Society-economy-state on a larger canvas
Dr Abul Barkat is an Economics Professor at the University of Dhaka and wrote many books and articles on the economy of Bangladesh. His latest book "On the larger canvas of society-economy-state" published in November 2020, introduces a concept of "Decent Society" that echoes the promised dream by Father Of The Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The author presents a picture depicting a clogged economic system that has reached an impasse; an old ailing system that is crumbling under the prospect of its replacement with a new healthy one. Barkat sheds light on a "socialist system" that is dynamic and progressive, owned by the majority of people, and managed by the state.
The embodiment of the "Decent Society" is nature centred multidisciplinary economy connected with social foundation, economic foundation, and political foundation. He asserted human fighting against nature is an unwinnable war that never declared war against us rather gave us everything for our survival.
However, a small group of people manipulate public policy or economic conditions as a strategy for increasing profits (rent-seeking). In this book he highlights the transformation from feudalism to corporate capitalism (imperialism) and tyrannous processes embedded into this system created by the super rich.
Barkat unfolds issues step by step, keep readers wondering, but annoying some as it could appear as a utopia, however, for the most this dream has always lived deep in the back of their minds - a decent state system. It is a new approach based on extensive analyses of society, economy and state, a triangular approach reforming the old system by rebuilding "Decent Social System", "Decent Economic System", and "Decent State System".
It disapproves private ownership and promotes an idea that from natural resources to means of production, ownership will belong to the majority of people, and managed by state or joint co-operative. Transitional processes for achieving the ideal state of a "Decent Society" concept can involve many intermediate stages; a "Decent Society" aims to reduce inequalities in income, education, health, wealth, and more.
Between the lines in the book, it raises many questions for readers: how to cause changes in this global authoritarian environment; what kind of reaction we will face with corporate capitalism; how to put out fires between rich and poor without the encroachment of "colour revaluation" as a pretext for regime change; who takes the lead, who makes the risk.
Certainly, the scope of the book is not about addressing these questions nonetheless, this book that has many dimensions, a living document that will develop even further. One must read it to expand the gravitas of thinking, find out what has been ransacked and where we fit on the larger canvas of society-economy-state.
Economic Impact of the Covid-19
Barkat presented a model of socio-economic construction for simultaneously overcoming two major crises, including analysis, rationale and results. To identify the losses from Covid-19 and overcome this crisis, the proposed model has four key components: 1. Cost reduction, 2 Debt restructuring, 3 Redistribution of wealth among the poor by reforming the tax system, 4 Printing extra money when necessary to encourage the purchasing power of most people to meet their basic needs and therefore increase the velocity of money circulation.
Barkat's alternative proposed budget for 2020-2021 can be described as an economic masterpiece. All possible socio-economic aspects of the life of the people of Bangladesh experiencing the Covid-19 crisis were considered. Several components of the alternative proposed budget include new revenue streams that could bring financial confidence in the economic recovery. Alternative proposed budget strategies empower the government, ensure political stability, economic confidence, and initiate movement towards building a democratic society with dignity.
Hypothetical Social Structure of a Decent Society
The conceptual theory of a "Decent Society" is based on a democratic state system, which puts loyalty to nature at the forefront; all socio-economic and political foundations should be built on the basis of the influence of nature. As for the socialist revolutions that took place in the USSR, China and Vietnam, where, under the control of a party representing the workers (proletariat, a separate group), the property of individuals, industrialists, farmers was seized, this is not socialism, but "State Capitalism".
On the contrary, Barkat proposed a system of governing the people with the consent of the majority, which does not transfer power to one group. In a "Decent Society" there will be no bureaucracy, governance will be based on the consent of the people, and local governments will be the main unit of administration.
Barkat does not provide any specific fixed recipes for defining a social system for any particular community or state, since this is a concept that requires further discussion and analysis. This may mean that the adaptation of the concept is country and context dependent. For example, most people in Bangladesh would accept this concept according to their socio-economic conditions. Instead of a triangular approach ("Decent Social System", "Decent Economic System", and "Decent State System"), it could be expanded to a four-pillar approach ("Decent Social System", "Decent Economic System", "Decent State System" and "Decent Judicial System"). The addition of the "Decent Judicial System", specific to Bangladesh, provides indicators of the effectiveness of the judiciary in combating corruption, provides guidance to law enforcement agencies, and tests the accountability of various authorities to communities and the state.
Likewise, the local community is made up of a certain number of people who agree to prioritize the production, education and health care needed by the community, including the improvement and conservation of nature. The community delegates responsibility for marketing or production to cooperatives, which are assigned to different people depending on skills and abilities.
Cooperatives share profits based on the rate of contributors. The community also allocates funds for all other needs in the community and state, encourages motivation by providing good incentives for innovative and creative people, and develops incentive benefits. All non-community activities, collaborative projects, school systems, health systems are based on common interests, representing members and experts from each community.
Each community adheres to the law enforcement rules defined by the larger communities for the state. Representatives of larger communities are chosen on the basis of rules and merit, therefore, government is governed by democratic consent. The government does not interfere in determining the operational activities of the communities.
The government acts as a federal system with limited power. Moreover, government representatives are elected through a democratic process by majority vote. The taxation system and distribution of funds for national projects are determined by experts and agreed with the majority of representatives of the communities.
At the initial stage of the transition process, the state does not nationalize any assets from anyone, instead imposing a higher tax to distribute profits to improve living conditions, social system and infrastructure. Certainly, the adaptation of any approach requires following the core principles of the "Decent Society" concept to achieve the outcomes.
The concept of a "Decent Society" presented in the book is well analyzed and represents a comprehensive proposal for improving the situation of people.
The timing is perfect for such a vision as Covid-19 has changed the global economy and living conditions, in particular, the new concept of multidisciplinary nature-oriented economics proposed by Barkat is likely to be welcomed by people. Moreover, the current political climate in Bangladesh is appropriate.
The proposed new concept could be a means to preserve the legacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's family through her daughter that will create a decent state and unite the majority people of Bangladesh the way her father did. It will be the birth of a nation's daughter, a completion of an unfinished job that has not been cemented with a decent social system, a unique history of a father and daughter that will be immortal.
This book has demonstrated Barkat's prudent economic logic, deep understanding of economics, and his vast historical and contemporary economic knowledge of the world. This is a must-read book for economists, politicians, senior officials of the Ministry of Economy, and anyone interested.
The reviewer is a senior consultant - Enterprise Data Integration, Data Warehouse, Australia