approximation to reality. At least one can credit economists with basing their projections – rather than predictions – on certain tangible facts and figures that are analysed within conceptual frameworks that have some valid empirical as well as theoretical grounding.
In spite of that, this approach is deemed to fall short of the objectivity that the physical sciences can achieve; in comparison economics is therefore called a ‘soft’ science. And of late the term dismal science has been applied to it. After all, the leading lights of the discipline did not see the financial crash of 2008 coming and according to expert opinion (‘Economica’, February 2019), ‘it disproved the belief that markets only self-correct and never self-destruct’. It would be painfully recalled that the bail-out meant digging huge sums of taxpayer money from government coffers, and there were queries about their destinations. Perhaps pre-emptively so as not to be scapegoated or finger-pointed yet again, experts are forecasting the threat of another global recession looming on the horizon.
If we make allowance for factors both local and global over which we have no control, in this socio-economic and political sphere what can guarantee us tangible progress rather than any miracle are discipline, hard work and perseverance driven by values of honesty, probity and sincerity in our endeavours – which need to be present at all levels and in all stakeholders who must, further, be imbued with a sense of both individual and collective responsibility. All of us are in the same boat, striving to provide for the present and future needs of our families, and a recognition of this fact by those who occupy the highest positions of responsibility in society will go a long way to create the kind of society where all will find a respectable place and live in dignity.
Our political culture and mindset must evolve to take constructive criticisms positively rather than negatively, as ideas that are meant to improve the general good and as stimulators to appropriate actions all done within the accepted and established legal parameters. By no means must they be construed as being directed against specific individuals or groups, but rather are to be looked upon as concerns expressed about issues and problems that may have been overlooked by those promoting projects or taking decisions in connection with these. And it is only through frank discussions and dialogue that resolution will occur.
It is not only in Mauritius that politicians have this unfortunate tendency and temptation to score brownie points by making personal attacks against their opponents. Such attacks may appeal to the baser instincts of some people, but by and large they are looked upon with distaste. As the electoral atmosphere is being built up, perhaps it would be a good thing to be reminded of these sayings which have eminent relevance in this context:
‘Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people’, and another version, ‘Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about themselves, and small people talk about others’.
Without any doubt the country would rather have great people with great minds than small people with small minds as their leaders. And as a corollary, it would be better to promise less and do more than promise more and do less.
That is the kind of miracle that one can proudly look forward to…
* Published in print edition on 5 July 2019