Soch Bichar: Podcasts on Development

By Anjum Altaf



Soch Bichar is a series of podcasts on development policy launched by Dr. Nadeem ul Haque and myself. We engage in conversations on important issues that are rarely addressed by the mainstream media. We will be adapting the format based on feedback received from our listeners.

The podcasts released so far are the following:

Introduction to Soch Bichar

On the debate on privatization in Pakistan

What is the role of government in the economy

Why does Pakistan economy not grow at a rate required by our demographics?

The economics of decentralization

Should we think trade corridors or an efficient trade system open to the world?

Pakistan Railways has been depreciated. Why? Is this a conscious policy?

Poverty is not a number but a system

ECC-Policy in continuous crisis and hasty decision-making

How Agriculture can grow at potential

Examining Pakistan’s trade policy and institutions

Hear what students say about their economics education in Pakistan

Hear what students say about their economics education in Pakistan

How budgets are made and implemented in Pakistan?

Health Policy in Pakistan

University management and quality

Old wine in new bottles–the New Auto Policy

Cities-Engines of Growth

Pakistanis pay taxes: Blame tax policy and administration

Should we be concerned with GDP or the Quality of Life

Financial Regulation and the SECP

Youth and the Demographic Dividend (?)

What is Corruption?

Analyzing economic research in Pakistan

Why Pakistan economy is not growing at potential

Punjab Education Ordinance Capping School Fees

Governance and civil service

The mess that is schooling

Researching and measuring democracy in Pakistan

Urban labor markets: what do they tell us?

Public service provision, user fees and priorities

Spending more on education not enough

The Role of Industrialization in Development

Pakistan Economy Resilient Despite Policy Issues

Could language may be an important issue in social science research and policy?

Disagreements: An assessment of Soch Bichar

Disagreements: Difference between growth and development

Candles in the dark

Understanding Chinese Growth and drawing lessons

What Kind of Planning do we need or should we do away with it?

Understanding Policy

Pakistan’s Economic Narrative and Policy

Debt, Austerity and Taxes

Aid and Public Policy

“Law and Economics” and Pakistan

Social Entrepreneurship, Philanthropy and the Aman Foundation 

Getting Policy Right- a proposal

Is the Census being done Right?

Climate Change

University and Research Culture in US

Local government

The curious case of Reqo Diq

Soch Bichar Radio show every Thursday 4.30 PM Fourth episode Employment

Economics of the Trump phenomenon

Economic Bullshit

Governance and Development

Understanding our history

Should we revise your GDP upwards every 5 years

Budget is coming

Pakistan and Austerity

Development happens in cities

Policy and budgets

It is the constitution, stupid!

How land is so central to the economy of Pakistan

Congratulations! Pakistan Won

6 Responses to “Soch Bichar: Podcasts on Development”

  1. Vikram Says:

    I heard the podcast on economic growth, it was a good introduction, but I feel this topic is important and merits deeper discussion.

    While looking at the economic status of a country, one can benefit if they start at the labor force, and their productivity. The bulk of Pakistan’s labor force was and still is involved in agriculture. Here, the ample availability of natural resources (arable land, suitable climate and fresh water), and adequate investments (80% agri land irrigated) meant that agricultural productivity per worker is quite high. In fact, the Pakistani agricultural worker has maintained productivity on the higher side among Asian developing countries, see:

    But as an economy moves away from the primary sector to the more valuable industrial sector, the key natural resources are minerals and skilled labour. Pakistan’s mineral reserves are not very large, however it has a large pool of labour. So why has this labour pool not achieved its potential ? I think there are three reasons:
    1) Very low levels of investment in education and public infrastructure.
    2) Reduced access to advanced markets for skilled workers.
    3) Sustained low participation of women in the non-agricultural sector.

    1) Pakistan’s record of providing education to its citizens is poor, even by low South Asian standards. For example, in 2014 only 10% of Pakistanis were enrolled in a tertiary education institution, compared to 24% in India, and 30% in China. Similarly, public infrastructure such as railway networks, that can efficiently and cheaply connect labor and goods to markets are underdeveloped.

    Despite its higher rate of population growth, Pakistan’s investment to GDP ratio has remained far below that of India, see here:
    In the 80s and early 90s, Pakistan’s population growth rate was nearly 3 %, while the investment rate was between 15-20%. This meant that the population was on track to more than double in the coming 25 years, but less than 20 rupees out of every 100 spent was to prepare the infrastructure and institutions for training and employing such a workforce.

    Why did Pakistan invest so little despite having a much larger surplus from its productive agrarian sector ? This graph gives us a clue:

    2) All South Asian countries are underdeveloped and have a huge surplus of unskilled and skilled labor. In the 1980s, Pakistanis were able to find employment in the oil driven Gulf economies at all levels and remittances actually became the main driver of economic growth. But Pakistanis have not been able to access the markets of Anglo countries like the US, Canada, UK and Australia, which also grew significantly because of the IT revolution.

    As an example, in 2015, 60,000 Indians received work visas for the UK, compared to only 3700 Pakistanis. Even Gulf countries like Kuwait have completely shut their doors on Pakistani labour.

    The underlying reasons are the widespread patronage of radical, violent extremists by the Pakistani army.

    3) In India, 66% of women are housewives, i.e. 33% of our potentially productive workforce is economically inactive. However, the economic growth of the last 25 years in cities has meant a growing number of women joining the urban workforce. Their proportion rose from 1 in 8 in 1990, to 1 in 5 in 2010.

    In Pakistan, after an initial increase in the 90s, this number has remained stagnant around 1 in 8 till now.


    I am not sure what the reasons for this difference are.

  2. Farheen Ghaffar Says:

    Dear Sir,

    I am a fresh graduate of a reputed business school in Pakistan and I agree that our universities are producing sheep. Most of the graduates only want a good paying job, and that’s about it. There’s a herd mentality and no one is thinking beyond it. We need more inspirational teachers and meaningful activities/events happening on campus. It is sad to see the most talented, educated and privileged lot of the society getting trained to be robots for a mediocre organization.

    Thank you for this forum.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Farheen: I agree with you that there are a lot of serious gaps in education in Pakistan. The problem has been compounded by setting up isolated discipline-based institutions like business schools, medical, and engineering universities etc. Education has become entirely job oriented and there is little room for students to imagine alternative ways of living.

      We realize that it is not in our power to alter the existing system so we are trying to provide alternative forums for the few students who survive their deadening education. Please do let us know what you are looking for and how we might offer it better.

  3. Shahid Says:

    The Debate on privatization

    First of all, we need to differentiate between pure business based institutions and those that are not. The establishment of PIA and Railways like institutions are purely on business schemes, but Police and Judiciary are based on social motives. So, privatizing the former is a relatively easier decision than privatizing the latter. A relevant question posed by Dr. Nadeem was that what would stop a private owner from overcharging consumers (like in the case of LESCO). He then himself goes on to answer this question by suggestion (in this regard) the introduction of competitive practices and competition, which in our prevalent constitutes is the best available solution. I would like to add one more thing, though. A private owner does not have the monopoly to impose taxes in the name of surcharges, like government does. Plus, customer satisfaction is dearer to a private owner (who must invest and spend from his own resources) rather than the government, which usually gives a hoot about consumers and their rights.

    Is Dr. Nadeem right in suggesting that we are asking the wrong question since it’s not privatization that’s the larger issue, but some other issues. Partly, I’d say. It’s not actually the wrong question because PSE’s are incurring losses to the tune of more than Rs. 600 billion. Put another way, we the citizens are paying Rs. 600 billion just to keep these loss-making entities going. And we have nowhere to go to protest this travesty. If it’s a private owner, there is good probability that even if they turn towards extractive practices, it won’t be to the tune of Rs. 600 billion. Moreover, citizens can always approach an institution (court, for example) to address any unlawful act. Consumer courts are a welcome addition in this respect, and are more effective in case the offender is a private owner.

    Of course, Dr. Altaf’s point about the state’s overall capacity in deciding upon these matters is very relevant, and perhaps the most important piece of the privatization debate. I am sure we all know about the state’s capacity, which is atrocious. Today, in fact, I read Dr. Altaf’s article in DAWN about CSS examinations and what kind of lot it brings to bureaucracy, who unfortunately become our decision makers without any related competence. More the reason, I say, to take the business of running business out of the state’s hands. State apparatus is incompetent, and the taxpayer’s have to bear the brunt of this incompetence and pay for it’s unnecessary continuation. At least with private owners, our existence won’t be so taxing.

  4. Irfan Amin Says:

    Dear Sir,
    I have listen almost all podcast which proved very fruitful for me and i hope this will continue in future but some request to both of you that please do the podcast on debts problem on our economy and effects of tourism in our economy which i think you should be include in your podcast.

    • Anjum Altaf Says:

      Irfan: Thanks for listening to the podcasts. I am glad they have been useful. I have updated the list and you will find that we have done one o debt, austerity and taxes. We haven’t done one on tourism but will discuss doing so. With the security situation in the country and the religious conservatism that precludes having fun, the subject is of academic interest only. If you have any other dimension in mind, do let us know. Feedback is very importnat to shape the podcasts to the interest of the listeners.

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