Economists’ policymaking role shrinks

Speakers tell a virtual discussion, express concern over sustainability of development

January 11, 2021 08:51:15

Country’s leading economists have expressed concern over the gradually lessening involvement of the economists in the policymaking process and feared that it would affect achieving sustainable development of the country.

The task of the economists has also become more complex in the contemporary era amid lower political demand for good economic analysis, which resulted in under-representation of the majority people, they said at a virtual discussion on Saturday evening.

As part of a series, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) organised the discussion ‘Today’s Agenda: the Social Role of Economists’ moderated by PPRC executive chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman.

The discussion was told that the economists nowadays feel more comfortable working within their own territory amid the changed political atmosphere as compared to the past, which has somewhat shrunk their presence in the social movements.

Besides, it was observed that there is a need to identify the reasons behind the risk-averse attitude of the economists in social agenda apart from their professional and academic duties.

“Crony capitalism has shrunk the scope of economists which has lessened the demand of economists in the policymaking activities while many economists have chosen sides in this regard,” said noted economist Professor Rehman Sobhan, who is the Chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).

Taking part in the discussion, he said that most of the economists in the country have been only diagnosing the problem instead of making policy influences to solve it or actively getting involved in the problem-solving process.

“Incentivising the business community which represents only a small portion of the society cannot bring long term changes in a society as without welfare of their workers, the development wouldn’t be sustainable,” he said.

Dhaka University Professor Dr M M Akash, CPD Distinguished Fellow Dr Mustafizur Rahman, a former lead private-sector specialist at the World Bank (WB) Dr Akhtar Mahmood, former senior adviser to the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) Dr Syed Hashemi also took part in the discussion as the panellists.

Dr Mustafizur Rahman said there are four key roles of the economists – professional, policy influencing, policy activism and political role.

“Apart from the professional and policy influencing, many of the economists have detached themselves from activism, thinking about risks of getting involved in socio-political agenda,” he said.

The economists in 1960s or 1970s were actively involved in the socio-political activism as there was demand from the political forces, but as the demand lessened, the scope for economists to get involved in movements has reduced, he said.

Dr Akash said that today’s economists having different ideologies are divided in different political fronts where mutual benefit is cared about, not the welfare of the people.

People are now busy securing self-interest instead of social interest, he said, adding: “The economists in the 1960s who left the country for the higher study had come back to contribute, but the new generation does not come back that much.”

PPRC executive chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman said that the people in power do not need the exchange of ideas now, but they need economists only to legitimise their policies.

Considering risks, many economists are also refraining from getting involved in social activism while the community also failed to identify the newly emerged social forces, he said.

“It is true that organised social efforts are weak now, but perhaps there are truths in that which deserves further discussion,” he said, adding that there must be new social forces emerged which the economists should link to the social agenda.

The Financial Express was one of the media partners of the discussion series while Economics Study Center (ESC) and Youth Policy Forum (YPF) were the network partners.

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