2018: Year of decision in balancing social needs, private expectation

02Jan 2018
The Guardian
2018: Year of decision in balancing social needs, private expectation

THERE is an expression in Kiswahili that one is a guest for two days, and the third he is given a hoe to go farming with the rest of the family the person is visiting.

In a different idiom or culture it would be nearly the same as saying that the period of innocence is gone, that one is treated as an adult after a certain period of time, which is clocking 18 years in civil law, that one assumes responsibilities of an adult. In economic life - as that is the core of national life as a whole - a similar principle applies, that a government is new in its first and ultimately its second year, putting its plans into place and elaborating its methods, stating its case, etc.

That is what would by and large be said to have been happening over the past two years, 2016 and 2017, that the new government starts to work, and since there is a vast change in methods, people give it the benefit of doubt and start expecting results. Everyone knows, picking again from foreign idioms, that 'Rome was not built in a day,'  in which case one can't say whether the new set of policies works optimally or not in the first two years, but no further 'waiting period' exists in the third year, as expected results ought to start being the order of the day. Here there are contentions, as to public economy results vs private economy.

Perhaps this is the lynchpin of economic policy as a whole, as to what really measures success in policy action, whether it is societal achievements in education, health, infrastructure and revenue collection in general, or it is what people see in their day to day fortunes. Here this problem of end of innocence is also applicable, namely that when different categories of observers and pundits kept complaining in the past year or two that there was little money in their pockets, the standard response was that it came from past abuses of office. But ending abuses means that wealth is redistributed, not that the breadth of society is just poorer.

Yet by and large private economy, while it is vital in terms of garnering social and political support for policy work - as private economy touches sentiments 'ten times more' than social economy - it isn't by itself the measure of validity of policy action. In that case it isn't a matter of shifting focus from social economy results to private economy objectives (improvement of personal incomes as different from welfare goals of a generalised sort) but a reconciliation. If the mood about private economy is negative, or remains negative in the course of another year, attitudes of people concerning policy action won't be amenable to mobilisation.

That is how the Soviet Union came to its collapse starting from 1989, at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall from permanent frustration in private economy (while the socialist system kept boasting that schooling and medical care, basic housing needs etc were all freely provided). Another glaring instance was the fall of veteran Libyan ruler Col. Muammar Gaddafi in the wake of a popular uprising in 2011 whereas Libya was held to be the showcase of using oil proceeds for generalised welfare. In that case the ruling party can't put all its eggs in the social economy basket but be mindful of not excessively dislocating private expectations.