CPD’s celebration on DAY 4 highlighted Costs and Challenges of Development

CPD’s celebration on DAY 4 highlighted Costs and Challenges of Development


Dhaka December 9 2021 :

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) celebrating Fifty Years of Bangladesh with virtual International Conference ‘Fifty Years of Bangladesh: Retrospect and Prospect’ which is happening from 6 – 9 December 2021 in collaboration with South Asia Program of Cornell University.

On DAY 4, Panel 7: Costs and Challenges of Development held on Thursday.  It was chaired by Dr Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director, CPD.

Paper 1 titled Bangladesh Environment since Independence: Internal Dynamics and External Changes was presented by Dr Iftekhar Iqbal, Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Universiti Brunei Darussalam while discussant was Dr Md. Golam Rabbani, Head, Climate Bridge Fund Secretariat, BRAC.

Paper 2 titled Fifty Years of Development Experience of Bangladesh: An Employment and Labour Perspective was presented by Dr Rizwanul Islam, Former Special Adviser, Employment Sector, International Labour Office, Geneva  and discussant was Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director, CPD.

Paper 3 titled Responding to Changing Geo-politics was presented by Professor Imtiaz Ahmad, Professor, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University and discussant was Dr Sreeradha Datta, Centre Head, Neighbourhood Studies and Senior Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation, India.

Summaries of papers are here:

Paper 1: Dr Iftekhar Iqbal, Universiti Brunei Darussalam (iftekhar.iqbal@ubd.edu.bn) – Bangladesh Environment since Independence: Internal Dynamics and External Challenges.

At its birth in 1971, Bangladesh inherited major environmental legacies of floodings and cyclones, upended by widespread arsenic contamination in the 1980s. Since the turn of the century, the challenge of climate change has kept informing the academic and popular discourses. If looked from the vantage point of the impact of macroeconomic growth since liberalization, a complex set of evolving environmental trajectories could be identified. As the nation celebrates fifty years of independence, at a time when economic development must embrace sustainability, environmental issues demand holistic and critical explorations. In this larger context, this paper examines the internal and external environmental challenges facing Bangladesh since independence with an eye to policy and civil society responses.

Paper 2 : Dr Rizwanul Islam, Former Special Adviser, Employment Sector, International Labour Office, Geneva – Fifty Years of Development Experience of Bangladesh: An Employment and Labour Perspective.

The basic purpose of this paper would be to take a fresh look at the narrative of economic growth in Bangladesh and its outcome from the perspective of an important factor of production – labour. This will be done in three parts. First, based on an identification of the drivers of economic growth during different sub-periods of the fifty years since independence, it will be shown and argued that the basic factors of production, labour, capital and technological change played their due roles. The role of labour is evident in three major drivers of growth, viz., HYV crops during the 1970s and 1980s, the readymade garment industry since the mid-1980s, and overseas migration. In addition, simple growth decomposition shows the growing importance of labour productivity in overall output growth as well as in manufacturing sector growth.

The second part of the paper will focus on how successful economic growth in Bangladesh has been in absorbing surplus labour. This part will start from the theories of growth and structural transformation a la Fisher (1939), Clark (1951), Kuznets (1966,1971) and Kaldor (1966) as well as the models of dual economies a la Lewis (1954) and Fei and Ranis (1961). While such theories talk about changes in the structure of economy in terms of sectors, this paper would look at the issue in terms of change in the sector composition of employment as a means towards the goal of absorbing surplus labour and moving towards the “Lewis turning point” where surplus labour is exhausted and real wages start rising.

The third part of the paper will focus on what has been the outcome of economic growth for workers. Here, the focus will be on real wages of domestic workers and cost of migration for overseas jobs. The latter will include monetary costs of migration as well as abuses faced by workers at both ends.

Paper 3 : Professor Imtiaz Ahmed – Bangladesh in a Changing World Order: Responding to Changing Geopolitics.

Humans create geopolitics; geopolitics does not create humans. This is precisely the reason why Nazim Hikmet, the Turkish poet, could say that “Brother, just wait… /As long as I’ve got / honey in my pot, / bees will come to it / from Timbuktu….” Indeed, what attracted the European colonizers to enter South Asia through Bengal was the ‘honey’ the latter seemed to have in the 18th century. One may point out that in the 18th century, China was the largest economy in the world, while undivided India was the second-largest, and Bengal was the wealthiest province in the sub-continent. However, British colonialism soon deindustrialized and impoverished Bengal, indeed, to the extent that the latter suffered a famine, which killed 3.5 to 5 million people just a few years before the British left the sub-continent. On top of this, Bengal got cartographically massacred into east and west in 1947, with the eastern wing becoming a part of Pakistan while the western wing joined post-colonial India. The east wing then fought for independence from Pakistan, but following its independence in 1971, the new country, now Bangladesh, while being called ‘bottomless basket,’ became unimportant and geopolitically insignificant.

Things, however, began to change, first, with decolonization, and second, with globalization. The Asian economies started to resurface, and particularly with the re-rise of China, the global economy saw a relative shift from Europe and the West to Asia and the East. With a promise of more ‘honey’ getting reproduced in the latter, geopolitics could not help changing, which saw even South Asia, including Bangladesh, getting a renewed attention compared to the previous two centuries. In fact, despite being a product of cartographical massacre, Bangladesh seems to have done relatively well since 1971. Grounds, however, were laid down at the very beginning of Bangladesh’s independence when the Father of the Nation declared that the foreign policy principle of Bangladesh would be “friendship to all and malice towards none.” But what is surprising is that when Bangladesh outlined the principle, it had far fewer friends than it has now globally.

Bangladesh, however, remained true to its commitment and joined all kinds of regional and international organizations, SAARC, IORA, BIMSTEC, BCIM, BIN, and BBIN, although some of them had members who were hardly comfortable with one another. Bangladesh went even further and joined the two most significant, almost opposing, alliances or groupings in the post-Cold War era: the Indo-Pacific Alliance (IPA), led by the US, and the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), led by China. If anything, ‘not having enemies’ or ‘friendship towards all’ is what had led to Bangladesh having an economic growth of over 6 percent in the last two decades, a life expectancy of 72 years, and poverty reduced from 44.2 percent in 1991 to below 20.5 percent in 2019. Indeed, this ‘growth without enmity’ has the potential to make Bangladesh a developed country by 2041. In this quest, the changing geopolitics is bound to come in handy despite the contestations between India and China and China and the United States. This is because Bangladesh’s relationship with them is based on economic merit and not siding with one against the other.