I sit and hear Professor Ha Joon Chang and Peter Nolan explaining the virtue of State led development. Cambridge development studies has always been known as the citadel of heterodox thinking challenging the mainstream neoliberal view that market can solve all our problems and that we don’t need an intrusive state. I hear them talk about how Japan, Taiwan and South Korea became a first world country in less than half century due to strong political leadership and state interventionist industry, trade and technology policies. I never knew that South Korean government pushed many industrialists to enter specific sectors which they wouldn’t have entered otherwise. For instance banning LG from entering its desired textile industry and was forced to enter the electric cable industry which later became the foundation of its electronics business, for which LG is currently world-famous. I didn’t know French government owned sizable share of Renault and the German Government in Volkswagan. US government used import tariff toof 40% from 1820s till the 1930s to protect their infant industries and was dubbed the “bastion of protectionism”. Then we hear how the French government used strong industrial policy to upgrade its economy post World War II to catch up with Britain.
This is the message that I get from my professors that not a single developed economy could have achieved what they are now without the help of a strong State. With strong leadership and shared long term vision, any nation can catch up and become a developed economy. The message is so simple, so persuasive that it brings joy to my heart only to be squashed and crushed by the rude reality I see in my country. Our leaders are too busy scoring points than thinking about their country. The phone call between the two leaders was shameful; the tone and the content of the discussion were beneath any level of decorum and etiquette. It is even more frightening to contemplate the kind of mentality who would make the political calculation that leaking this audio would actually be politically beneficial.
The effect of hartal is so patently bad that one has to be literally senile to think the parties have “our” interest in their mind. The 160 million people of this country have been taken hostage by these two pseudo dynastic powers that have simply lost touch with the ground reality. This is not a medieval times when leaders can do whatever they feel like and people under their ‘dominion’ suffer with no recourse. We are falling behind, why should we have to suffer, why should our children have to give exams at midnight, why should our auto-rickshaws and cars get burned, why should we get burned and die when we get out for office! Why should we care that our two leaders who seemed to be so self centered that they put their pride over national interest, that they consider compromise at the time of national crisis less important than the potential of being looked at as weak. We have lost the GSP facility, our economic growth has slowed down, our garments industry on which our export earning depends is in a critical juncture and fragile. Yet our two parties are engaged in street battle, one proudly stating that they will bring the country to a halt and the other saying come what may they will have an election with our without the major opposition party.
With this mindset, how are we going to catch up with the developed world that is already years ahead of us? We rejoice at our achievement in reducing poverty and reaching MDGs, Is this our target to be barely above the poverty line and surviving? South Korea and Singapore have no mineral resources and in the 1960s had the same per capita income as Ghana and was a LDC by today’s standard. In less than 40 years both South Korea and Singapore have become first world countries. Can we not dream such dream, will we have to sacrifice our true potential because of our quibbling dynastic incompetent leaders and politicians. So far Bangladesh has largely progressed inspite of our politicians but for how long and more importantly why should we. We want a functioning democracy, we want a strong state that will guarantee stability, rule of law and protect our lives and property. Is this too much to ask? I implore our leaders for once for the sake of our country and its 160 million people, to leave aside their party politics and rise to the occasion and lead this country out of the mess that we are in and the black hole we are being sucked in to.