Scarcity of Social Capital
By Dr Akhtar Hasan Khan
Throughout history and until about 40 years ago, capital was viewed in terms
of physical and monetary assets. With the deepening of human knowledge two other
concepts of capital emerged. The first was human capital and the second social
Physical capital represents machines and the equipment used for the production
of goods and services. Economic textbooks describe it as “produced means
of production”. It is a factor of production that is neither found in
nature, like land and minerals, or in materials like plastic and chemicals which
are transformed and totally absorbed during the production process. From a stone
cutter to complicated computer machines, physical capital depreciates but does
not disappear during the production process.
Human capital is the education, health and skills embodied in the population
in general but the workforce in particular. The concept of human capital was
developed by Nobel laureates Becker and Schultz (both from the University of
Chicago) in the early 1960s, and within a few years, it became textbook knowledge
in economics. They correctly pointed out that increased production not only
required more physical capital but also enhanced human capital. Labour productivity,
which is essential for sustained economic growth, requires an educated, healthy
and skilled labour force. No nation has enjoyed prolonged economic growth unless
its literacy level has crossed 70 per cent and the population has been free
from enervating diseases. Rapidly advancing technology also requires a high
degree of skills.
The concept of social capital is more difficult to explain. Its origin can
be traced to French philosopher Rousseau’s concept of social contract
— an implicit agreement among members of a society to cooperate for the
common good. The World Bank defines social capital as the “trust, shared
values and expectations which facilitate cooperative relationships — a
social consensus in favour of creating more productive society and from widely
held perceptions that the processes and outcomes are legitimate in the sense
that they are consistent with social norms, values and beliefs”. Social
capital is the compact among the population at large on the existing division
of political and economic power.
Social capital is evident (but difficult to measure) in a nation from the dedication
and resolve with which the leaders and the population work for common national
goals — a feeling of devotion to and pride in the group or nation one
belongs to. Imbued with this esprit de corps, one is prepared to sacrifice personal
interests for social or national objectives. Social capital can also be understood
as the sum of Quaid-i-Azam’s trilogy of unity at the workplace and as
a nation, faith — in Islam with its moral imperatives and in one’s
nation — and discipline in all walks of life.
It is the widespread opinion about Pakistanis that they are brilliant individually
but far below par collectively. They lack group synergy. Whereas four Pakistanis
working individually produce five units each, but if one puts them together,
their combined output will be less than 20. They fail to harmonize, and instead
of facilitating each other, they obstruct one another. Gallup Pakistan asked
its sample group as to what motivated them most in work. The most common answer
was recognition. If all four members work for recognition instead of a common
goal, there is bound to be friction and lack of group synergy.
The Pakistan cricket team in India was the underdog with all the odds stacked
against them. But they performed beyond expectations with excellent teamwork.
Having lost the first two ODIs they won the next four, beating a better rated
Indian team with ease on its home ground. Members of our team were clicking
with each other and the fall of one or two early wickets did not lead to a rout.
It was correctly observed “Coach Woolmer emerged as the man who can bring
method to Pakistan’s individual madness.” There was a sudden upsurge
of social capital in our team.
The reasons for scarcity of social capital are diverse and manifold. There
are deep sociological and historical causes but some reasons are strikingly
The first major factor is feudalism that has been identified as a stumbling
block obstructing Pakistan’s progress in all sectors. For social capital
to develop, there must be justice and equity. The relationship between master
and serf is neither just nor egalitarian. The master gets half the produce of
the land and does not consider his serf to be his equal as a productive human
being. He uses his strong economic and political position to exploit the peasants
who get no protection from the administration or judiciary. They can be no Rousseau’s
social contract in feudalism.
In fact, Rousseau’s writings, which contributed to the French Revolution,
were more against the feudals than the monarchs. He observed, “Man is
born free but everywhere he is in chains”. Feudals have been abolished
or downsized in almost all countries. But in Pakistan they are as strong as
they were in 1947 despite a few half-hearted land reforms.
The common man in Pakistan views his country as a state being run by an unsavoury
mix of landlords, traders, industrialists and military elements in which his
interests are not taken into account at all. The governor of the State Bank
of Pakistan terms Pakistan as an “elitist economy”. It has been
statistically proved that half the benefits of rapid economic growth are going
to the top 20 per cent of the population and the bottom 20 per cent gets only
eight per cent. Crushed by poverty, inflation, injustice and poor public services,
the common man in Pakistan has become disillusioned and cynical. The milieu
has become unfavourable for motivating people to work for common national goals.
The second important reason is our hypocritical attitude towards Islam. We
follow only a few Islamic precepts such as fasting and prayers, and do not give
equal importance to all aspects. For instance, in the Quran, salat and zakat
are equally emphasized 64 times. But many who observe salat do not pay zakat
regularly or adequately.
At another level, jihad is interpreted as militant struggle against oppressors,
but the Islamic concept of jihad prioritizes the struggle against injustice,
poverty and illiteracy. If we were an Islamic state, the crime rate would be
amongst the lowest in the world as it is in Saudi Arabia. But Pakistan’s
crime rate is very high. We fail to realize that the Prophet’s (PBUH)
mission was not only ideological but social as well and he condemned hypocrites
as much worse than non-believers.
The third reason is that Pakistanis (rightly) have no pride in their leaders,
with the exception of the Quaid, or in their institutions. In India, there is
an inhumane and degrading caste system, horrendous religious discrimination
and more abject and visible poverty than in Pakistan but it seems that the Indians
are more nationa-listic with greater social capi-tal, because they are rightly
proud of their leaders and institutions.
Kalam, a Muslim and the son of a fisherman is the president and Manmohan Singh,
a Sikh and bureaucrat, the prime minister. Both are held in high esteem by the
common man in India. India’s sustained democracy with the peaceful transfer
of power and the integrity of their institutions gives Indians ample grounds
for rallying round their leaders.
The progress of a nation does not depend on the growth of physical capital
alone. Pakistan’s policymakers have always emphasized physical capital
more than human capital, whereas all analytical studies of economic growth have
proved beyond doubt that human capital is as important, if not more so, as physical
capital. The recent Medium Term Development Framework (MTDF) is a welcome change
which emphasizes knowledge-based economic growth.
Social capital is indispensable for eliciting commitments and sacrifices for
attaining national goals in all walks of life. Our lacklustre political history,
feudalism and an emphasis on rituals rather than the spirit of Islam have prevented
the growth of social capital — an indispensable ingredient of commitment
by all Pakistanis towards common national goals.
The writer is former secretary, planning.
Date Added: 05/02/2005
Date/Time Last Modified: 5/2/2005 10:46:57 AM
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