Exploitative culture

Mansoor Ahmad
Saturday, Mar 25, 2023

LAHORE: Ramazan fully exposes the exploitative nature of the majority of Pakistanis. The prices are not only jacked up by big traders or manufacturers only, but by the smallest vendors as well.

It seems that Ramazan is the month to make higher profits only. This is the month when rotten fruits and vegetables are disposed of at prices of fresh, while the rates of fresh vegetables and fruits fetch double the normal price.

Everyone is after making more profits. When we commend the philanthropic spirit of Pakistanis we must condemn this exploitative trait of our nation. Prices of daily use edible items are reduced in Ramazan in all other Muslim countries. The traders in these countries arrange higher stocks for items consumed more during the fasting month and dispose of them at discount or normal rates during the holy month.

Exploitative traits of our nation are visible even in normal days when the transport fares are suddenly jacked up during heavy rains or inter-city fares are doubled two days before Eid. A few decades back citizens used to come forward and pull the cars stranded in standing water on roads.

Now there are gangs waiting for the cars to stop in deep water and they charge money to pull them out. When almost everyone waits for the chance to exploit fellow citizens, it is not justified to criticise looters, smugglers, power thieves, and rent seekers that avail their chance to exploit anyone who needs their goods and services.

Unless we change our exploitative natures, the nation should be prepared to live in an exploitative environment for the rest of their lives. Frauds have been unearthed in welfare programmes like Benazir Income Support Programme.

We lack the competitive spirit that results in exploitation. Big businesses exploit through cartels, medium-sized businesses exploit through hoarding and the vendors or shopkeepers take further advantage of engineered shortages to make more money.

Even medicines are available in the black market in any quantity, only thing needed is a ‘shortage’ in the pharmacies. We have a competition authority that lacks muscle to impose its authority.

Free ration being distributed randomly to the poor is collected by each member of a family with muscle and is sold at discount to shopkeepers. No economy has ever attained maturity without the promotion of competition. Competition ensures access to new technology, a trend that would accelerate over the decade in all areas like it did in cellular telephony.

In the 1990s, a cell phone was a luxury, a status symbol that was to be flaunted but used sparingly by the few hundred thousand that owned one. Now over 180 million own mobile phones and call rates have come down from Rs7 to Rs1.25. Policies restricting competitions in other sectors of the economy would have to be removed to unleash the actual growth potential of the economy.

Absence of capacities in the regulatory institutions is also promoting an exploitative economy. These institutions simply do not deliver according to the mandate provided by the state. The performance of many economies reveals that not only democratic governments but authoritarian regimes with a strong rule of law can develop efficient institutions that ensure sustainable and non-exploitative economic growth.