NON-FICTION: TRACKING SINDH’S ECONOMY

June 30, 2019

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A breakdown of tax revenue for Sindh during the year 2014 | Image from the book
A breakdown of tax revenue for Sindh during the year 2014 | Image from the book

Pakistani provinces are big. At least three of them are larger than many countries around the world in terms of population and the fourth is larger in area than many countries.

Pakistani provinces are also very different from each other. Language, culture, agro-climatic conditions, state of development, the economy and even governance systems have significant variation that need to be understood if any meaningful provincial level understanding is to be generated.

The 18th Amendment to the 1973 Constitution, passed in 2010, devolved the responsibility for a lot of areas of governance, policy-making and policy-implementation to the provinces.

An invaluable resource provides an overview of where Sindh stands today, in any of the sectors related to its economy

All of the above mean that, in order to understand what is going on at the provincial level in the respective economies, it is not enough to study Pakistan as a unit; we have to have a good understanding of issues at the provincial or even lower level and we have to also look at the policies that get made and/or implemented at the provincial level.

But we have limited data, research and literature available at the provincial level. This is especially true when it comes to data, research and literature focused on the economy. And in cases where some literature is available on the economy, it is usually spread over a large number of reports, articles and books. It is not consolidated and presented in a way that the reader can make comparisons across topics. The Economy of Modern Sindh: Opportunities Lost and Lessons for the Future by Ishrat Husain, Aijaz A. Qureshi and Nadeem Hussain thus starts to fill an important gap.

The book brings together a lot of detailed information about Sindh. It takes a historical perspective in the early chapters and in the early part of each chapter and topic. But then it goes on to give a lot of data on the issue in question and brings the reader to the present through data. These tables — and there are plenty of tables in the book, along with an 80-page annexures section that is all data tables — are the key to understanding the story being given in the book.

Development is not about growth and income only. It is about humans and how well humans are doing. Traditionally, most books on the economy of a country or region start with the growth experience of the country, the growth and performance of the major sectors in that economy and only then move towards the human aspects. It is heartening to see that the authors of The Economy of Modern Sindh have chosen to recognise the central role which human development should play in any discussion of the economy. After the introductory historical chapters, they start the book with chapters on population, education, health, labour and employment, and poverty and inequality before moving on to agriculture and industry.

Each chapter has a wealth of information on the topic under consideration. The authors have not only looked for data in administrative and survey-based sources, but they have done a pretty thorough search of relevant literature as well. This makes the chapters quite comprehensive, but it also creates some problems for the authors. One, the effort to cover all subtopics results in a choice of breadth-over-depth in some places. The book is large enough already and would be much larger if more detail was given.

But, nevertheless, the breadth-over-depth is a choice that the authors have made.

Two, in some places the narrative is reduced to brief paragraphs on each subtopic. The sections on major crops and major industries are examples. This makes the reading a bit unexciting.

The authors have made a lot of effort to use as up-to-date data as possible. Still, the most recent data that some tables give is from 2017. In some cases, tables come up to 2015 and in one case or two the data ends with 2012. This is a limitation of working on an economy where data is not updated frequently enough and data systems rely too much on surveys that are conducted every few years or so. Since the 2017 census is not officially released as yet, in the case of population data we have to go back to the 1998 census.

The book can be a useful supplementary text for courses in development economics and/or courses on subnational economies. The factual basis of the book makes it a good candidate for being a primary or secondary textbook in a course.

This takes me back to one of the limitations of the book I mentioned. Given that the authors have chosen to cover more areas rather than go into depth in some, the book is a bit thin on explanations and narrative. It clearly points out, factually, where we stand on, say, health or education indicators. And also gives us a good understanding of how we should look at our current state and historical performance, but it is a bit thin on explaining how we got to be where we are and what we will have to do to be where we would ideally like to be.

There is a concluding chapter of the book, but again, it is quite thin in content. There are a few recommendations in this chapter, but these are generic. The first pillar of the proposed growth strategy for Sindh, in the final chapter, is “Improving the governance and institutional capacity of the provincial and district governments by enhancing accountability, transparency and rule of law.” But the book has no chapters or sections that provide a deeper study of the political economy in which the Sindh economy is located. Without this deeper analysis the recommendation part of the concluding chapter cannot really stand on its own.

At 462 pages, this was a big book to print. Oxford University Press chose to take the risk and I am glad that they did. OUP also clearly wanted to keep the price of the book at a reasonable level, but this has translated into the use of fairly rough paper and keeping the font size relatively small to fit a lot of text on each page. This has reduced the book’s readability. My eyes are not what they used to be so I struggled when I was reading the book. I am sure younger eyes will have fewer issues, but I definitely could have done with a slightly bigger font and wider margins on each page.

For people wanting to do more in-depth work on Sindh, the book will be an invaluable resource as a starting point. For people wanting to have an overview of where Sindh stands today, in any of the sectors related to the economy, this will be the reference to look for. For people wanting to have access to data on Sindh, the annexures, tables and cited sources will be a great resource. Bringing all of this together must have taken a significant effort on the part of the authors. I hope others will be inspired by this example to do similar books on the other provinces and this will become the basis for more detailed work at the provincial and district levels.

The reviewer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives and an associate professor of economics and education at Lums

The Economy of Modern Sindh:
Opportunities Lost and Lessons for the Future
By Ishrat Hussain, Aijaz A. Qureshi and
Nadeem Hussain
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN: 978-0190700478
462pp.

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, June 30th, 2019