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Saturday, October 25, 2008

S Akbar Zaidi: Some Serious Thoughts

Today, the electronic media has made bankers, businessmen, stockbrokers and journalists experts on the intricacies of economic and financial issues of which most know very little. Personal anecdotes, and not even informed opinion, replace any sound academic or general discussion about Pakistan’s economy or about the international financial crisis.

Barring very few exceptions, most supposedly informed guests on these channels cannot distinguish between the capital market, capital investment or the capital account, yet speak with an authority which only reveals their complete ignorance. Stockbrokers hold forth on monetary policy, bankers and MBAs on fiscal policy, and journalists on an assortment of issues ranging from what they think the impact of raising (or lowering) the CRR and SLR would be to the impact of an IMF programme of which they know barely the basics and can claim no understanding.

In the 25 years in which I have taught and done research in economics in Pakistan, I have never seen so many people appearing in the public arena and being called ‘economists’. Most of these self-styled, or increasingly media-styled, economists have hardly written academic papers or books, yet speak with the authority of someone who understands how a complicated and complex social, political and economic system works. Many now call themselves ‘political economists’ which gives them license to talk about anything at all, without having understood what it is that makes up the discipline of political economy.

High journalism — and usually not even that — substitutes for scholarly and academic discussion in the media. Moreover, access to the Internet has made a cut-and-paste job far easier, and for many newspaper readers who do not scan more than just a single column, material which has been developed and debated in very different contexts is recycled as original.


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