by Sher Bahadur
The economy must be a very complicated, volatile thing. At least that’s how it seems in the business pages of the newspaper with mind-boggling stock market tables, charts and graphs, GDP statistics and foreign exchange rates. It is little wonder then that the media turn to economists, the high priest of this mysterious world, to tell us what it means, and why is it important. And we hear from them several times each day usually via the monotonous “Markets updates” that interrupt most news broadcasts. Company Gilgit shares are up two points; company Baltistan are down two points; the analysts are “bullish” and the analysts are “bearish”? Is economics really so complex and unintelligible? Should we trust the “Managers and experts” with it all? Maybe we should find out what’s going on for ourselves.
Forget about the world economy and markets updates, it is better to find out about yours and my economy. Just think for a while, ask some questions, and start at the front door of your own household. How many people live there? What generation? Who works outside the household? And how much do they earn? How long have they been working there? How long do they plan to keep working, and how will they support themselves when they get old? Who performs which chores inside the household? Are there any children? Who cares for them? Does anyone else in your home require care? Do you own your house or apartment, or do you rent it? If you own the house whether it is an old house or freshly built? If you have rented it, from whom? If you own it, how much did you or your family pay for the construction, land and other material? What shape is it in?
Now go through your neighbourhood, and the next one asking yourself the following questions. Are the houses roughly the same, or different, in size and shape? Does everyone have a home or cottage? Do most people have jobs, businesses, and other sources of incomes? What sort of jobs? Are they well off? Can they comfortably pay for the things they and their families need? Watch your neighbours going off to work, field, school, or other destinations. How are they travelling? In their own jeep? On public transport, “Suzuki”? Walking? How much money, time, and physical space are devoted in your neighbourhood to getting around?
Is there a school in your town? A hospital? A library? A polo ground? Who pay for those building and who has constructed? Who works there? How do those facilities compare with other urban and developed towns? Are they in good condition? Nicer, or shabbier? Are there any other facilities from the state side? Are the streets clean? If so, who cleaned them? Is the environment clean or polluted? Can people in your town safely drink the clean water from their taps? How much do they pay for the water? Walk through to nearest market. What kinds of products are they have in the shelves? Were any of them produced within 250 miles of your residence? Elsewhere in the territories of Karakorum? In another county or country? Can your neighbours afford most of what is in the markets? Are they usually happy with their purchase, or disappointed? Do they pay cash or doing through butler transaction? Can they afford what they buy?
Now just walk to a local bank branch, if you have one, and see what’s happening inside. Compare what you see (Deposits, withdrawals, loans) with the activities you read about in the business pages of the newspaper (leveraged buyouts, financial speculation, foreign exchanges, share index). Which matters more to day-to-day life in your neighbourhood?
Now pop-in to any sort of NGO’s office and check their people agenda and hidden agenda, not known to the ordinary people. Ask the officers how they run the NGO? Who is funding them? Why they are funding them? Are they doing enough to eradicate the poverty, if that’s their task? Are they working for social justice? Are they fulfilling their basic and fundamental agenda?
It’s time, now, to walk throughout the fields and scrutinize how many people are working there? What are they cultivating? Are they producing enough crops for the basic requirement? What they are cultivating, only Potato or some other crops too? How many people are producing for the commercial purpose? Are their earnings through agriculture enough for their food, health and education?
You may be tired; walking across the village, so this is a good time to stop at a café, to sip the liquid in. Pull out your pen and order a paper. List your approximate monthly income. Then list how much of it goes to the following categories: Utilities; groceries; transportation; fees; health care and medicines. Can you comfortably pay your bills each month? Do you regularly save? Is your income higher than it was five years ago, lower, or about the same? If you had little more income, what would you do with it? If you are running in deficit what should be your planes? If you walked back to that bank and asked for loan, would they give you one? Or is there any NGO would help you reduce your expenses?
Apart from the places we’ve mentioned (School, shops and banks), what other workplaces are visible in your town? Any factories? What do they produce, and what shape are they in? Any professional or government offices? Other services? Can you see any office building from your neighbourhood? Who works there? Local or non local? Can you guess what they do? Imagine the conditions in those offices (spaciousness, quality of furnishings, caretaking, clean water and environment), and compare them to conditions inside your local school and hospital.
Now you can return home.
Congratulations! You have done a lot more than just take a stroll. You have conducted a composite economic profile of your own community. It has no statistic, charts, or graphs (though you could add those if you wish, with a bit of work at the local school library) but just by walking around your neighbourhood, you have identifies the crucial factors determining economic affairs in your community.
The Writer is studying Economic at the Karakorum International University, Gilgit, and he is a member of Karakuram Studetns Organization.