Could we pay a little more attention to the economy and not just amendments?

Afsan Chowdhury
Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017
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Amendments are very serious issues and need utmost attention but do they have to be all consuming? It’s so overwhelming that all that the elite want to talk about is this? It’s difficult to get extremely interested who can hire or fire since most ordinary people haven’t a clue as to what it’s all about. But to the elite class, nothing else seems to matter much since the 16th amendment appeal was cancelled.  Once in a while, with an increasingly challenged economy, one wishes other matters would spark some interest. As we sit on the verge of more both difficulties as well as more opportunities, this question becomes even more pertinent.

 

In terms of challenges, our over dependence on just two sectors, ready made garments and remittance has created vulnerabilities. Once they were the great pushers, the generators of wealth but like most economic cycles this is on the slide and we need to recognize that. Not only has the rmg sector  shown nil if not negative growth, it faces increasing competition from Vietnam and Cambodia which are also proving to be more able to sustain their position than us.

 

Rmg and migrant labour dependent economy

 

The reason why the economic regimes in these two erstwhile socialist countries are successful is due to lack of policy confusion and ability to work for the economy and not just the owners. In case of Bangladesh, the BGMEA is favourably close to any government in power and have thus taken advantage of this relationship, not necessarily positively.

 

The result is weaker regulatory supervision, hence low productivity and the thus reduced ability to compete in the global market. The impact is now more clear and we should be concerned.

 

The remittance economy has been the backbone of the middle class that has arisen in Bangladesh after 1972. Many of the rich have been involved in sending people abroad and the ‘manpower lobby’ is hugely influential and many are also linked to the rmg sector as well. However, the workers who go abroad have sent their money home and build an enviable reserve in the Bangladesh Bank unlike the wealthy who have milked the banks and sent the money abroad. But the  guest worker based economy that began in the post-oil boom is petering out. As economies abroad shrink, many of the jobs Bangladeshis took are going to the local labour market and guest workers are left out.

 

This situation has been compounded by the reduction of the labour market at home. Bangladesh is experiencing jobless growth and some are saying that with shortage in both in the international and domestic market, there is a generation of  low employed or under employed people. The impact on the national economy is enormous but too few concerns are being raised.

 

Upper class anxiety

 

While all this negative news is travelling we have assessments that show that Bangladesh is an extremely potential player in the global economic market.  The reasons again are the same which has been the guiding force behind the growth of rmg and remittance economy. Bangladesh has cheap labour which is making a big difference.

 

Now that the Chinese wages are climbing, cheap products are not easy to come by there hence the use of robots.  But these are expensive investment making China less competitive and has created opportunities elsewhere. Three countries are being discussed as those who can stand to gain most from the China situation and Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietname are again named. This is the great door that has been opened but are we sure we can do something about it if we are so obsessed with the ways of the ruling about how it runs itself?

 

It would be best if the ruling class felt less insecure about their future. They seem to have been cocooned from the world of reality for quite a while and the anxiety they experience is more psychological than real. Once they realize that all the talk about constitutional crisis really doesn’t affect their future, they can pay greater attention to the national economic future. After all, if Bangladesh is richer, they will richer than all others who grapple with the anxiety of livelihood loss.

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