The Unplesent Economics. Congrats to Professor MA Taslim!

Sazid Khan

Sazid Khan

THE level of economic literacy is one of the important determinants of the quality of economic policy-making and management. This is also a critical input to help widen the base of enlightened economic operators at different levels — large, medium or small. If the base of economic literacy spreads, it will help attract people’s attention, in fairly objective and dispassionate ways, to issues and maters that affect their every-day life, in one way or other.

As a student of Economics in the University of Dhaka in the sixties, this scribe would like to venture to say, without flaunting himself the least as being any professional economist, that economics, notwithstanding many see-saw changes in its academic domain and sophisticated model-building exercises through econometrics in the past few decades, remains essentially concerned about the use of scarce resources. This ‘use’ covers the areas of, what in plain language are called, production, distribution and consumption.

Having noted this, this will, perhaps, be not irreverent to state here that getting optimal or maximum benefits through, what the economists’ term, the efficient use of resources, does not always involve a straight choice among various options. There are many sides to it, including those having wider and, at times, complex, social and other implications and their multi-dimensional consequences.

Economics is not, however, all about populism, though it touches, as Prof. M. A. Taslim notes in the preface of his book, Unpleasant Economics, “everyday life of every one”. In this context, there is hardly any scope to contest the view that it is natural for people “to take some interest in economics”.

Economics, as we all know, is not a natural science. It is a social science. Social realities and dynamics do have much relevance to its practitioners. Yet then, it is often said economists argue too much on to many things. And it is also said that when two economists meet and discuss any issue that is related to their domain, they are found to have three sets of views or opinions, about it. But this is certainly no weakness of economics as a discipline of social science. Rather, it bears out its liveliness and openness and, thus, its vibrant nature.

The foregoing has, perhaps, been a digression – too far – without focusing on the book on the occasion of its launching. To be frank, this scribe has deliberately preferred doing that because of its relative ease and comfort. Venturing into an area of discussion about, or comment on, the contents of the book — its real ‘nuts and bolts’ – is not an easy task. This scribe does consider this too arduous and too academic a load for him to bear.

Nonetheless, in order to be fair about the purpose of this event it is worth noting here that Prof. Taslim in his book has pursued an analytical and critical approach to many of the issues in areas of monetary economics, international trade, macro-economics, prices and others that concern our life and living in the contemporary setting. He has been particularly careful about the pitfalls of ‘economic populism’. In this sense, the title of the book has been quite befitting.

Prof. Taslim deserves all thanks for having taken the pains of publishing his write-ups, essays and analyses on issues of contemporary nature in the form of a book that has so rightly been titled as Unpleasant Economics.

The book is a compilation of write-ups and essays by Prof. Taslim. Many of his such works, included in this book, were published in the country’s print media from time to time.

The Financial Express had also the opportunity of publishing quite a number of such write-ups. This was done it in full appreciation of the topical nature and relevance of the articles to the need for having a better understanding, in both conceptual and contextual terms, of the “real-life” issues that Prof. Taslim addressed in his views and analyses.

Unpleasant Economics goes beyond economic populism, academic and scholarly definitions of which vary widely. However, the term is otherwise found often to be employed in loose, inconsistent and unidentified ways to denote “appeals” to the people, “demagogy” and catch-all types of prescriptions or policy-recipe. Having said that, it should be noted that “economic rationale” and “populism” do not go together all the time.

In his book, Prof. Taslim, through all his write-ups, essays and analyses included in it, has made a strong case for persuading all concerned to change their, what he has termed, “entrenched views”, when these are not supported by facts, economic information and relevant data. He has also highlighted the need, quite forcefully with a great deal of logic, for collection of all relevant economic information, proper research on them, and interpreting them or explaining the data and their inter-relationship, in their proper contexts within the broad perimeters of an appropriate conceptual framework.

No pundit is needed to tell us that an underlying framework – and a rational one, of course – is critically important to put economic information or data in a proper perspective.

Unpleasant Economics

The points that Prof. Taslim has sought to drive home about the high degree of relevance of rigorous economic analyses to formulation or putting in place of appropriate policies, under any given circumstances, have, indeed, strong merits for consideration by our decision-makers. Also then, reflex actions, as and where necessary, can be designed and given shape to, in a way that will help avoid costly policy mistakes. Furthermore, better outcomes of economic policies that affect the lives of all can then be expected.