- Elite research institution?
In his first address outside the Parliament, the PM gave a brilliant speech, touching upon various important issues, and indicating policy direction. One point he raised was with regard to the use of PM House. In my understanding Imran Khan intends to see it develop into an elite research institute; a place for top class academics/researchers/policy practitioners to come together and produce high quality research for policy input. Although the specific vision in this regard will surface in time, it is indeed a very novel and much needed initiative.
I say this because public policy in Pakistan has lacked the much needed institutionalised state of the art research oriented technical input, one that is properly linked with past successful policy trends, and that is up to date in a broad way. One caution here should be to not let this proposed research institute slip into lesser efficient other institutes that government has for policy input, may that be related with development economics or agriculture, among others. This institute needs to be run like a well-incentivised and capacitated research hub, with authority to obtain data and prevalent policy information quickly from government authorities (ministries, departments, etc), adequate finances and autonomy to hire properly nationally and internationally, and to be under the regular oversight of the PM himself, who should try to require from this institute to research in areas that suggests research results that help the new government deliver better on its promises.
PM rightly indicates that Pakistan, if it has to be progress, cannot be run anymore like the way it was being run before. To be on this new path towards ‘Naya’ (or new) Pakistan, requires bringing in new policy perspectives. The elite research university can serve as a high-level intellectual backbone of our ministries/departments, which need to fulfill the dream of PTI to make Pakistan a truly Islamic welfare state.
This would entail two main components: (a) to engage with internationally recognised individuals/think tanks, and in turn bring their presence/representation in the physical space of PM House, making architectural changes/additions to the current building; and (b) to reinvigorate ministries/departments to make them effective institutions, so that they legislate laws and procedures for efficient working of organisations. I will now elaborate these two main tasks at hand for transforming the PM House into a physical and intellectual space for select local and international minds to come together.
There are always fundamental physical changes necessary to be made to convert any house into an active research facility. Having said, since it is no high-tech science laboratory that is being talked about, the costs would be limited to (a) adding living spaces for researchers, (b) provision of security especially given international researchers will be involved, (c) changing the architectural dimensions of the building to allow both individual and collective research focus of intellectuals.
The third research focus should be on purging the institutions from economic policy that have imprints of neoliberal mindset
The research institute should remain in direct contact of the PM, since important economic issues will be researched here, over and above the day to day working of the government. The areas that I propose below for its focus would indicate that while, for example the Planning Commission works towards overall economic policy, and implementing the development projects envisaged under this economic policy, this research institute will have a special focus to particularly work towards modernising institutional and organisational work, bringing them in line with the overall philosophy of PTI government with regard to making Pakistan a welfare state.
In line with PTI’s philosophy, indicated very clearly in the PM’s recent speeches, two research areas will need to be populated with related international and local minds. The first would deal with understanding the Scandinavian Social Democratic Model of the welfare state. Here the focus of research would be to simultaneously understand (a) the governance and incentive (both positive and negative; discussed elsewhere in my articles) structures, and the underlying legislation to achieve them, and (b) at the same time thoroughly study the matching institutions or ministries/departments in Pakistan, so that the results from the first aspect would be indigenised for the improvement of the second. The second research section, should try to repeat the same from the perspective of the Chinese model of development; here researchers having capacity in this direction to be incorporated.
The third research focus should be on purging the institutions from economic policy that have imprints of neoliberal mindset. The source of this mindset primarily originated from the Thatcher-Regan economic paradigm where the role of the state was seen as very limited. This Washington-consensus styled policy milieu later on backfired with frequent market failures and economic distress in many developing and developed countries; recent being the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.
Both policy makers and politicians in Pakistan have remained slow in understanding the impact of this policy mindset with consequences that both the markets and firms have seen little regulation, where subsidies have been mostly discouraged in an overall less than favourable attitude towards well-functioning and broad based welfare policies. At the same time, under the overall unregulated capitalistic free-market philosophy, the corporate sector or ‘too big to fail’ kind of big organisations have been unduly left quite alone by successive governments. They primarily did this to win financial favours of the ‘Robert Barons’ of today’s world in elections, and also under the policy prescription of the similar mindset (of neoliberal kind) of multilateral institutions like IMF and World Bank. This has contributed to increasing income inequality and poverty levels not only in developing countries like Pakistan, but also in major OECD countries like USA, where research literature has indicated that real wages has been on an overall stagnant or even declining trend.
It will therefore be very important to purge the neoliberal mindset from institutional policy making philosophy, for which this particular research area should be tasked to see the imprint of these policies in institutional thinking and to suggest alternative policy, one that keeps on high pedestal the welfare of the public at large, and not at high priority to safeguard the unjustified profit-making mindset of the big corporations and elitist elements in the economy.
For this it would be necessary to look to heterodox economic literature and to involve researchers like Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and from think tanks like the Society for Institutional and Organisational Economics (among others), who have been working to understand the proper role of governments in the light of such literature, and to align economic policy making principles to purging the negative elements of this neoliberal assault on both political economy, and in the larger sense on democracy; where the nexus of election campaign funding and safeguarding the interest of the financiers at the cost of disenfranchising general electorate from policy input, has been seen to be augmented by successive governments. Similar has been the case in Pakistan, as in many countries.
Hence, it is very important for a possible instituted task force by PM to build on the initiative of transforming the PM House into an elite research institution, since it is only with this high-powered facility that institutions (and the markets as part of the environment it provides), and organisations could be modernised into delivering the New Pakistan. It would make sense for the PM to continue to take regular briefings on the work of this research institute, and if need be to task them in other economic areas, where the need is to gain unique international perspective of these researchers.