Posts Tagged ‘Imran Khan’

Chickens: A Debate

December 9, 2018

[Editor’s Note: Imran Khan’s suggestion to alleviate rural poverty by giving chickens to women was greeted with much ridicule but is there the germ of an idea there that public policy wanks can shape into a viable scheme? On the contrary, is there a convincing enough critique that can show how and why the idea might be infeasible.

Myrah Nerine Butt took the first step in a blog published in Dawn on December 5, 2018 and I requested Faizaan Qayyum to comment on her article. Myrah and Faizaan were Teaching Assistants for a course (ECON 100: Principles of Economics) I taught at LUMS in 2013 and it is gratifying to see them both emerge as articulate public policy practitioners.  Myrah completed a MA in Poverty and Development from the University of Sussex and Faizaan a MA in Urban Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he is currently pursuing a PhD. After a few email exchanges we decided we would all benefit from making this debate public and provide others a forum for reasoned discourse.

Towards that end, Myrah’s article is reproduced below followed by the discussion to date. We invite others to join and enrich the debate in order to make a contribution to how the issue of poverty can be addressed in Pakistan.]

Why PM Khan’s chicken and eggs solution has been mocked for all the wrong reasons

By Myrah Nerine Butt

At a ceremony to mark the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government’s 100 days in office, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government would provide chickens to underprivileged women in order to lift them out of poverty.

While a number of political stakeholders have ridiculed his statement, there is a lot of research on how and why this intervention can work. The people who are mocking the initiative are actually far removed from the context and lived experiences of rural women.

To understand the magnitude of the problem of poverty — 7.7 million households are living below the cut-off score of poverty developed by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP).

The fate of a lot of lives rests upon the policies developed by the government and trivialising such programmes can be incredibly detrimental to positive change.

To place the chickens within the policy context of Pakistan, I will compare the chicken intervention to one of the most successful poverty alleviation programmes in recent times, the BISP — an unconditional cash transfer programme.

Any woman who falls below a multidimensional poverty line is eligible for a cash handout. This intervention has been seen as a useful tool in alleviating poverty in Pakistan. As per the Food Energy Intake poverty line, BISP reduced the poverty rate by seven percentage points.

I will start by comparing the cash handout with the chickens handout to poor rural women and why chickens might work better given the household dynamics in place.

Firstly, one is a cash transfer while the other can be termed as an asset transfer. Money is more fungible than chickens. While money can be controlled by the men of the household and spent on non-productive or non-household activities, it is likely that chickens would remain in the hands of the women.

Typically, the men tend to goats, cows and buffaloes; there is a masculine connotation attached to tending to superior forms of livestock.

Because chickens are culturally seen as inferior forms of livestock, women are likely to retain control of these assets.

This is likely to increase the role of women in household decision-making: they control the chickens so they may decide on how to divide the eggs in the house or where to spend the resulting income.

On the note of fungibility, a chicken would also limit spending decisions of the household by virtue of being less liquid. Money can be spent on various activities, both good and bad, like responding to health shocks or gambling.

A chicken is a tied investment or forced saving, nudging people away from certain kinds of spending.

***

As opposed to a cash handout, chickens are an investment. They require low capital and the turnover is high.

They can also potentially help households climb out of poverty. However, the return on investment argument can be slightly confusing.

The remarkable high returns on investment are linked to commercial poultry farming; there are economies of scale on large chicken farms.

Rural households cannot tap into these massive economies of scale.

So, while rural households might not be able to capture the economies of scale, the eggs would still initially support subsistence of households and provide a steady basic income once the brood of chickens multiplies.

The idea of handing out chickens instead of cash is largely appealing because there is some evidence of its effectiveness in South Asia.

In addition to supplementing household income and providing subsistence, research shows that increased capacity gained by women and children through village poultry projects have impacts well beyond the improved village poultry production: chickens have increased food security and improved nutrition.

A possible pitfall of the chicken intervention could be the crystallisation of the role of women in the households.

A conditional cash transfer programme in Mexico handed out the cash to women if certain conditions were met, one of which was that the children of the household must regularly go to nutrition monitoring clinics.

The idea was to spur a household-level behavioural change.

However, because the money was handed out to women, they were responsible for meeting the requirements enforced by the state and thus the women had to take the children to the clinics, rather than the men.

This crystallised their role as caregivers and increased their burden of work.

Similarly in this case, women might be limited to the role of raising chickens and could be actively discouraged from other activities, like seeking higher education or formal employment.

It may also contribute towards increasing hidden child labour. Unintended consequences are always a possibility that should be considered when designing an intervention.

Ensuring an intervention that works

The chicken intervention cannot be rolled out in a vacuum — there would be a need to set up supporting infrastructure as well. Ancillary facilities like veterinarian services and training support need to be setup.

Additionally, serious work needs to be done to provide the women access to markets and strengthening market linkages.

There also need to be steps to organise women to work collectively in order to gain from some of the economies of scale and connect to markets.

Poverty alleviation interventions should be incremental and build on lessons learnt from previous interventions. The poverty scorecard developed by the BISP is a huge step in terms of understanding the dimensions of poverty.

The BISP has been able to develop an extensive database of poor households. The scorecard collects information on the various characteristics of the household as well as its assets.

It enables the programme to identify eligible households through the application of a proxy means test, which determines the welfare status of the household on a scale of zero to 100.

This can be very useful for targeting poor households in this programme too.

Additionally, the BISP has been tested and retested, its impact measured at each step. An intervention of such nature would require similar level of rigour in its design and implementation.

Bill Gates and the chickens

The global world is obsessed with finding a magic bullet to eliminate poverty. There is a reason why big donor organisations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation love such interventions.

They demonstrate quick results and are easy to measure. The global push towards “value for money” pushes policymakers to consider such interventions.

I would add a note of caution here. Poverty is deprivation on multiple fronts, not just income.

Aspects of time use, productive resources, health, education, rights and availability of services are equally important. Income is used as a crude indicator for all these other aspects.

Because of the multidimensional nature of poverty, it cannot be alleviated with one-time interventions. The causes of poverty are structural and run deep within societies.

Rather than viewing poverty as material deprivation, we need to understand it as a product of inequality and prevalent power relations. We need to analyse the process of design and implementation critically while being realistic about the impact.

The chicken intervention can and should be one of a number of poverty alleviation interventions, not a comprehensive solution. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket at the end of the day.

My fear, therefore, is that the intervention is top-down instead of being bottom-up. While global research and evidence is important, we need to ask ourselves: would it work in our context?

I am curious to find out whether a needs assessment has been conducted. Have the beneficiary women been consulted? Do they want chickens or are we going to force an additional burden on them? What kind of chickens work best in the local context?

For any intervention, the local communities need to be consulted right from the design stage. The intervention should be context-specific and bottom-up rather than top-down.

My key suggestion is to ignore the politicians sitting in the centre. They don’t need chickens like the rural woman might, but ask her before investing money first.

There is a need to step away from mocking PTI’s move to push forth this intervention. The decision is based on international research rather than a complete blind jump.

Let’s try giving the chickens a chance.

Back to Main Page

Advertisements

Ali Baba and Robin Hood

November 21, 2018

By Anjum Altaf

Daniel Kahneman (2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics) has a lovely book called Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) in which he distinguishes between the two modes of thought. Fast thinking is instinctive and emotional and subject to many cognitive biases; slow thinking is deliberative and logical and much to be recommended when stakes are high and situations are unfamiliar.

In Pakistan, we have succumbed over time to fast thinking and the graver the situation the more instinctive and emotional the thought process tends to become.

It’s time to take a deep breath.

Look at the current situation which offers a surreal scenario of a major country reduced to a farcical contest between Ali Baba and his forty thieves on one side and Robin Hood and his merry men on the other. Ali Baba’s gang purportedly looted the people and got phenomenally rich under the protection of earlier kings while Robin Hood and his gang are vowing to get it all back to the poor with the support of the reigning monarchs.

Those with the luxury to enjoy the spectacle can let their imaginations roam and fill in the secondary characters of King Richard, Maid Marian and the Sheriff of Nottingham but the poor who have been looted and to whom the loot is to be putatively returned are paying a very heavy price for the fast thinking.

This fast thinking incorporates a number of biases. The Ali Baba-Robin Hood frame assumes that there is a fixed pot of money in the economy that has to be in one set of hands or the other; that nothing can be done till this money is recovered; that all those on one side are thieves while all those on the other are saints; and that the end of corruption is the precondition for development.

All these assumptions are flawed as even a cursory look at any real world economy would reveal. There is no country in which corruption has been completely uprooted and there are vibrant neighboring economies in which the size of scams is much bigger than those in Pakistan. Corruption exists in developed countries like Japan and Korea where prime ministers have gone to prison, as well as in China, India, and Bangladesh. Nowhere has life been put on hold till the end of corruption. China and India have been growing at unprecedented rates for extended periods and even the Bangladeshi economy is growing faster than Pakistan’s despite being rated more corrupt than the latter.

There is no argument that corruption is a problem to be addressed but it is also an ironic fact that its extent is often a good indicator of the size of the economy. Fast-thinking attempts to go after corruption can often strangle the economy or, like similar perennial attempts to purge prostitution, spread it even further into the interstices of society. Slow thinking would force one to balance the difficult choice between a fast growing economy with some corruption and a land of the pure that is mired in equitably shared poverty.  

It is also silly to posit that saints and sinners are distributed non-randomly in the world. Here we do not even have to look beyond our borders. How can it be when so many of Robin Hood’s merry men were earlier members of Ali Baba’s set of heartless thieves? And what does one make of the fact that our Ali Babas and Robin Hoods share the same set of ever-ready advisers, a phenomenon that would have been quite alien in Sherwood Forest.

Slower thinking would help absorb the reality that the primary task of any government dedicated to the welfare of the poor is to make the economy grow, even at the cost of some corruption, and to understand the concept of sunk costs and let bygones be bygones as the price of moving ahead. The biggest impediment to that realization is the obsession with purity, proving oneself holier than thou and chasing the mirage of hidden wealth and looted plunder. This instinctual urge to move money from one pocket to another, a corollary of fast thinking, is consuming precious time that should go into formulating policies to move the economy forward.

A deliberative stocktaking is also part of slower thinking. China and India both commenced their historic trajectories of rapid growth, in 1979 and 1991 respectively, following major innovations in their policy regimes. Neither owes its economic success and poverty alleviation to ending corruption, recovering looted wealth, or indiscriminate harrassing of non-filers of income tax in countries where vast majorities do not even earn enough to be liable for taxation.

All these are lessons that are there for the learning, preferably sooner than later, but it would be much more ominous if the fast thinking on display masks a lost ability to think slow in policy terms. If that turns out to be the case, the merry men would push the country over into a certain catastrophe.    

This opinion was published in Express-Tribune on November 16, 2018 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Back to Main Page

The Morning After

September 29, 2018

By Anjum Altaf

It is a fact that no one outside Pakistan considers the most recent electoral exercise to have been even-handed — some analysts have gone so far as calling it a ‘soft coup.’ This is no surprise. Most outsiders also insist that Pakistan sponsors terrorism. But while there are many Pakistanis who contest the latter, it is striking that the number believing in the fairness of the recent electoral exercise is relatively small. Even partisans benefiting from the outcome, while offering various justifications, do not really dispute the charge.

It seems that in nudging the choice, the power elite (the segment of the elite that has the ability to affect other people’s lives) may have overplayed its hand. Does this, and the intervention itself, come at a price? Recall that negating the electoral mandate of 1971 resulted in dismemberment of the country. What kind of price might we expect this time around?

First, there is a clear loss of institutional credibility. While praetorian rule in the past was attributed to individuals — Ayub, Zia, Musharraf — the narrative this time is depersonalised and centred on the uniform — slogans are in the air that have never been heard before.

Second, there are still many Pakistanis who, while accepting the reality of nudging, justify it as being for the good because the previous dispensation was allegedly so corrupt and anti-national that giving it five more years would have spelled disaster for the country. This predicament arguably legitimized the use of any available means to replace the predecessors with an upright and patriotic team. If the expectations of this segment of the population are belied yet again, it could erode the legitimacy of the power elite, and its claim to represent the national interest, for good.

Third, the probability that the above-mentioned expectations could be fulfilled is not high. Leave aside the fact that the new dispensation is peopled largely by the same individuals who were part of the erstwhile lot of the corrupt, and subscribe, for the sake of argument, to the comforting myth that an honest leader could keep them in check. There is nevertheless no escaping the reality that no leader, however upright personally, can defy the structural imperatives that define a system and circumscribe the room for maneuver.

To start with, there are structural imperatives that push from below in a society characterised by widespread poverty and the dependance of the many on the few for rights and entitlements. With a parliamentary system, and the majority of electoral constituencies having a dominant rural vote, such a configuration cannot but throw up the kinds of power brokers now characterized as ‘electables.’ The motivations of such representatives, who have dominated Pakistani politics throughout, are well known and they do not barter their loyalties for free. Let us assume, however, that a truly great leader can keep them in check.

But then there are structural imperatives from above. A leader beholden to the power elite cannot but acquiesce to its dictates which means that foreign and defence policies could remain out of bounds. At the same time, if the leader is not inclined to take on the theocracy, the internal dynamics are unlikely to change if not become more dangerous — consider the abject surrender on Atif Mian. Add to this the constraints that would accompany the recourse to the IMF that has already been signalled as inevitable and the fiscal vice would tighten some more.

Pakistani politicians are very much reduced to the status of the princes in pre-Independence India who were rulers only in name while power was exercised by the British — they can revel and indulge thier egos in their restricted domains while the real business is conducted elsewhere. It is not any fault of of the politicians, just a reflection of the reality on the ground. The princes, to their credit, left us a glorious cultural heritage of art, poetry and music that continues to enrich our lives and provide solace in trying times. Our politicians have focused on enriching themselves and adding concrete to our lives. Imran Khan may make different choices but he would nevertheless be operating at the margins turning opulent rest houses into hotels and colleges.        

This is ironic because the broad framework outlined by Imran Khan points in the right direction — the country can move ahead only if it prioritises the productive uplift of the bottom forty percent and invests heavily in its security and human capital. But will there be enough left to do that after satisfying the obligations of all the paymasters listed above — defence, debt repayments, conditionalities, luxury imports, political payoffs, and the inevitable leakages — that would leave the kitty bare and beyond the reach of minor austerities and absurdities like forbidding cheese and inviting donations to build dams?

When Imran Khan recognises these constraints, as he inevitably will, and attempts to wriggle free of any of them, he will face the same reality as all those who have had the crown placed on their heads before him. And so one might expect the cycle to repeat and the status quo sustained. But there might well be an accompanying downward drift with the continued erosion of institutions and their loss of legitimacy. Already, we are in a surreal situation in which every organ of state is carrying out the functions intended for another. This is not a lasting arrangement and the lost time in which competing economies move further ahead could exert an enormous toll.

Pakistan has a very young population, poorly educated and trained, that is looking for employment to survive. What will happen when the dreams dissolve and its survival is at stake? I suppose one could tell them to go climb one of the trees that might be sprouting by that time. On the other hand, the descent into anarchy could accelerate, the power elite flee to its foreign abodes — Dubai, Jeddah, Paris, London — and the parties that have been mainstreamed as part of the electoral engineering step in to destroy the old and rotting system once and for all. This might well be a triumph that could bear the mark of a colossal tragedy in the making.

An edited version of this opinion was published in The News on September 27, 2018 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Back to Main Page

Chaos in Islamabad

August 26, 2014

By Kabir Altaf

For the last ten days, Pakistanis have been fascinated by the sit-ins occurring in Islamabad.  Led by Imran Khan (of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf) and Tahirul Qadri (of the Pakistan Awami Tehrik), the movement is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the Chief Minister of the dominant Punjab Province.  The PTI is also calling for election reform and for the holding of midterm elections under a new caretaker government.  This anti-government movement has deeply polarized the country, particularly on social media.  Many young Pakistanis are supporting Khan’s demand for Sharif’s immediate resignation, arguing that the May 2013 general elections were massively rigged and that the PML-N does not have the people’s mandate.  Others argue that Sharif is the legitimately elected Prime Minister and that he cannot be forced to resign simply because a mob of 55,000 people demand it.  They worry that the prolonged sit-ins may force the all-powerful “third force”, the Pakistan Army, to step in and declare Martial Law.

While most reasonable people would concede that the 2013 elections were rigged to some extent, it is questionable whether this rigging substantially changed the results.  Nawaz Sharif’s party won by a landslide– especially in Punjab (the dominant vote-bank of the PML-N).  Observers called the elections the fairest held in Pakistan’s history (not that this is high praise, given Pakistan’s shaky grasp on democracy).  Asides from the issue of the possibly tainted mandate, it is highly unlikely that either Nawaz or Shahbaz will resign. The PML-N has the support of most of Pakistan’s political parties.  This past Saturday, former President Asif Zardari, the Chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, had lunch at the Sharif estate in Raiwind, outside Lahore, after which he declared that he was fully in support of Nawaz Sharif.  Rumor has it that Nawaz offered Zardari the post of President of Pakistan, which the latter is said to have declined.  In any case, the PPP and other major parties are in agreement that the demand that the sitting Prime Minister resign is “unconstitutional” and cannot be countenanced. Cynics may argue that this seeming solidarity is simply members of corrupt political dynasties protecting each other. However, unless there is much more public pressure on Sharif (or perhaps pressure from the Army), his resignation seems almost impossible.  At the time of writing, the Army also seems remarkably uninterested in intervening; saying only that the parties must settle the issue through negotiation. Perhaps, if the standoff continues or the situation turns violent, the “third force” may be forced to take matters into their own hands.

Imran Khan wants Sharif to resign. Suppose he does. What then? Khan wants new elections held under a caretaker setup as well as electoral reform.  Since systemic reform cannot happen immediately, it seems likely that any new elections are likely to be as flawed as the most recent one is said to have been.  Suppose the new elections do not bring Khan to power.   Will he accept the results as legitimate?  Or suppose that Khan does succeed in becoming Prime Minister. What is to say that a year down the line, mobs will not be protesting in Islamabad demanding his resignation?  Forcing a sitting Prime Minister to dissolve his own government sets a bad precedent and would derail democracy in Pakistan.

Imran Khan could have pursued the alternative course of focusing on governing in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa (KPK), the province where his party did receive a mandate and formed the governing coalition.  If he had succeeded in addressing the issues of the province, he would have been in a stronger position for the 2018 general elections and perhaps would have succeeded in winning power in Punjab.  However, Khan seems to have had little idea of how to address the challenges of KPK, the province that has borne the brunt of the “war on terror” and the instability in Afghanistan.  Rather, he found it was easier to lead agitations and hold protests.  There is a section of opinion in KPK that feels that Khan has ignored the province in an attempt to win power in Punjab, the locus of power in Pakistan.

A final point needs to be made about those young Pakistanis who are advocating for some kind of French or Russian Revolution or even for an “Arab Spring”.  These people seem to be discounting the fact that revolutions are bloody and often lead to civil war.  The French Revolution led to the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.  The Russian Revolution caused civil war between the Bolsheviks and the “white Russians” who supported the Czar.  Even the example of the “Arab Spring” is not exactly salutary.  Though the Egyptian people did succeed in removing Hosni Mubarak from power, the legitimately elected government of Mohammad Morsi was itself removed through a military coup. Khan has repeatedly labeled Sharif the “Hosni Mubarak” of Pakistan, suggesting that he sees himself as Morsi. If so, than has he considered the real risk of being summarily removed by the Pakistani equivalent of General Sisi?  As for his young supporters, the prospect of sending the Sharifs to the guillotine may seem attractive, but they should remember that revolutions often cause entire societies to turn on each other. With the Sharifs go much of the Pakistani establishment, the business community, and the landed classes.  It would seem difficult to believe that the prospect of civil war in Pakistan is something that would be acceptable to many of PTI’s young supporters. Revolution may be necessary, but at what price?

At this point, the best one can hope for is that some accommodation will be reached between the government and the protestors, perhaps through the formation of a national unity government.  If the success of the sit-ins does force Sharif to implement needed electoral reforms, they will have had some positive impact.   At worst, the impasse may lead to prolonged instability in the country, forcing the Army to impose Martial Law, an outcome that very few Pakistanis—whether PML-N or PTI supporters—want.

Kabir Altaf attended the Lahore University of Management Sciences and graduated magna cum laude from George Washington University.

Back to Main Page

Beyond Anti-Americanism

July 3, 2009

We have gone back and forth on the issue of American intervention in developing countries and I wish to return to the topic to broaden the terms of the discussion.

Reader Tahir had raised the issue in defense of Imran Khan’s position that was the subject of three earlier posts (here, here, and here). Let us see if a wider perspective improves our understanding and helps us think of better responses, both intellectual and practical.

The evidence of American interventions is not in dispute. In his Cairo address, President Obama conceded American involvement in the 1953 coup in Iran that toppled a democratic government. And this is only one of many, many instances well known to all except, perhaps, a majority of American voters. Imran Khan is part of the multitude that sees through the American rhetoric of high morality. (more…)

More and Less of Imran Khan

June 29, 2009

This post continues the series initiated by Imran Khan’s observations on the differences between West and East (Why the West Craves Materialism and Why the East Sticks to Religion) but it is more about the issues and less about Imran Khan.

In particular it addresses the points raised by Tahir in his four comments on the earlier post. These points cover so many areas that it is best to deal with them in a separate post.

To start with, it is useful to separate the various strands in the comments and respond to them one at a time. For example, it would help to separate the political and the religious dimensions. There is little doubt that the US has exploited many countries including Pakistan. But this has very little to do with religion. (more…)

Reflections: Go Mohammedans?

May 22, 2009

Can you tell me what is meant by ‘sublimated violence’?

I am asking this question to try to answer another that was put to me yesterday. It has left me quite perplexed.

A reader wrote and described the following observation. He was attending a serious talk by an American professional. Somewhere in the middle of the talk, the presenter had occasion to mention he was from Pittsburg. All of a sudden, he swiveled from his hip, pumped up his fist, and shouted ‘Go Steelers.’ And then he continued with his serious presentation.

The question posed by the reader was whether I could imagine a South Asian doing something like that and if not, why not? (more…)

The Peculiarities of Imran Khan

May 10, 2009

Two things struck me as being odd in Imran Khan’s article that I had discussed earlier: how he found wisdom and the use he put the wisdom to.

Imran describes his narrow escape: “it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.”

I have just recently read Latika Gupta’s account of what some mothers are doing to their children and so reading Imran’s sentence made me shiver. Imran just turned out be very lucky in having a pious and sensible mother but is it a good idea in general to be shaped by the powerful religious influences of mothers and to believe in something out of love rather than conviction? (more…)

The Confusions of Imran Khan

May 5, 2009

The confusions of Imran Khan provide us the opportunity to bring together two themes we have covered recently – the functions of religion and the coherence of analysis.

You would enjoy this post more if you took out a little bit of time and read what Imran Khan has to say in his article Why the West Craves Materialism and Why the East Sticks to Religion. But even if you don’t, you will get a sense of the issues and the problems.

Imran Khan starts by saying that his generation “grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak.” Islamic studies were not taken seriously and our role models were from the West. When he arrived at Oxford he discovered that not just Islam, all religions were considered an anachronism. Science had replaced religion and the terrible experiences of religious bigotry and conflict had turned the Western mind away from theology.  (more…)