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The four essential ingredients needed to achieve a modicum of economic sovereignty and establish a social welfare state are: energy, capital, technology and manpower. Pakistan lacks the first three and has criminally neglected the last one. Therefore, it has continued to suffer from chronic under-development. There are scores of other countries that had lacked even the fourth one but by adopting innovative paths broke out of their respective economic stagnations.

The East Asian countries had readily and without question offered to become sweat shops for the US and European manufacturers. Using imported capital and technology from the US and Europe and putting to work locally generated subsidized power and cheap labour these poor East Asian countries became the Asian Tigers by the end of 1970s as they emerged into global export power houses.

India followed a highly restrictive import regime along with adhering to very high savings rates for almost 45 years while its economy expanded haltingly at a snail's pace producing for a market of a billion plus on the back of ever widening budgetary deficits in states. India, in fact had tried rather successfully to spend its way out of stagnation and at the same time because of its focused attention to the education sector, especially on education in physical sciences the country became one of world's top software exporters. Over the last ten years or so, its economy has been growing at an annual average of over 7%.

China on the other hand had remained confined within its bamboo curtain for more than 40 years following a rigid policy of looking after its people from cradle to grave providing them with only the barest minimum essentials by way of food, shelter and clothing while at same time it was manually creating a gigantic production power house generating assets worth trillions and savings worth billions. Today, China's population is the largest in the world, relatively speaking. And it also has the largest number of science and technology savvy young manpower.

None of these three regions had reached where they are today with the help of the institutions that created the so called Washington Consensus. The concept and name of the Washington Consensus summarizes commonly shared themes among policy advice by Washington-based institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the US Treasury Department, which were believed to be necessary for the recovery of countries in Latin America from the economic and financial crises of the 1980s.

Macroeconomic stability is a highly desirable goal but by the time a country succeeds in achieving this goal, it invariably ends up with resource constraints becoming even more chronic, the unemployment rate shooting through the ceiling and inflation spiraling out of control.

In fact, like Pakistan most of the countries that have used Washington Consensus's magic formula once have only gone back for more of the same sinking further down the ladder in the process.

One only hopes that Pakistan does not find itself going back to the IMF after we have completed the current three-year Extended Fund Facility amounting to a little over $6 billion. Instead prepares an economic policy blueprint to make the most of indigenous comparative advantages for enabling the national economy to come out of its dependence on dole while at the same time developing into an essential clog of the interdependent world.

According to Thomas Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century - Pp. 491), the development of a fiscal and social state is intimately related to the process of state-building as such, "...the history of economic development is also a matter of political and cultural development, and each country must find its distinctive path and cope with its own internal divisions."

So, it is imperative that Pakistan should try to find its own distinctive path to progress. But no matter how distinctive the path is, unless both education, especially technical education and the national incomes as well as tax collections rise to a reasonable level, the economy of developing countries like Pakistan would either continue to remain dole-dependent or trapped into a stagnant mode going south.

Piketty's research states that when the four rich countries of the world (Sweden, France, Britain and the US) collected less than 10 per cent from the national income by way of taxes they could afford to fulfill only their central 'regalian' functions (police, courts, army, foreign affairs, general administration, etc.) but not much more. This was the situation in these four countries during the 19th century up to the First World War.

Between 1920 and 1980, the share of national income that the wealthy countries chose to devote to social (education and health) spending increased considerably as in just half a century, the share of taxes in national income increased by a factor of at least three to four and in Nordic countries by more than five.

The growing tax collection enabled the governments of these rich countries to take on ever broader social functions which now consume between a quarter and a third of national income of which one half goes to health and education, the other to replacement incomes and transfer payments. All told, the total social spending, broadly speaking, amounts to 25-35 per cent of national income.

"In other words, the growth of the fiscal state over the last century basically reflects the constitution of a social state." And that perhaps is the way for developing countries like Pakistan as well to reach the goal of managing affordable education, affordable health cover, affordable transport, affordable security.

Today education is expensive, no matter where. But it is also easily accessible, higher as well as primary. Pakistan could compress years by at least a decade in achieving top quality educated population as well as making it universal at the primary level if it were to take the Web route. The Web gives lifelong learners the tools to become autodidacts, eschewing exorbitant tuition and joining the ranks of other self-taught great thinkers in history such as Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Paul Allen and Ernest Hemingway.

In April 2001, Charles M. Vest, the MIT President at the time, announced that the university would make its materials for all its courses freely available on the Internet. This initiative, found at OpenCourseWare, has enabled other teachers and lifelong learners around the world to listen and read what is being taught at MIT. Five years later, in April 2006, UC Berkeley announced its plan to put complete academic courses on Apple's iTunes U, beginning what is now one of the biggest collections of recorded classroom lectures in the world. One year later, in October 2007, the school launched UC Berkeley on YouTube. Both Yale and Stanford have followed suit, and even Harvard has jumped on board in the last two years. At Stanford, you can freely "attend" The Stanford Mini Med School featuring 3- year long series of courses by more than thirty distinguished faculty scientists and physicians.

The world's encyclopedia is as weightless, free and instantly accessible as Wikipedia, which is quickly gaining legitimacy in the education sphere.

In a world where nearly all the world's information is at our fingertips, the barriers to learning are gone. We are on the cusp of a digital education revolution where traditional schools are being disrupted and a lifetime of self-directed learning or unschooling is becoming the new way to thrive.

Today, you can design your own passion-driven learning curriculum and prepare yourself to ride the technological waves that will power the next economic boom. Soon, we will not only have the worldwide web, but also new technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality that let us learn and explore through all of our senses rather than textbooks and lectures. For the curious among us, there has never been a better time to be alive.

Your options for self-education and lifelong learning are endless. You can take online courses, master new skills, build your own website, read classic books, explore the world with your smartphone, and collaborate with other lifelong learners from all over the world. We have today in Pakistan more smart phones than TV sets.

What is stopping Pakistan, then from taking this highway to self-reliance rather than continue to look to other countries for our progress and development? Neither did the circumstance of being the cold war's 'Most Allied Ally' of the US or its 'Non-Nato Ally' of the terror war help us nor has even the CPEC, the 'game changer'. We are still where we were some half-a-century ago. Let us educate our way out of this life-long dependence of others.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019


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