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Costs, Capabilities and Cash: The Problem of Technology and Sustainable Economic Growth in Pakistan

Matthew McCartney, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Growth in Pakistan has been surprisingly sustainable. GDP growth of 5% p.a. since independence and no recession since (at least) 1960 according to World Bank data represents a creditable performance when compared to all but the most successful developing countries. Pakistan has significantly transformed the structure of its economy during these same decades; in 1950 99% of its exports were agricultural goods and by the 1990s exports were largely manufactured goods. This very success indicates a growing constraint on sustaining growth into the future or a the concern that Pakistan may be headed for a Middle Income Trap. Although there does exist scope for continued growth based on further structural changes - in particular the large number of people still employed in agriculture or else the women not currently engaged in the labour force - for growth to be sustained a more intensive or productivity oriented growth will be necessary. This paper first outlines the importance of productivity growth for sustaining GDP growth in Pakistan, then examines the historical and comparative productivity performance of Pakistan, and explores a number of case studies of successful technological change particularly in South Asia and finally attempts to draw some lessons for contemporary Pakistan.


Director of South Asian Studies; Associate Professor in the Political Economy and Human Development of India

I began as an economist and then my job titles just got longer and longer. I studied for a BA in Economics at King’s College, Cambridge (1993-1996), and after plodding through the obligatory micro, macro and econometrics was fired for enthusiasm with the study of development under Peter Nolan, Ha-Joon Chang, Mushtaq Khan and Chris Bramall. Enthusiasm waned somewhat in the early stages of an MPhil in Economics at Keble College, Oxford (1996-1998), before being revived by the discovery of QEH and especially Barbara Harriss-White and the accompanying MPhil dissertation on India. After I spent two years (1998-2000) in Zambia working in the Ministry of Finance under an ODI Fellowship, but it never quite usurped my academic fascination with India. I returned to academia doing a PhD under Mushtaq Khan at SOAS, London. I remained at SOAS for eleven years, graduating from PhD student to a Lecturer in the Economic Development of South Asia. I returned to Oxford in September 2011 to take over from Barbara Harriss-White as Director of the South Asia Programme.

During this academic journey I have had the pleasure(s) and frustration of teaching in South Korea, India, Pakistan, Denmark, and Japan, and working with the UNDP, USAid, World Bank and EU in Zambia, Botswana, Bangladesh, Georgia, Egypt and Bosnia.

I would now describe myself as a political-economy macro-economist. I have enjoyed returning to some of the classic works of Indian political economy – Jha, Mitra and Bardhan – and reviving them in book based essays (2010). My research interests include the role of the state and late industrialisation; I developed an original framework for analysing the state and applied it to books on India (2009) and Pakistan (2011) and brought a lot of this together in something much broader, looking at the distinction between the proximate (investment, population, productivity) and deeper determinants (institutions, culture, geography, history and openness) of economic growth in the context of the world economy over the last five hundred years - Economic Growth and Development: A Comparative Introduction was published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2015. The next project is a comparative economic and political economy study of Pakistan and India since independence.

My work makes original contributions in particular by being comparative, whereas much of the existing literature on South Asia of the last sixty years has emphasised difference and/ or been national/regional in context. Teaching on the MSc in Contemporary India has enriched my notion of ‘comparative’ with that of ‘multidisciplinary’ and even 'inter-disciplinary' now that I am seeing India on a regular basis from the perspectives of anthropology, environment, politics, human development, international relations and as ever, political economy.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 3/26/2016 01:43:00 PM,

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