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Mahbub-ul-Haq



Suresh wrote me this:

Sanjeev, i think you, and perhaps the IndiaPolicy Group, should read the
attached article which can be found at:

http://209.194.80.218/news/1998/aug/04dilip.htm

[For those not easily connected to the web: SS]

Rediff August 4, 1998) by Dilip D'Souza 

Requiem For A True Human

I write today to mourn the death, some weeks ago, of a man I never knew.

Apart from a few tributes in the papers, his moving on seems to have
caused barely a few ripples. That's not much of a surprise, considering
that his views and suggestions are so dramatically different from what
goes on in this corner of the globe, so different that they probably
embarrassed a number of people. I wish I had known Mahbub-Ul-Haq.

Even one less man of his thinking is a huge, sad loss. If even a few more
hought along the lines he frequented, this corner of the globe would be a
ar better place than the miasma the rest of us have made of it.

Mahbub-Ul-Haq was a loud, tireless voice on behalf of sanity, a commodity
not liberally sprinkled among Indian and Pakistani politicians and
policy-makers. ("Political vision is one of the most scarce commodities in
the world today," Haq wrote in his 1976 book The Poverty Curtain).  But it
was hardly a routine moral stand Haq took on sanity. His constant argument
was that the sanity he advocated was the path to prosperity and strength,
peace and dignity, for countries to take. Not just any path either, but in
many ways the only path, the real path. Haq was one development economist
who came to believe that countries develop when they invest, first and
always, in their people. That made him a near-unique development
economist, a rare economist, an unusual South Asian -- and he must have
been a remarkable human being.

Yes, I would have liked to have known him. 

Haq was the driving force behind the UNDP's Human Development Reports that
have been published since 1990, as well as the yearly South Asia
Development reports he published from Islamabad. He came up with he now
well-known Human Development Index, a numerical gauge of how well
countries are doing in providing reasonable lives to their citizens.  t
proved to be a startlingly accurate measure. Who might argue with a 1996
ranking in which Canada, the USA and Japan took places 1, 2 and 3? In
which Somalia, Sierra Leone and Niger were at the bottom: 172, 173 and
174? Where countries like Brazil, Belize and Botswana made up he
mid-ranks? Haq's home, Pakistan, and India languished in the 130s:  not
the worst countries, but not so far off the bottom either.

The HDI is based on three simple indicators. First, life expectancy, as a
measure of health. Second, educational attainment, represented by a
combination of adult literacy and school enrollment. Third, the real GDP
per capita, as a measure of the standard of living. A country's
achievements in these three basic variables are measured and averaged to
arrive at the HDI, expressed as a number ranging between 0 and 1. The
interesting thing about the index is that it is useful in two ways: it
allows comparisons between countries, and it shows just how far each
country must go to maximise its human potential.

Compare Canada's 1996 HDI of 0.951 to Pakistan's 0.442, India's 0.436, or
bottom-dweller Niger's 0.204.

These figures, and many more that support the HDI story, underpin Haq's
persistent appeal to the countries of the world, and to India and Pakistan
in particular. If you want to improve the quality of your residents' lives
-- and correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that every nation's signal
concern? -- you must invest in education, health and social development.
In fact, those must be a country's highest priorities.

That much you might hear from any of a myriad social scientists, writers
and activists. What distinguished Haq's argument was this: he showed
convincingly that concentrating on human development also increases human
capital. That is, human development is not merely a national goal in
itself, one that nuclear aficionados, for example, can pooh-pooh easily
with glib talk of national security. More than that, it is an instrument,
a vehicle, or growth and development. In other words, if you want to build
an economically strong, robust nation, the best way by far is to invest in
your people. All your people.

This was not economic thinking as it has gone for much of, say, the last
century. Economists, and policymakers in their wake, have been fervent
worshippers at the altar of growth. Growth, for its own sake, on its own
erms. Yes, they said, such growth would produce inequalities and widen he
rich-poor divide. But that's only in the short term. Over time, wealth
will "trickle down" to the lowest strata and the "rising tide will lift
all boats."  (Ronald Reagan was a famous spouter of these vague,
platitudinous promises).

"Development" -- a mindless, thought-free development, was the mantra.  We
all learned to chant it with a practiced ease. Thus, to take one example,
it was OK to build dams for electricity. But it was not OK to wonder why
villages a few hundred metres from those very dams must emain without that
very electricity; why those villagers must "sacrifice"  -- another of
those mindless words -- for "development," for the "national interest."

Haq's HDRs showed that the national interest was most effectively served
-- could only be served -- by tending to the people's interest. While the
HDI may not be perfect, countries like Canada, the USA, Norway and others
that top the rankings have indeed followed that path. Nearly everyone in
those countries has access to education, health care, justice.  That's why
they have generally flourishing economies. That's why they top he HDI
rankings. In contrast, the world is strewn with countries that have
chanted the mindless mantra, ignored their people, all the way to the
lower eaches of the HDI rankings. India and Pakistan are two.

So much for Haq's HDRs. What are his lessons for India and Pakistan, for
heir citizens, some of whom are reading these lines? One simple lesson, as
ar as I can tell: we must rethink some priorities. What's more, it's you
eaders who must stimulate that rethinking, for we have a political class
in both countries unwilling and incapable of it. Writing in the Sunday
Times of India recently, S Venkitramanan, ex-governor of the Reserve Bank
of ndia, told a story to demonstrate just how unwilling and incapable.

At a 1986 meeting between officials of our two countries, Haq -- then
Pakistan's finance and commerce minister -- was set on opening up trade
across the border as a way to build bridges. Overcoming much "sullen" 
esistance, he drew up a list of 30 commodities Pakistan would import from
India and a similar list that India would import from Pakistan. A measly
60 items -- hardly an enormous step towards peace between two nutty
neighbours, but a step nevertheless.

Haq paid for his peaceful intentions almost before the ink on the
agreement dried. President Zia sacked him from his ministership. Haq
learned that politicians mistrust trust. His idea of trade for peace
remains locked behind hat mistrust, behind the prejudice ordinary Indians
and Pakistanis willingly choose to swallow. The very prejudice, may I
submit, that led to the worst desecration yet of Haq's hopes: the nuclear
explosions last May.

Prospects for a prosperous, peaceful, South Asia were further smashed hen
by the misguided egos of Vajpayee, Sharief and those around them.  Knowing
Haq from what he has always proposed, I feel sure he was deeply distressed
by those explosions. They were more evidence that the governments in both
countries care nothing for their people, and so for a eal national
strength in either country. I feel sure, too, that he was as deeply
distressed by the reaction to the explosions: the euphoria that
demonstrated just how successful politicians have been in persuading us
hat their egos are the national interest.

Sadly, the real tragedy is that the few times India has chosen to invest
in its people, the results have been a resounding affirmation of Haq's
ideas.  Bangalore is the obvious example. An investment in computer skills
has urned that city into a world centre for software, turned India into
the world's second-largest exporter of software. While there are problems,
ndia badly needs to imitate and replicate that example all over the
country.  "[India's] takeoff," Haq wrote in the 1997 South Asian
Development Report, "desperately requires massive investment in human
development."

nstead, and I feel faintly slimy writing this, we opted for a nuclear
bomb.  We chose deliberately to let our people remain malnourished and
illiterate, o keep our country weak. And we applauded that choice with
gusto.

Yes, I never knew Mahbub-Ul-Haq. But now that he is gone, I'm going to ry
chanting a different mantra, one that I found in his 1996 Human
Development Report. It's not particularly poetic, it doesn't even rhyme,
but it will do fine nevertheless. You can chant along too. All together
now, nice and easy, this is the way it goes:

"Human development and poverty reduction must be moved to the top of he
agenda for political and economic policy making."

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