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Does economy refute theory of development paradox?

Nilratan Halder | January 11, 2019 00:00:00

Bangladesh has moved up 16 places on the World Economic League Table (WELT) over the past six years alone to be ranked the 43rd largest economy in the world. In South Asia it is second only to India. The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), a UK-based research firm, in its 10th edition has analysed 193 countries' economies the world over to decide their 2018 position as also the place they will attain in the year 2033. The forecast for Bangladesh is quite savouring because by that time this eighth most populous country on the planet will capture the 24th position in the list of world economies. Promotion to this size means an ascendancy of 19 slots in the next 15 years and this has been calculated on the strength of 7.0 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth on an average.

What if the GDP growth can be further pushed up? A country known for its development paradox, with such continuous growth for more than two decades at a stretch may further baffle social scientists and economists, particularly those of the World Bank. The strait-jacket analysis of relations between good governance and economic and social development is of little use in unravelling the mystery behind the country's progress. Earlier the country charted a tortuous course: in 2003 it was ranked 53 but slid seven notches down in 2008 only to recover its position at 59 in 2013. From then on, the rise is uninterrupted so far and if the CEBR proves correct in its prediction, the journey onward will be on an upward trajectory.

Interpretations of the country's economic prosperity are yet to be comprehensive enough. If the governance is not transparent and accountable enough, it may usurp some of the citizens' rights to participate in productive activities but certainly not of the entire population. Other than the government there are non-government organisations some of which have contributed enormously to spurring creativity of the people at the grass-roots level. What has been even more striking is the women's empowerment. If garments workers have been working for a pittance, they still have the satisfaction of relishing their own income and a sense of liberation. But more importantly, women's presence side by side their male counterparts in farm labour has given them a new identity. This was once unthinkable in rural Bangladesh. The smarter among village women have even organised their own enterprises where usually village girls and women find employment. Even fruit orchards or aquaculture managed by some women have made headlines in newspapers and electronic media.

Some economists are right to point out that individual initiatives rather than policy guidance have worked wonder. True, garments have the lion's share in foreign exchange earning but remittance sent by the country's migrant workers has mainly bolstered the village economy. That the country now boasts a per capita GDP of $4,666 in ppp international dollars is because the village economy has become stronger. Here the contribution of the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BARRI) has proved decisive. Adaptive to new situations and technologies, farmers have also responded remarkably well to raise crop output. When food deficit can be tackled effectively, farmers have wider options for diversifying their income channels and this they have done admirably.

However, Bangladesh, unlike China, has failed to bring in the productive spirit under a systematic framework. Labour is cheap in both countries, no doubt. But the authoritarian leadership in the most populous country in the world has been able to organise means of production in a comprehensive manner. The specialised village-based small industrial units there are so efficient that products ranging from the smallest pins to the most sophisticated electronic gadgets or its accessories can be exported at the cheapest possible rate.

In Bangladesh, technology parks are the latest addition right now. Had focus been directed towards this sector in an organised manner and education made compatible to supply a large pool of technicians, the country could have earned foreign exchange comparable to garments export. Then on a higher level, if better organised, outsourcing or similar other technological exercises could be the major means to earning for a far larger number of techno-savvy youths than it is currently.

The CEBR mentions a duty-free export boost to the Indian market in the three months to September. In those three months alone the export amounted to $ 375 million. Whether this is a one-off business transaction between the two countries or the process will continue is yet to be known, but one thing is certain that Bangladesh will benefit immensely if its products get such access to the huge Indian market.

Essentially Bangladesh economy, as the CEBR finds, 'is driven by domestic consumption expenditure, government spending, remittance and export'. It cautions that the gains from its successful export sector can be negated by the country's growing appetite for import. At this point, perhaps, there is need for qualifying import. If import comprises mostly consumer goods, it surely unfolds the spectre of a deficit economy. But if capital machinery and goods for infrastructure development are the main ingredients of imports, things are unlikely to take such a turn for the economy. For example, if half of the potential of the Padma bridge can be exploited, the country stands to gain an additional one to two per cent of GDP. Such projects can ultimately help spur a robust growth of the economy.


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