The fact is we never had the occasion to set what we want. We do what others want us to do… So, it is time we set our own economic goals, keeping our history in full view. Coronavirus has given us that opportunity
It is a full pause, an unforeseen one.
All international airliners have been grounded, ships lie anchored at ports and all the pores in global borders have been plugged well to ensure that nothing moves across.
This is because novel coronavirus, or Covid-19, which now sweeps the world, claiming thousands of lives, spreads through movement.
Governments in countries have enforced shutdown, keeping some essential services out of its purview. People stay holed up in their houses. Offices, educational institutions, shops and supermarkets have been shut.
It feels like holding one's breath as long as one can, because to exhale means moving out — moving out into the outer world. But coronavirus does not like us to move out.
It wants us to stay within ourselves, reimagining our image, and gathering together the bits of ourselves which lie scattered and which we did not have the time to put together.
This extraordinary situation has afforded us an opportunity of stocktaking, assessing the way we have been doing things and also reshaping the image that we have built of ourselves.
Now that all economic activities have come to a halt amid the shutdown, economists and economically-inclined people in our country and across the world have started charting how the economy will revive itself once the crisis is over.
They are putting forth proposals for stimulus packages, offering low-cost loans, tax waivers and other flexibilities allowing people a bit of ease.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on April 5 announced her government's Tk72,750 crore bailout plan to help those who will be affected by coronavirus.
Some are even talking of different 'unorthodox' ways to jump-start the economy, putting far more emphasis on crisis management than on looking for macroeconomic engineering.
But before we jump to a conclusion with regards to what needs to be done, will it not be worthwhile to ponder if the path that we have been walking on so far is the right one? Will it not be worthwhile to look back, reconsidering how we have reached this point in our economic history?
It is interesting to note that we or at least most of us are evolutionists when we think of history; we see it in stages, developing from one to the other, with a cause and its effect.
But when it comes to economics, we tend, almost always, to be creationist as if our economy has dropped from the sky or was born out of nothing and has no history whatsoever.
We love patchwork solutions and repairs and never think of overhauling.
The question is what we will come to once the economy is back on track? The same overwhelming disparity between rural and urban economy? The same mass migration to cities? The same emptying of banks by some corrupts? The same inconsiderate development work at the cost of ecology?
All these questions will never ever get answered if we opt for patchwork, fixing here and there and not looking into the root of these problems.
We have to keep in mind that if manipulating rural resources only to feed an urban population is a problem, if corruption is a problem, if destroying the ecology is a problem, they all have their root in the greed of the first multinational company, East India Company, in the colonial period.
The cruel brand of capitalism which this monstrous profit-mongering company introduced in this land still persists and has thrived further in the form of neoliberalism of late.
Following that legacy, we have left our agriculture, which is our base, in the lurch and run after making dresses for foreign buyers in exchange for a paltry pay.
Our workers are going abroad to send home money but the inhumane treatment which they are subjected to will remain unknown to us.
These are the two pillars our economy is standing on. True, they are the two biggest earners of foreign currencies for our economy — for one we sell our cheap labour within the country while for the other we sell our cheap and unskilled labour in foreign countries.
And now when all supply chains have been severed by the coronavirus pandemic, we can feel what flimsy pillars the two are. We can see very well that we have not, after so many years, built our base on which to stand in times of calamities, both natural and manmade.
The prime minister on another occasion on March 31, addressing the DCs, said Bangladesh would focus on maintaining the good agricultural production to ensure food security and urged all not to keep any piece of cultivable land unused.
But agriculture is not just about producing food; it could mean a lot more if we had the mind to look at it that way because things develop the way people want them to.
The Europeans had their Industrial Revolution the way they had devised it. It did not come upon them. They flogged the farmers in their colonies across the world to ensure steady supply of raw materials for their mills. Tt happened this way to pander to their immense greed.
And the fact is we never had the occasion to set what we want. We do what others want us to do. They set MDGs, SDGs and others for us to achieve. We concede, with a smile.
Now all smiles are gone as gone are all the goals, with the coronavirus stalking the world.
So, it is time we set our goals, keeping our history in full view. Coronavirus has given us that opportunity. It is only for us to grab it.
Moreover, the pandemic is going to hand the anti-globalisation movement one more arsenal.
The state of affair has been so troubling that even the champions of capitalism themselves are now calling for a 'better capitalism', which will be more socially-oriented, stakeholder-based, not shareholder-based, and which takes more care of the environment.
The multinational capitalists, which have been sucking cheap labour from across the developing world, look set to be more tethered to their place of origins in the coming days as globalisation has caused job losses and depressed wages in the developed world.
So they are thinking more and more about reorienting their policy, with a more localised focus.
It does not look likely that we will be profiting the way we did from the internationally-oriented capitalism any more.
But have we made any preparations in that direction?
Pramatha Chaudhuri had written, humorously though, that only diseases, not good health, are contagious.
This no longer remains a mere quip but turns out to be the stark reality in our life — viruses travel to our country unhindered but good governance does not.
What good is global village then? What is economic, social and political integration all about in the name of globalisation?