Consolations of philosophy

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had decided to broaden my horizons and start reading up on subjects like philosophy, psychology, history etc instead of only focusing on finance, economics etc. In that quest, I had listened to a great podcast series on some of the greatest philosophers the world has heard of. The name of this series is Philosophy: The Classics and it can be downloaded for free. The author of this series is Nigel Warburton who has authored a number of books on philosophy including one with the same name as the podcast series.

Nigel has done a pretty impressive job of covering the important message by the great philosophers which includes people like Plato, David Hume, John Stuart Mill etc. The best part is that the podcast can be understood by complete beginners to philosophy (I am referring to myself).

One of the key observations was that, the greatest philosophers of different time periods often gave wise messages that are more applicable to that specific time period. Some of the thoughts of Plato or Aristotle can be considered downright cruel if we forget the time in which they were born. This is same mistake we all tend to make when we tend to interpret religious verses. Taken and read out of context, many of the verses from religious scriptures can be taken very out of context.

Now, we come to the key message of this blog post. Amongst all the philosophers in that podcast series, one really caught my attention. Boethius. The reason Boethius really stood out was because I never heard his name before. Secondly, some of his thinking really resonated with me and while listening I could feel myself agree to his theories. The major work of Boethius is the book called “The Consolations oh Philosophy” which he wrote from prison in the year 524 AD. I haven’t read the full book but I thought I would like my readers to get a teaser of what it looks like. To do that I am taking the liberty of providing a summary from Wikisummaries.

Boethius may have written his book, The Consolation of Philosophy, from prison in the year 524 AD, but the issues he addresses are every bit as relevant to modern life as they were to life in the 6th century. A philosopher, statesman, and theologian, Boethius was imprisoned by Germanic King Theoderick on trumped up charges. In his Consolation, Boethius creates a dialogue between his imprisoned self and Lady Philosophy to examine the true nature of happiness.

Philosophy initially finds Boethius despondent because of his changed circumstances. A respected scholar and politician, he has lost everthing: his wealth, his position, his friends and even all contact with his family. He is bemoaning his fate and the false charges that have put him in prison. Lady Philosophy diagnoses his illness: he has forgotten who he truly is and exactly what is his nature and purpose. She reminds him that the world was not created by chance but by a divine creator. She then turns her attention to human happiness. Fortune she asserts, cannot bring true happiness because the things fortune brings are transient: wealth, power,and honor. She reminds Boethius that although he is not with his family they are still alive. She then goes on to examine the ways in which people seek happiness and shows that when humans have those things they tend to become slaves to them for fear of losing them. She further asserts that bad fortune is actually good because it frees one from bondage to transient, earthly things.

All people are seeking happiness, Philosophy asserts, but most of them are seeking in the wrong places. She then equates happiness with the good and further asserts since God the creator is the Supreme Good, all people are actually seeking him even if they do not know it. Boethius counters with the questions: how then can there be evil in the world with if it has a Good and Perfect creator? Philosophy says that evil is really nothing because it has no power over good, because all men seek good and those who are evil cannot achieve that which they seek. Every action she says, requires will and power. Those men who seek good but do not achieve it thus have no power. Boethius still questions this because he is unable to understnd why it often seems that the evil prosper and the good suffer. This is a one of the most difficult problems a philosopher will face, Lady Philosophy admits. She then explains that what we see as fate, God sees as Providence. We cannot always understand what God intends but his intentions are always good for the correction of evil and the reward of good. However, this only brings Boethius to another question: If God knows all things and his Providence guides all actions, then how can man possibly have free will? Philosophy explains this by showing that just because God knows what will happen does not mean he wills what will happen. She says that man cannot put our own limitations on God. He is outside of time so all times look the same to him and his view is different: he sees a never changing present.

Thus Lady Philosophy provides consolation to Boethius for his situation. God foreknew it and it is part of his providential plan. Boethius happiness can be based in his virtue and in his knowledge of truth rather than in the ups and downs of circumstances. And indeed, good did come out of Boethius’ imprisonment even though he never left his prison save to escape to death, he left us this book to help us learn to rise above our circumstances and never to let our circumstances controll us. Boethius may have phisically died in prison but in addition to a place in paradise, he gained immortality through his message which is still providing consolation to readers today.

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Bangladesh: The real heroes (Part 2)

Bangladesh
Act of kindness

We often wonder why this country of ours called ‘Bangladesh’ continues to thrive despite the corruption, red tape, natural calamities, pollution and what not. I had much earlier mentioned that the key answer is the sacrifice of our RMG workers, remittance earners and our farmers.

But I cannot take away the credit from the common people of the country. The picture on the left was taken today when I went for a morning walk by the Dhanmondi Lake. This tea vendor suddenly stopped beside an old beggar and asked about her health. He then stopped to serve her tea.

I had crossed them by the time but went back and asked them whether I have the permission to take a picture. He was quite surprised and asked me “amader chobi tule ki korben (What benefit do you have in taking our picture?)”. I said I just wanted to take a picture.

The picture is of poor quality and is taken by my Chinese made Walton H2 Primo. But it does a good job of showing us our real heroes.

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What makes people happy?

Sunset
Father & daughter enjoying a priceless moment at Saint Martin’s Island

NOTE: I have tried not to edit the typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

I have asked this question to a number of  Bangladeshi people and got some fascinating replies. The factor that kept on repeating itself over and over again was family. It shows how important social connections mean to us.

Interestingly, almost no one mentioned wealth or money as the factor that makes them happy. However, most of the respondents would probably fall in the top-tier of the income pyramid of the country and thus wealth ‘may’ not very important from them.

So here goes the list in no particular order.

  1. Music!!
  2. Finding an empty seat in the local bus
  3. When I can wrap my blanket and lie in my soft bed in the middle of chilling winter season
  4. Sweet sound from the car exhaust and quick engine response
  5. Thursday evening !!!
  6. A weekend with no office phone calls or task!!!
  7. Stargazing.
  8. Helping people and seeing the gratitude in their eyes
  9. Winning.
  10. A rational conversation.
  11. When a Bangladeshi makes a global news
  12. My parent’s smile and my incentives makes me happy….:)
  13. Text messages from my office during strikes/blockades, saying office would remain closed
  14. My parent’s happiness and health 🙂
  15. When mom exaggerates to others on something I have done and which makes her proud of me! 🙂
  16. When a complete stranger appreciates something I have done. That is sheer happiness to me.
  17. Honesty, positive criticism and appreciation
  18. When my parents are happy and spending time in peace, tranquility and serenity near the ocean.
  19. Food!!!
  20. Helping the unfortunates and praying to ALLAH makes me happy..
  21. Being able to prove yes I’m strong enough and be a winner …
  22. When I do something that everyone likes and appreciates!!
  23. Being around people I am comfortable with.
  24. Star Wars
  25. Success
  26. When I see my writings get published in international journals / newspaper.
  27. Whenever I enjoy something
  28. Making my parents proud of me
  29. Watching Bangladesh cricket team winning
  30. Good food and postponed exams.
  31. Recognition
  32. Smile from dear ones.:)
  33. Traveling with friends and family
  34. Freedom
  35. Wish transforms into reality!
  36. Love & respect
  37. Making a difference in the lives of others
  38. Maintaining a simple life.
  39. A cup of coffee a readers couch and a book that has that old rustic smells
  40. When my surrounding people are happy…
  41. Friday
  42. When Kohli scores a duck, so my happy moments are pretty rare these days!
  43. When become able to share joy with the person whom i care most.
  44. Seeing healthy and happy dear ones!
  45. An innocent smile of a baby
  46. Compliments…
  47. Making others happy.
  48. Good relationship with (extended) family members, having friends whom I can truly depend on, exotic food, financial freedom and having an active plan to explore the whole world in this lifetime.
  49. When got recognized for any tough work .
  50. Smiling Face of others
  51. Qurrata A’yun makes me happy…
  52. Happy Parents!
  53. Knowing that I have made my loved ones happy and proud
  54. Every action I perform makes me happy; everything we do is in the pursuit of happiness.
  55. Fuchka (A local delicacy)
  56. Being the reason for someone’s smile.
  57. Being appreciated for my unconditional help
  58. MONEY…with this I can do/buy anything I want. I can buy happiness of others; I can also make others happy
  59. Power, in all forms.
  60. Appreciation, comfort, peace.
  61. Loosing Weight
  62. Peace
  63. Achievements. In any form!
  64. A holiday in the middle of a work week
  65. Books, namaj and self-satisfaction
  66. Acknowledgement
  67. Everything around me! 🙂
  68. When stock market and stock prices move congruently with my analysis
  69. Being optimistic about future…
  70. Food, money, love and good grades
  71. My little sister
  72. Haters, because they want to be what you are.
  73. When I buy Gifts for my parents and little sister…
  74. My daughter
  75. Being able to help people with an absolute intention to please Allah.
  76. A little smile on my parents’ faces!
  77. Getting relief from any kind of tension!
  78. Exploring something new, doing regular staffs in a different way, and getting the things I am starving for.
  79. Making my parents proud of me ,simply spending time with my partner and the feeling that my work means something.
  80. Achievement or Success for my hard-work!
  81. Doing something that will get me closer to Jannat!
  82. Making other people happy.
  83. Good food
  84. When my parents smile for me.
  85. Peace
  86. Friday and Saturday
  87. Visiting the village once in a while
  88. Salary
  89. A secured life
  90. When I can pray five time on time
  91. Holidays
  92. Watching the color of the sky change and know that you are free! Nothing like freedom!!!!
  93. Money
  94. That perfect Smile on the face of my close people
  95. My family
  96. Family
  97. By making others happy :)))
  98. Make others happy
  99. Being in pure silence
  100. Success
  101. Anything that doesn’t make me unhappy…..
  102. To provide my level best to make the world a better place
  103. Authority blended with power, peace, money and a proper work-life balance!
  104. Family & Friends….
  105. A secured life!
  106. Make parents smile
  107. Freedom. Freedom to go where ever I want to go, do whatever i want to do.
  108. Playing fifa
  109. Being able to make someone smile in the worst of time makes me happy.
  110. When my mom keep his hand on my head and say ” baba, aro boro hou ” (son be a great person)
  111. Practical dreams/ desires that become true.
  112. To make someone smile
  113. Challenges
  114. Reading a good book/ watching a good movie makes me happy!
  115. When someone praise and tell….”well done”…

These are the things that is making others happy. What is making you happy?

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How the few steal from the millions

Let me start by saying that the concept behind this article is not my original. It is borrowed from established economists like Charles Wheelan and Tim Harford. My objective is to educate people with the same knowledge that I acquired from reading the books that these masterful economists wrote.

It is no big secret that the politicians or people close to the politicians frequently engage in activities that makes them rich at our expense. These activities take many forms and in economics are known as ‘rent seeking behavior’. Sometimes it is giving a big contract to an unsuitable bidder. Sometimes, it means giving licenses to those who provide kickbacks. Sometimes, it takes the form of severe bureaucratic tangles created so that ordinary citizens are bound to pay bribes to get their way (e.g. trying to get a driver’s license). There are many other ways of getting rich at the expense of the general mass population.

Stealing Our Hard Earned MoneyWhy do we let them steal our hard earned money? Some economists believe that the two concepts of ‘rationality’ and the ‘free rider problem’ are at the core of the issue. Let me take the example of Bangladesh. There are around 160 mn people. Out of that let us assume a hundred thousand are stealing from us in various nefarious ways. The amount being stolen when divided by 160 mn people is not that significant. Each of us is paying a small price. However, for the hundred thousand stealing for us it is a kingly fortune. So the ‘rent seekers’ as they are known in economics have all the incentive to lobby and push for continuing these bureaucratic tangles and opaqueness (lack of transparency) so that they continue to make money. We on the other hand don’t have any real incentive to protest because it makes more sense to use our time doing other things rather than trying to save the few hundred bucks that is being stolen from us. That is how rationality works.

There is also the ‘free rider problem’ as I have mentioned before. If I, Asif Khan, spend all my personal time to remove the corruption and the rent seeking the whole country would benefit. However, not all the people will be willing to help me in my endeavor. They would take free benefits from my efforts which I would definitely not like. That prevents me from taking the first step in fighting against the corruption.

All of this does portray a gloomy picture of the world where the few corrupt people in the government and outside the government would continue to steal from us. However, many countries do have low levels of corruption. So there must be ways to improve the situation. I don’t have a magic solution to the problem but I would guess it’s a mixture of multiple things including improved literacy, prosperity, national pride, and many other things that leads to a nation with low level of corruption.

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In search of excellence

“Human beings are imperfect”.

Sounds pessimistic, but in reality is just the opposite. This is a sentence about endless opportunities. It means that we have infinite potential to improve and improvise. The potential to be better at almost everything because we can never reach perfection as mortals.

The idea of writing something on this topic came to me after reading a book called “Made in America” by Sam Walton. Sam Walton is the founder of WalMart. This book tells the story of how WalMart grew from scratch to the corporate giant that we know today. What did I learn from the book? A great deal indeed.

As one reviewer wrote, he learned more in this book about management than he did in college. Just like him, I learned that hard work really pays off. I learned that the customer always comes first. I learned that we should learn from everybody and even from our competitors. I learned how important it is to get good people to run our companies. If we find the right talent we should chase that person for months and even years if required.

However, the most important thing that I learned was that we must continuously strive for improvement. The willingness to improve the current practices and procedures must be there all the time. At times we will make mistakes in our attempt to try out new things. But as the writer/philosopher Nassim Taleb said “Mistakes that are reversible aren’t really mistakes”. Mistakes make our systems and processes much more robust.

The strive for excellence is not only limited to our personal self but the culture can be incorporated in whole communities, societies and organizations. Actually, that is exactly how the great companies of the world came to become “great”. They stuck to their core values, but everything else was dynamic. This dynamic nature is what enabled them to adapt and survive while other big companies perished.

Personally, I am trying to identify my weaknesses and make a conscious effort to improve upon that. I know that if I try enough and God willing, I can become a better employee, a better husband, a better son and a better almost everything.

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Studies said that …………….

Everyday newspapers report astounding discoveries by scientists and researchers. Some of this research is done upon absolutely new topics. There are also tests done on existing topics where the new study either agrees or disagrees with existing studies done on the subject matter. The ones that get highlighted are usually done by acclaimed people with a lot of credentials. So for laymen like us it is easier to agree with them rather than disagree. After all, who are we to agree or disagree with these experts? 

Now this raises a couple of very interesting questions. At least they did for me. Firstly, how sound are these studies? Are they unbiased and done through rigorous research? Secondly, how do we react when we see these studies?

I got the answer of the first question when I listened to numerous Econtalk podcasts. For the unaware, Econtalk is a talk show hosted by Professor Russ Roberts of George Mason University. What I realized is that these research findings which frequently find the way to the newspaper headlines are not as sound or rigorous as we may have assumed them to be. The distinguished researchers, many from top notch universities of the world can be quite biased. They frequently manipulate the data (data fitting) to ensure that the outcome matches with what they want to show rather than what the truth is.

The newspapers only mention the summary of the findings. However, we rarely have access to the data set used to come to the conclusion. Even if we had access to all the data, how many of us would have to look at it to check for mistakes. If another unbiased scientist using the same methodology came to a similar conclusion then only we can call the study quite robust.

However, just because some people decided to be less truthful does not mean that there are no good researchers. There are people following rigorous methods to come to conclusions. There are also people who cite the weaknesses in their methodology while submitting the results. Thanks to these people human beings have advanced quite a bit.

Now we come to the other interesting part. How do people react when they learn about the outcome of a new research finding? This is where things get even more interesting. I have seen the same person saying that there a new research on healthcare saying that XYZ food has harmful side effects and the same person on a different occasion trashing a separate research on a different food item . What has happened here? “Confirmation bias” has happened.

How do we actually decide which study to believe and which not to? Like I said, it is all about confirmation bias. We just believe the one that we want to believe and choose to ignore all others. Other times, we also do a one person study by ourselves where the only data set is us. Let me take an example of a study which concluded that exercising makes us healthier. Normally I would just quickly relate to myself and try to remember whether that applied to me. Maybe, I did exercise in the past, but I never lost any body fat. I would then quickly say that the research is rubbish because it never applied to me.

What did I do wrong here? Practically everything. Firstly, there are many variables that can influence ones health. My one person study did not control for all the other variables. Secondly, statistics gives a viewpoint about a large sample. I could very easily be an outlier. But that would not necessarily mean that the original research was wrong. Thirdly, I may not have even done the exercises correctly and cheated on form. There could be many more.

Biases are and will remain an integral part of human life. However, it would do all of us good to try to minimize these biases. The first step is to be aware of them. Only then can we try to minimize them while thinking or analyzing.

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The need for heretics in the society

Do not be shocked by the title. The word heretic has two different definitions according to Merriam-Webster.

1: a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth

2: one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine

I am actually referring to the latter definition. The modern heretic is a non-conformist who challenges assumptions. This makes the heretic an outlier.

The amount of knowledge in this world is endless. In 2013, even with thousands of years of civilization the knowledge human beings have attained is probably about a drop in an ocean. There is just so much we don’t know. There are also things we think we know, but in reality what we know is incorrect. In spite of all this, we really love to believe that we know a lot and this problem is more so in our so called experts and politicians.

I tend to believe that the people who have reached the highest levels of knowledge in their specific disciplines actually realize how little they know. However, according to Ariel Rubinstein of Tel Aviv University many people despite having this realization have a natural incentive (fame, fortune etc) to give the impression that they already know everything. But we do have a few people like Friedrich Von Hayek whom many consider as the Renaissance man of twentieth century economics. Von Hayek in his final works mentioned that the economy is just too complex for politicians to avert recessions and unemployment without unintended consequences that may well be worse. He advised politicians and economists to be a bit more humble.

Human being in general loves to follow the herd. We try to follow the recent fad and buy the shares that most people are recommending. I guess it gives us a sort of mental peace that even if what we are doing is wrong we are still with the crowd. And boy, do we love shooting down those who come up with radical thoughts.

But we NEED the outliers, the people who would dare to go against the crowd. The people who would challenge the theories which we have taken for granted. History has shown us that time after time that such people have emerged and their discoveries have changed the course of the entire world. It is easier said than done. It takes guts to go against the consensus with a contrarian view.

Personally I am guilty of acting like a so called EXPERT. So this is what I am advising to myself (and anyone else who is reading this post).

1. Always look at both sides of the table before coming to my conclusion. Only after neutrally looking at alternate sides can I come at a solution. In certain issues, like economics for instance their might not be a solution at all.
2. Encourage other people to be outliers. Do not shoot down people who hold the absolute opposite views than me. Be ready to change my view if enough evidence is shown.
3. Be more humble.

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A message for the people of my generation

Do you have a university degree or are in the process of getting one? Did you start your career? If any of these criteria apply to you then this write up is meant for you. Regardless of your social and financial status, you still fall in the privileged class of the society. You might have worked very hard for reaching this stage but you CANNOT deny the contribution of luck and the millions of people working at minimum wages. Directly or indirectly, society did have an impact on your good fortunes. If you agree with me so far then you MUST show your gratefulness by giving back to the society. There are many ways of doing that but for now I want to talk about Zakat and Taxes.

Why should I give Zakat? I should give Zakat because it is not fair that some people are wasting their wealth while others are deprived of basic needs. I can give hundreds of more reasons but that is not necessary. Only additional comment I want to make about Zakat (I am not an Islamic Scholar so I am saying things from common sense) is that the intention is more important that the outcome. There is no hard and fast rule that one only gives 2.5% of liquid assets as Zakat. Why would you not give more if you can afford to give more? We frequently make up strange logic (cognitive dissonance) in our head and using that logic we try to justify that Zakat does not apply to us. These self made theories are utter bullshit. Today we might be the one in a position to give Zakat. Tomorrow, we can easily be the ones who would need the assistance.

Now, let me come to the issue of “Income Tax”. Less than 2% of the population pays taxes in Bangladesh. Income tax to GDP is probably one of the lowest in the world. This is pathetic. Why are we not paying our taxes? Firstly, we are not paying taxes because we are greedy. Secondly, we say that the government is corrupt and whatever money we are pay as taxes will go to their pockets. When I thought about the latter argument I found that this has no logical basis. If we can give vote to the two major parties we cannot say that they are corrupt and hence evade/avoid taxes. Also, we are using all the facilities that the state is providing using the money given by actual tax payers. We are using the roads, the street light, the public parks, enjoying the subsidies that government provides and what not.

Let us stop feeding ourselves all these lies just because we have become materialistic and greedy. Let us give the Zakat properly and if possible more than 2.5%. Let us pay our taxes properly and then fight for our right to information and transparency. We are accountable for our responsibilities as citizens and government is accountable for their parts. Allah would not make us responsible for the corruption done by the government but would definitely make us responsible if we are enjoying the benefits of taxation but not paying our taxes. In the worst case scenario, if you are adamant that you would not pay taxes then at least calculate your taxes and give that to people directly as charity. Once we are fulfilling our responsibilities let us go to our family and relative and ask them whether they are giving Zakat and paying taxes properly.

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The article with no title (Part 1)

I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out if I was born in a different family, maybe a less privileged one. When I was small, my family went through severe financial constraints but despite everything my father was adamant that I study in an English Medium school. During middle school I was quite dumb because despite my attempts I pretty much understood nothing in class. Just before the exams my father and mother used to write down answers (while I sat beside them crying my eyes out) to the problems which I sort of crammed in my head.

Let me now fast forward to 2004. I came out of the IBA admission test exam dejected because I knew I sucked. My father was waiting outside. When I told him that I had a horrible exam the only thing he told me “ kono bepar na, tumi NSU te bhorti hoye jao”. I did however pass that written test only to get kicked out after the Interview.

What if I did not get all this support? What if my family could not afford the tuition for NSU? I am pretty sure I would not have been in the position I am in now. Maybe I would have turned into a Sweden Aslam or a Porimol. The third part of a video called Zeitgeist explains that the way a person is brought up by his family has immense impact on what he becomes. Of course there are outliers and criminals are born in good families as well. But outliers are well, “outliers”.

However, when we consider or judge a person we do not take these factors into account. In fact, I am inclined to believe that the whole societal value system is a complete farce. These days the person with the most expensive car, best looking girlfriend/boyfriend, or richest father is automatically treated with the most respect. People look at them as their role models and want to be like them.

Society fails to acknowledge the unsung heroes which are making huge impact in the lives of people. I started reading a book called “The Black Swan” by Nicholas Nasim Taleb. He wrote about a fictional person who made a legislation that imposed locks on cockpit doors. This helped avoid the 9/11 attacks (since the locks prevented the attacks) at high cost to the airlines. Since his measures squandered public resources the public with the help of airline pilots kicked him out of office. He thus retired depressed with a great sense of failure. Ultimately he died with the impression of doing nothing useful.

This is probably a very extreme story but similar stories are there in real life. I personally know two people (not my parents) who never said “no” when someone needed help. They went so out of their way to help other people that they could never concentrate on their own life. Both are sort of considered unsuccessful by the people they helped numerous times.

There is a wonderful film related to this topic called “It’s a wonderful life” which I recommend everyone to watch. The main character tried to save his town from the clutches of an evil banker but ultimately failed. He became so poor that he could not feed his family and ultimately decided to suicide. At that moment an angel came down and saved him and showed him how much he has impacted the lives of people around him. Even very small things he did had helped save lives.

So, if you are amongst the people, who believe in good deeds and believe in Allah, then have faith and keep doing what you are doing. Regardless of your social status, wealth or appreciation by people, you are definitely in the right path.

Let me conclude by saying that I really do not have a conclusion planned. Maybe after a few days something will come to my mind and I will just edit the last part (thanks to all these options).

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Whose money are we spending?

As per statistics the Bangladesh economy has been growing at a rate of 6% (Real) on average per year. Even though statistics are always a debatable issue it seems from indicators of people’s new found affluence and wealth that real incomes have indeed grown by 6% (or even more).

With rising incomes (on an aggregate basis) we are also seeing other factors coming up. One is the rise of “consumerism” and the other is “increasing inequality”. Let us talk about the former first. To prove this I do not need to work very hard. The signs are everywhere. Even though car taxes have been increased significantly I do not see any slowdown in car sales. Apartment prices have increased but sales did not slow down. Expensive tickets of dance shows that feature foreign artists are “sold out” instantly. How are people affording these things despite the high prices attached? The answer is very simple. These consumers represent a small portion of the population having a large portion of the wealth. It does not really matter to them whether prices have doubled or quadrupled. They can afford it.

On the contrary there is this other group (which off course represents the vast majority of the population) who are having a hard time to simply gather food and lodging. As per ILO’s Global Wage Report 2010/2011 the real average monthly minimum wage in Bangladesh has been on the slide, although its annual rate of fall had increased from -7.2 per cent in 2008 to -5.7 per cent in 2009. These people are seeing their purchasing power and living standards fall continuously.

I don’t think it requires any explanation to show that the rich are actually getting richer because of the sacrifices of the vast majority of the country’s people which includes the minimum wage workers, remittance earners and the farmers. Problem is GDP growth through inequality does not help the country but rather helps a particular group of people. Both governance systems as well as religious systems have acknowledged this issue and had tried to find ways to solve inequality. Governments try to do it by taxing the rich and providing safety nets for the poor. Religions (like Islam for e.g.) have a system of ‘Zakat’ and ‘Fitra’ which ensures that inequality is reduced. Unfortunately, most of us neither pay taxes properly nor pay ‘Zakat’ properly. Furthermore, because of corruption the tax that is paid by honest tax payers are also not utilized properly and thus these groups are being deprived even more.

A person like me can go out and spend my money as I wish thinking that it is my earnings. But when I look closely I need to remember that while economy is growing some people are being worse off. This indirectly suggests that there are people whose efforts led to my increased wealth.

The case becomes even stronger when we think of imported goods. When people become rich somehow they start wanting goods of higher quality and status (basically I am talking about imported goods). Let me use the example of a luxury car which people are buying even after paying 600% tax. Apart from the duty the actual import cost is paid in dollars. Thing is the importing consumer did not earn the foreign currency. “It is our migrant workers working and toiling away in far away countries away from their families (and presently risking their lives) who earned it”. You might say that we do earn foreign currency through exports but please remember that we have a trade deficit. Along with export earnings we do have associated import costs of raw materials and capital machinery. So, imported goods are bought using the migrant workers toils. Now tell me whether we give these guys their due respect for working so hard and being one of the major growth factors of our country. We don’t. Instead they are harassed, cheated and deprived.

Its now time to ask ourselves the very basic question “whose money are we spending?”. Relying on our government to reduce inequality is going to be futile. We ourselves have to find out ways to help solve this problem. I do not have a solution right now but I am going to try to find ways. Inequality harms the long term growth prospect of countries. This has been realized by the second largest (and fastest growing) economy in the world. China has already decided that they will lower growth expectations for 2011-2015 to 7% from their current double digit growth rates and instead focus on equality. Instead of focusing on exports they want to go for internal demand lead growth, which is only going to be possible by reducing the rich poor gap. Given the current state of the global economies where we are seeing shocks after shocks, as well as inevitable fiscal austerity programs (Europe started it already while US will go for it from 2013) this is probably the right way Bangladesh should move towards.

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