Valuing honesty in long-term growth

Syed Abul Basher and Salim Rashid | Sunday, 12 November 2023

Universities have an important role in helping students understand the difference between doing things for quick, personal benefits and making choices for long-term goodness and morality. They should teach students to think about the future, encouraging actions that are good for both individuals and society. Take for example the saying "honesty is the best policy". This could be seen more as a policy than a moral imperative. However, its implementation is profoundly beneficial for societal outcomes, fostering environments where everyone gains through mutual trust and honesty.
People need to understand the importance of focusing on long-term interests rather than just short-term gains. If we aim for long-term growth, everyone will benefit eventually. For instance, with an 8.0 per cent growth rate, society as a whole prospers. However, if the focus is on a short-term 5.0 per cent growth rate, only a few will benefit. It is essential to recognize the difference between short-term and long-term interests.
Universities are instrumental in promoting this ideal. Given that students are often young and idealistic, universities provide a fertile ground for seeding and nurturing such long-term visions. This is the right moment to instill the significance of pursuing long-term communal benefits over immediate individual gains.
It is important to stress that people should sometimes put aside their immediate, personal desires. They should realise what's good for society often ends up being good for them in the long run. Universities need to focus on teaching the value of thinking ahead and making decisions that are morally right and beneficial over time. However, it can be tough for universities to teach about being moral and ethical in situations where personal benefits aren't clearly evident. More thought and planning are needed to effectively teach these important life values.
These scenarios illuminate the crucial balance that individuals and societies must differentiate between immediate gains and sustained success. We are frequently misled by short-term objectives, which might seem advantageous in isolation but often compromise the integrity and potential of long-term goals. Consider the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, promising higher crop yields quickly but severely affecting soil health and leading to pollution in local water sources, which harms both human and animal life in the community.
In contrast, a steadfast focus on long-term benefits, while requiring patience and strategic foresight, lays a robust foundation for enduring success and mutual prosperity. Consider the various initiatives implemented over the years encouraging farmers to adopt sustainable and climate-smart agricultural practices, such as cultivating salt-tolerant rice varieties resilient to changing environmental conditions. Due to the implementation and promotion of these sustainable agricultural practices, the broader community benefits from stable and, possibly, lower crop prices.
This careful balance between quick gains and long-term benefits shows the need for thoughtful decisions in both cooperation and competition. Understanding these choices is a key to making plans and building a closely-knit community that leads to ongoing success and teamwork. It is important to distinguish between pure morality, without selfish motives, and moral decisions influenced by future personal benefits. Making sense of these differences can be tricky.
Life for middle-class families in Bangladesh has improved significantly compared to a few decades ago. This improvement came from the sacrifices made by millions during the 1971 liberation war. To continue improving, we must work together to overcome obstacles that stand in our way. We should ask ourselves, "What kind of future do we want for our children and grandchildren?" Leaving the country isn't a realistic option for everyone, so we need to focus on making improvements here.
Sustained economic growth requires long-term projects that will make Bangladesh both livable and lovable. Economic growth has provided comfort to many, making life in the country more bearable. However, it is concerning to see many people wanting to leave. What can be done to make the country more appealing to them? Either the benefits of economic growth are not reaching everyone, or the increased income is only leading to unmet new desires. Regardless, actions must be taken to improve the long-term quality of life in Bangladesh, making it both livable and lovable. Such improvement requires the execution of thoughtful, long-term projects.
It is a no-brainer that an increasing pie benefits everyone, while a shrinking pie creates inequality and disorder. Larger required projects can be painful in the short run. This pain must be endured to enjoy sustained long-run benefits. People may be tempted to embezzle funds from projects, but this will obliterate the long-run benefits. To better our lives collectively, we must establish the minimum level of honesty and commitment required to ensure that long-term projects yield results. Universities should teach our students these trade-offs. Specifically, students should be educated (and preferably trained) to navigate the trade-offs between various objectives crucial to societal well-being. It is vital that students learn how to manage the conflict between maintaining integrity and the desire for material possessions, making wise decisions in the process.

Dr Syed Basher is a professor of economics at East West University. [email protected]. Dr Salim Rashid is a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. [email protected]