Beyond Phishing

Faisal Bari

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception: depicts how markets and people will always be open to manipulation and deception
We have known, for a fairly long time, that we can get swayed by short-term considerations and act against our long-term interests. We know we need to eat healthy and exercise to ensure a healthy future but many of us overeat and indulge in foods we should not consume and either do not exercise or not exercise enough. Many of us smoke and/or drink excessively even though we know, and there is no ambiguity about the evidence here, that smoking and excessive drinking are injurious for us.

Behavioural psychologists have also shown that there are significant biases and limitations in the way we process information in our decision-making. The order in which information is provided, salience of certain facts, how we process probabilistic events and how much information can we process at any point in time are all factors in how we decide.

Literature from advertising and marketing provides ample evidence that our wants and desires can be and are shaped by many factors. Consumer sovereignty is all fine and dandy as a concept, and there is hardly a time when, in more developed societies at least, we force a consumer to buy something he/she does not want to, but consumer tastes are very open to manipulation by advertisers and marketing people. They can create wants where none exist and shape existing wants in directions that consumers might not have thought of themselves.

Information is a crucial variable in the success of markets functioning efficiently. But, information is usually asymmetric and markets are, especially in many developing countries, not always complete. Using information revelation strategically, to one’s advantage, is also quite common where asymmetries exist.

If you are trying to buy a second hand car, the seller is likely to know more about the car and its faults than you. She might not reveal faults and over-emphasise good qualities. But, since she is an interested party, you cannot trust anything she says. This effects how the market for second hand cars can be organised: you need third parties to credibly reveal car quality.

Akerlof and Shiller do not go beyond what we have known in these areas, and for quite some time, in any way. Nor do they set out to do so. The contribution of their book, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, is that rather than seeing the above issues as special cases that in some ways make markets deviate from ideal forms once in a while, Akerlof and Shiller argue that the mentioned issues are an integral part of markets and how market economies are organised. This is the way we are and the way markets are.

Given the above, markets and people will always be open to manipulation and deception. We can set up regulatory regimes and we can make these regimes as dynamic and responsive as possible but the opportunities for phishing, given dynamic markets, will always be there. A new drug, a new financial instrument, a new idea or even old ideas and fads in new situations will create new and unforeseen openings for phishing. We can be vigilant and forestall more obvious forms of phishing and learn from the past but we will not be able to foresee all possibilities that the future will bring. In the same way as all contracts have to be contingent as we cannot foresee all future possibilities, regulation is contingent too: the regulator can also only forestall what she can anticipate. She can respond to new situations as quickly as possible, but that does allow phishing to be lucrative.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has stringent requirements before they allow drugs to be available to people. Still there have been many cases where ineffective drugs or drugs with strong but hidden side-effects have been passed. Pharmaceuticals have found ways of working with and around all FDA regulations. FDA keeps regulations dynamic, but it is far easier for companies to find ways of phishing than for FDA to close or foreclose these opportunities.

Things are much worse in Pakistan. In many areas we do not even have functional regulators. What do private schools teach? Does anyone keep an eye on them? What percentage of medicines available in Pakistan is fake and/or spurious? Who can tell us that?

In others areas, where regulators are present, they have significant capacity issues. In some cases regulators have been captured by specific interests. Do NEPRA/OGRA safeguard consumers’ interests? Whose interests does PEMRA look out for? Did PTA, SECP and Competition Commission do their job when they approved the merger of Warid and Mobilink?

We are much more open to phishing activity than citizens of developed countries. As we continue to privatise, deregulate and liberalise without creating an efficient and effective regulatory structure, we become more open to such activity. In some countries even if the regulatory structures are weak, the judicial system offers effective checks and balances. But this is not the case in Pakistan: litigation is too costly and slow to respond in most cases.

Akerlof and Shiller, both winners of the Nobel Prize in economics, make the case for showing how phishing activity is an integral part of the market system very well. This book should be read and its insights internalised by all who are trying to understand the dynamics of markets, especially those who are living in the developing countries.

But beyond talking a little about individual vigilance and regulatory institutions/structures, Akerlof and Shiller do not talk of remedies. If phishing is an integral part of markets, the only option is that we should be prepared to live with it and just try to minimise its impact through individual awareness and what we can do through regulatory institutions? Given how long and deep Akerlof and Shiller have thought about these issues, it would have been wonderful if they had given us their thoughts on response aspect as well. Maybe that is for the future.

This book is a must read for not only students of social sciences, it should be read by bureaucrats, politicians and public policy enthusiasts. More importantly, it should be read by citizens: they need to know how they are open to phishing based on cognitive and psychological factors as well as due to information issues. And these issues are integral to how markets work. This awareness will help us design and develop better coping mechanisms individually, collectively and institutionally.

Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception
Authors: George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller
Publisher: Princeton University Press, September 2015
Price: Hardcover $25
Pages: 288

From The News on Sunday, Political Economy pages, Pakistan, published Sunday 21st August, 2016


Cover Story: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Faisal Bari

“Our reluctance to honestly examine the experience of aging and dying has increased the harm we inflict on people and denied them the basic comforts they most need. Lacking a coherent view of how people might live successfully all the way to the very end, we have allowed our fates to be controlled by the imperatives of medicine, technology, and strangers.”

Dr Atul Gawande’s point in Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, is simple: Whether it be the design of ‘old homes’ or care for the terminally ill, we have allowed the imperatives of longevity and staying alive, the main aims of care providers and health professionals, to determine the way we treat the elderly and the seriously ill.

Quality of life — autonomy, dignity, being the writer of our own story — an important consideration for the old, the ill and their loved ones, has been more or less ignored. But eventually, argues Gawande, it is quality of life that should be central to how we think about aging and dying. This is not about assisted suicide or similar practices; this is about the importance of the patients’ priorities as being distinct from the aims or dynamics of the medical establishment.

Though Gawande’s experience as a surgeon offers him many opportunities to see the limitations of the current medical setup on this count, it is his father’s illness that brings home the point most forcefully. His father, a doctor himself, had a rare growth in the spinal column. From early on it was clear that the growth could not be fully excised and that eventually it could lead to paralysis. Gawande sees his father’s slow decline, sees the choices he makes about what is important to him, and how treatments had to serve those priorities and not the other way around. Gawande also realises that the medical establishment was not really in good sync with his father’s preferences.

Modern medicine and societal developments have, especially in developed countries but increasingly in developing ones too, allowed people to live longer and better lives. Sudden deaths of people in their 30s or 40s are now rare. Instead, many people live into their 70s and 80s. With modern surgical and medicinal interventions, a lot of diseases, even if not curable, allow people time. But we are mortal, all too mortal. Even if a disease does not take us, we start getting frail in our old age, and eventually die.

Hospitals were designed to make usually drastic interventions and get us back on our feet. They were not designed for managing chronic illnesses and/or old age and frailty. As the need for these services grew, institutions like old homes, rehabilitation centres, hospices and long-term care facilities came about. But their designs were mostly dominated by the approach of the medical profession: how to make people better, make them live longer, and not necessarily how to improve the quality of their lives.

Basic needs have primacy, as Maslow argued, but human life is more than that. As Gawande puts it, it is about “being the authors of our lives”. “The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life — to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.” This thinking has not been internalised by medical professionals and care institutions.

The training provided to healthcare professionals does not prepare them for holistic care. Their incentives, set by the profession, insurance companies and the dynamics of their jobs, are not in line with the priorities of those who go to them for care. The doctor or caregiver, instead of just being the expert, has to be an interpreter as well: he or she should give options and trade-offs so that people can decide for themselves and their loved ones.

Even geriatric care professionals are not trained to be interpreters, Gawande says. Furthermore, there is a dearth of doctors and caregivers in the area of geriatrics as it is not considered to be exciting, heroic and dynamic enough a field by most current and aspiring healthcare professionals. But, the need for geriatric care in societies that are past the demographic bulge is rapidly going up. In Pakistan, the field is almost non-existent.

In most societies we will not be able to train enough people in geriatrics in time to look after the old and ailing. A better policy option is to train all caregivers in the basics of geriatric care. This requires introduction of relevant courses at the initial level of medical training. But this is an uphill task, even in countries like the US. In a way, Being Mortal is also a plea for this change.

Sickness and debility are not easy to go through or manage. It is hard to see a loved one go through pain, decline, frailty, increasing dependence, and death. But with increasing lifespans and modern medicine’s ability to slow down and manage more and more diseases, we are likely to see more of this: for our loved ones and for ourselves. We have to design health services in ways that can provide the best possible care for people: where the trade-off between quality of life and longevity is sensitively handled while preserving the autonomy and dignity of the patients, and where the wishes of the recipient govern the decision-making process.

Gawande goes through a number of case studies in detail to show how different people handle various healthcare issues. Some opt for trying every procedure they can, even when the chances of success keep diminishing to the point of becoming an impossibility, and in the process make their lives very difficult and restricted to being in hospitals or other care-giving institutions. Others choose time with family and friends over treatments, with minimal interventions from the medical side. And still others are in the middle, or vacillate in between. But in almost all of the cases Gawande discusses, seldom are doctors and other medical professionals trained enough to be able to actively help patients and their families make the right choices: choices that are in line with the patients’ priorities. It is only with the development of hospice care, which is still not a widespread or very integrated practice in most hospitals, that we are starting to see some change.

Towards the end, Gawande’s father chooses not to undergo high risk treatments, instead opting for peaceful time with family at home. This is not an easy choice to make — for those unwell or their families. But given the fact of our mortality and the limits of medicine, it is a choice that many have had to make and will have to make. It should not be made more difficult by a medical system that is under its own inertia of trying to preserve life at all costs, even at the cost of quality of life. The task, in many ways, is for all those involved in providing health care to realise this.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End


By Atul Gawande

Metropolitan Books, USA

From Books and Authors, The Dawn, Pakistan, published Sunday January 25th, 2015

ISBN 978-0805095159


Review: The Great Escape by Angus Deaton

Faisal Bari

THOUGH inequalities, across countries as well as within them, are large, on average people living today are much better off than those who came before. Understanding how this has happened might give us clues about what we need to do to help those who are still struggling. This seems to be the central point of Angus Deaton’s book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth and the Origins of Inequality, a somewhat positive take on where we are today, what we have been able to achieve, and, equally importantly, what we have to do to help ourselves and others.

Global population has increased rapidly over the last 80 or so years and the world, on the whole, has been able to sustain it. Not only that, but, Deaton argues, by and large and based on averages, people now live longer, better and more fulfilling lives than at almost any previous time. Incomes have increased, life expectancies have gone up and morbidity rates are much lower than before. This is most obvious in the “developed and more advanced” countries in North America, Europe, Japan and Australia, and within these countries, in the middle and upper classes. And while the story is still unfolding in less developed countries, the gains are very much there as well. In some countries of Africa and South Asia, however, the story is more mixed; but even there, the gains, though small, are undeniable.

No wonder then that Deaton claims, “life is better now than at almost any time in history. Most people are richer and fewer people live in dire poverty. Lives are longer and parents no longer routinely watch a quarter of their children die. Yet millions still experience the horrors of destitution and of premature death. The world is hugely unequal.” There are too many people who still live on very low incomes, face malnutrition and / or starvation, see too many of their children die in childbirth or infancy or become maimed for life, live in conditions of squalor and misery, and have few or almost no choices and opportunities. In other words, they have no freedom, “the freedom to live a good life and to do the things that make life worth living.”

Two questions of paramount importance are addressed in the book. One, how to we understand progress and measure that progress; and two, why has progress been so uneven across countries and even within countries?

Deaton takes the cases of health and wealth to address both questions. He is very clear on the first one and explains how well-being, happiness, inequality, poverty and even national income and growth are measured and what issues are faced in their measurement across time and countries. If you are new to economics and statistics, and want to understand how aggregates are constructed and what they mean, read this book just for the pleasure of seeing how Deaton explains that. Unfortunately, though, the book does not go into the debate on well-being. There is a lot of work on notions of well-being and development. By not engaging with the literature Deaton has deprived us of seeing how a great and thorough empiricist would have tackled the more philosophical debates.

Health outcomes are an important part of any notion of well-being. And they are relatively easier to delineate and document as well. If people live longer, are free of disease and debilitation, or can manage them well, we have better health outcomes. And the world clearly has changed a lot over the last century, at least on this count. Average age has been increasing steadily across the world, and developments in medicine and sanitation have all but eliminated childhood deaths in developed countries.

Most of the initial gains in increased life expectancy came from reducing infant and maternal mortality. But even as far as diseases for the old go, new surgical procedures and medicines have made diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and even some cancers curable or manageable. Though the poor and the marginalised do not have the same health outcomes as the rich even in developed countries, the differences between them have been narrowing. As for the developing world, while infant / maternal mortality has come down, it has not come down fast enough and is still quite significant. Pakistan, for instance, loses an estimated 200,000 plus infants and 10,000 mothers a year even today. Deaton’s take on reasons for this is quite comprehensive: “Without an educated population and without government capacity — an effective administrative structure, cadres of educated bureaucrats, a statistical system, and a well-defined and enforced legal framework — it is difficult or impossible for countries to provide a proper health-care system.” This is also the lesson from the Acemoglu and Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail. Institutions matter, and here, clearly, developing countries are far behind. On the wealth / income side too, the story is similar. Developed countries have seen large increases in average income and wealth, as well as significant growth, for the last many decades.

But the benefits of increases in wealth have not been even and some people have gained a lot more than others. Deaton, however, like most economists, argues that this is to be expected given that growth opportunities are never evenly distributed: “health progress creates gaps in health just as material progress creates gaps in living standards,” he argues. Most developing countries have also seen significant increases in income and growth. There are very few examples of countries that have declined consistently and steadily, and almost all of these have been war-torn. For the rest, progress, though uneven, has taken place. Some have grown rapidly (the Asian Tigers, China, and for the last few decades, India) while others have had reversals (such as the AIDS epidemic in Africa).

What holds across countries, holds within them too. Despite overall progress, some people have benefited from growth opportunities a lot more than others. And millions are still trapped in abject poverty. It is quite a puzzle to try to figure out why inequalities should persist or increase, and why convergence in income should not happen over time. What one country can do, why can’t another; or at least, something similar? Given the information flows today, why is emulation and / or adaptation so hard?

This is indeed a million-dollar question. But Deaton’s answer is unfortunately not very detailed or thorough. To be fair, he does not set out to answer this question. Enabling institutions, provision of basic infrastructure and services, democracy, progressive taxation, rule of law and enforcement of basic rights all play a part. But the how of it is not easy to understand. There is a chapter at the end on “how to help those who are left behind” but that is mostly about the effectiveness or not of foreign loans and aid. It is written from the perspective of what a person living in a developed country and fortunate enough to have made ‘the great escape’ can do for those ‘left behind’. And Deaton’s answer, which might sound harsh is not too far from the truth. It is the governments and people of each country who have to do most of the work. Foreign aid, even when it works and that is not often, can only do little.

Deaton’s book could have been a lot longer or somewhat shorter. If he had engaged fully with the more philosophical debates on well-being, happiness, poverty, and inequality, it would have been much longer, and, I think, quite fascinating. But if he only wanted to say that life is much better now for most, though millions are still waiting to make the great escape from poverty, he could have said so in a much shorter book. Right now the book seems to be somewhere in the middle. But since almost every page has nuggets regarding how numbers should be interpreted, it is worth reading with care.

Quite a few books recently have tried to understand and explain the development process and its outcomes, often by some of the leading economists of out time. Deaton’s book falls in the same category. Though agreements are rare and conclusiveness is hard to achieve, these books are bringing a lot of academic material to the general public. And there is tremendous value in that. Maybe The Great Escape should also be seen in such a light.

Moreover, it is worth emphasising the role of the right institutions and organisations, rule of law, provision of basic infrastructure and services, and good governance, in ensuring consistent and fair development. One can only hope our leaders also read some of these books.

The Great Escape: Health, Wealth And The Origins Of Inequality


By Angus Deaton

Princeton University Press, US

ISBN 978-0691153544


From Books and Authors, The Dawn, Sunday 7th December, 2014.

Review: The Cancer Chronicles by George Johnson

By Faisal Bari

CANCER is still a dreaded word, a disease most of us fear and one which many among our friends and acquaintances have had to face. Or, if numbers are anything to go by, will face.

George Johnson, a journalist who has been writing on science for a long time, started reading up on cancer when his wife was diagnosed with the disease. He wanted to understand the beast better, to look for treatment options for his wife and to see if there are things that we can do to decrease our chances of getting cancer. His wife survived, though the treatment, as expected, was long and difficult. But some of Johnson’s friends, who also had cancer, did not. And Johnson ended up writing The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery, a small but important book on cancer and its mysteries for the non-specialist.

The ‘disease,’ if it can be called that, has been with us for a long time. Traces of cancers have been found in the bones of animals and humans who died thousands of years ago. And there are reasons for it. Cancers are not just caused by carcinogens in the environment and / or viruses and bacteria. In fact, few cancers are supposedly caused by these. Rather, cancers are due to the mutations that take place at the cell level as a result of normal and regular cell division process.

Research that Johnson reviews in the early chapters shows that the process of cell division can be impacted by many things: exposure to radiation, what we eat and drink, what we breathe, what we are exposed to in the environment, what goes on in our body, what goes on in our cells, what goes on in neighbouring cells, what happens to the bacteria and viruses that reside in our body… the list, so far, seems endless.

Cells replicate themselves in our body all the time. New cells replace the old and old ones die. We have millions of cells in our body. Mistakes, in replicating the DNA strand, happen in the replication process. These mistakes are carried on by new cells within them and in turn passed on. Researchers have shown that there are strong mistake-rectifying processes within cells too. Many mistakes are corrected, many others are harmless and are sometimes carried on by the next generation of cells without impacting us. Some mistakes are even beneficial and can lead to our betterment and evolutionary changes.

However, some mistakes are not so beneficial and create cells that replicate fast, take over areas and become tumours and / or get rooted in organs or body parts, take nutrition from surrounding areas, create artery / vein structures for sustained nourishment and then start causing trouble for the body. These form the bulk of the cancers in us. It might only be a few errors in replication, but the consequences, for the host body, are usually quite considerable.

Mistakes in the replication and division process of cells can happen for a variety of reasons. Scientists do not think they know all the reasons yet, but even the reasons we know are quite plenty. Exposure to radiation (ultra-violet, x-rays, gamma rays, and so on), exposure to carcinogens in the environment or in what we eat and drink, stress on the body (obesity, inflammation) or any of its parts, exposure to certain viruses and bacteria, and even the way neighbouring cells interact with each other can lead to replication mistakes. But, according to Johnson, we do not yet know all the mistakes that lead to cancers and all the ways in which mistakes can be triggered.

Cancer cells, in general, do have some properties. They replicate quickly, and quite often the older cells forget to die. Sometimes, these cells are just replication machines. And once they have enough numbers, they are bound to cause problems for the body. Cancer cells are our own cells but different from the normal cells at the sub-cellular level. And herein lies the rub in finding cures. Cancer cells are hard to find and differentiate from normal cells. We still do not know all the mutations that lead to cancers, the reasons for these mutations and the markers with which to identify cancer cells. And even when we do, it is not easy to find medicines that target cancer cells only. We also do not know how cancer cells can lead to further mutations that allow them to avoid being killed by certain medicines.

We have developed a lot of medicines for fighting cancer, but most medicines only increase life spans, sometimes only by a few months. We have few cures and for a few cancers, and most of these medicines have significant side effects too. For instance, radiation can kill cancers but also cause new ones.

Chemotherapies can do the same. The battle is clearly far from over. And the front is not just coming up with new and better chemicals that can destroy cancer but also understanding what produces cancer, why certain cells become aggressive at certain points, when they become predatory, and how do they create and / or manage their environment (micro-environment). Even on the prevention side, given our lack of understanding of the causes, there is little that can be said with a lot of assurance. We only know a few things with some confidence: obesity and / or inflammations in the body and cancer incidence seem to be related. And as you grow older your chances of getting cancer also increase. But other than these, few relationships are as strong or as probable. Smoking can cause cancer and other diseases, and there are hundreds of carcinogens, natural and human-made, but we do not understand the mechanics as clearly.

Moreover, exposure has to be significant to increase probabilities by even a small number. Though we should bear in mind that a percentage point increase in the likelihood of getting cancer might not be a very significant increase in risk for one individual, if we are talking of increased exposure for a population (say Pakistan with population of 200 million), it is two million more cancer cases.

Given the plethora of carcinogens we face and the exposure to radiation in our everyday life, we can do only a little to protect ourselves from the risks emanating from these directions. But regular exercise and avoidance of obesity might be more doable for most people.

While The Cancer Chronicles is a bit dry and slightly heavy reading at times, it is very well written for non-experts. For those who are interested in understanding “medicine’s deepest mystery,” this and Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies are a good starting point.

There are plenty of promising ideas in the research surrounding cancer. But though we will continue to make progress on individual medicines and individual cancers, we are far from understanding cancer in general. What is important is that our journey continues. For those who want to have a sense of this journey, Johnson’s book is worth going through.

The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery


By George Johnson

Vintage, US

ISBN 030774230X


From Books and Authors of the Dawn, Pakistan, published Sunday 28th September, 2014.

Review: Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers…

By Faisal Bari

Rafe Esquith has taught elementary school children in a public school in Los Angeles for the last three decades. And he is still not only very sane, he is also brimming with enthusiasm for teaching and is looking for new things to do, new ways to reach his students, to motivate them, to make them grow intellectually and to make them into better human beings and citizens. Rafe is a rare phenomenon indeed. But one who can teach us, all humans, and not just the teachers, a lot about life, love and living.

Esquith’s rare quality has been recognised. He is the only teacher in the US to have received the President’s National Medal of the Arts. He has also been made a member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth and has a host of other awards and acknowledgements of his excellence as a teacher. Real Talk for Real Teachers is his fourth book on teachers and teaching.

Teaching is not easy. Despite contrary beliefs, I have always found teaching to be rewarding but exhausting. Even a few hours of teaching, and I have only taught at the university level, leave me completely drained. The reward is the occasional and sometime more than occasional twinkle of understanding in the eyes of a few students or even one student. But it is hard work. Most people, many even amongst the teachers, think teaching is easy: it is just standing in front of a class and delivering a lecture. I guess the difference lies in how one teaches. And Rafe’s book brings that out clearly.

Rafe’s typical day starts at 5am and he is in his class by 6am. The school does not start till 8am, but some of Rafe’s students come early to work on areas and / or projects they need extra time or help with. And though school ends at 2.30pm, Rafe stays in class till 5pm to work with students on their extra projects, such as the Shakespeare play that his students stage every year and the music that is needed for the play. So, it is an 11-hour workday in class and Rafe has sustained this, with enthusiasm, for almost three decades. Talk of teaching being an easy profession!

Real Talk for Real Teachers is about advice to teachers: from novices to veterans. From how Rafe sets expectations for students, how he deals with discipline issues and / or deviations from expectations, how he deals with more difficult students, and caters to student diversity, in terms of level, ability and motivation, is very well documented and should give all teachers plenty to think about. But this is only one of the contributions that the book makes. The book is quite a primer for students, a source of inspiration and motivation for teachers, especially for those in need of a picker-upper, and it is a good take on what it is like to be a professional. The list above is not even close to being exhaustive.

Rafe’s 10 rules for Hobart Shakespeareans (he teaches at Hobart Elementary School) are a guide for students to grow with. Be nice, work hard and there are no shortcuts are the first few rules (I am leaving out the others for readers to find out for themselves). I cannot think of a better place to start with for elementary school children. And it is not Rafe’s way to drill these rules into children by using sticks and or by emotionally or otherwise blackmailing them. He expects them to live up to these. Those who do get to participate in a lot of extra activities on their own and with other children. Those who deviate and show they are not responsible enough to participate in other activities (trip to Washington, Shakespeare play, arts and crafts projects, learning musical instruments) have to mend their behaviour and thinking before they are allowed back in.

This does not mean Rafe is able to transform every student. There are always a few who do not bite. Rafe insists on doing his best with them, but he is fine with some students refusing to engage and benefit from learning opportunities available. Children come from very diverse backgrounds and a teacher and a school can only do that much to level the field for them. A teacher has to balance the needs of all her students in class and so there are limits to what she can do for each.

More than the challenges that are posed by difficult children or children with very diverse abilities and learning levels as they enter a class, it is the administration and the education bureaucracy that is the source of major challenges for teachers and for sustaining high levels of motivation for teaching. Rafe has some advice to deal with these issues too. When the administration cancels a trip, which had been planned months in advance, without a warning and due reason, when students / teachers are suddenly not allowed to access classes before or after school hours, and when lack of resources hampers good teaching, Rafe has some suggestions on what to do and how to get round some of these problems. Mostly it has to do with not banging one’s head against the administrative / bureaucratic wall and to find ways around it. The particular strategies might or might not be useful, but the general method should be of interest across schooling contexts.

It does take a village to raise a child. Rafe does not teach alone. To do all that he does with his students and for so many years, he has had to get a lot of help from a lot of people: musicians, actors, directors, photographers, lighting experts, lyrics writers, other teachers, and most importantly of all, his ex-students. Ex-students visit his class all the time. Some mentor students, others help in showing students what is possible even if they come from challenged backgrounds, and some even help with the day-to-day activities of his class. The key to involvement with Rafe’s class is commitment and professionalism. Professionals are on time, they take their work with utmost seriousness, and they espouse and practice some of the same virtues that Rafe has identified in his 10 rules for Room 56 (Rafe’s classroom).

It has been a long time since I was in grade 5. But reading Rafe’s book I wanted to go back and be a student in his class. A year with Rafe would have made me a very different person and, very likely, a much better, more efficient and more productive person. Even now, it has given me a lot of think about. I cannot think of a better reason to read him.

Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans: “No Retreat, No Surrender!”

By Rafe Esquith

Viking, New York

ISBN 0670014648


From the Dawn, Books and Authors, Sunday June 29th, 2014

Book Review: Political Survival in Pakistan: Beyond Ideology by Anas Malik

Faisal Bari©

Returns to education are important at the individual level, for the individual herself, her family and acquaintances, as well as at the national level. An educated person will add more to growth and output of the country, might lead to more innovation and entrepreneurship, and is likely to be a more active and involved citizen. Hence there are strong reasons for educating all children irrespective of whether they or their parents can afford to educate them: the positive externality argument for mass provision of education. There seems to be fairly widespread recognition of these arguments. Recently, in Pakistan, the politicians of the country added Article 25A: Right to Education to the Constitution of the country1. Most of the politicians and political party manifestoes acknowledge the importance of providing quality education for all children in Pakistan, yet, and here is the paradox, we know that about 25 million children between ages of 5 and 16 are not going to school and the quality of education being given in Pakistan, especially in the public sector, is very poor and the state spends only about 2 percent of GDP on education2. Why is there not more of an effort, from politicians and the state, to provide better quality mass education in the country?

Anas Malik, a political scientist at Xavier University in USA, posits a framework that allows us to address this and similar questions relating to our political system in the book Political Survival in Pakistan:

(Routledge Advances in South Asian Studies Series. Routledge, 2011. Pages 242. ©Faisal Bari is Associate Professor of Economics at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore. J-SAPS Volume 01, Number 02, June 2011, pgs. 112-118 Book Review: Political Survival in Pakistan: Beyond Ideology by Anas Malik)

Not surprisingly, as is true with more interesting answers, the idea behind the answer is simple. “political leaders seek to retain office and challengers seek to obtain it”. This simple idea has deep implications. Malik, using The Logic of Political Survival (LOPS) ideas developed by Bueno de Mesquita et al. (2003) argues that given the weak state and state institutions in Pakistan, where there is no recognition of rights as a virtue of citizenship, and given the goal of politicians to stay in power and stave off challenges, they will try to divert maximum benefits to their winning coalition. This will, in turn, given limited resources, imply that people out of the winning coalition will receive almost nothing. It will also mean that the politicians will worry only about questions that have an impact on their coalition members, and though they might continue to use universalistic rhetoric, when it comes to distribution of benefits, the coalition insiders will be favoured. This also entails that politicians’ efforts will be more focused on visible benefits (roads, street lighting, water and sewerage facilities and building a school as opposed to quality of schooling) that supporters can see and more on issues where benefits can be focused on some people and denied to others (access to water or paved roads as opposed to quality education). If a politician was successful in forging such a winning coalition, since leaving the coalition has a large cost (losing all the benefits that are coming to the coalition), loyalty to the leader will be high in the winning coalition. This makes it difficult for anyone to successfully launch a challenge against the leader and explains why challenging dictators is hard (the military dictators in Pakistan), or why launching movements that are based on promises of benefits to all are difficult to make credible (it has taken Imran Khan and PTI 15 years to be taken seriously as a political option, though we still do not know how PTI will perform on the ballot box).

Going back to the education example, in the language of LOPS, while politicians know about the importance of education and the poor quality of education being imparted by public schools, it still does not make sense for them to focus on education as an arena to spend political capital on. A lot of their more important constituents, like the politicians, do not send their children to the public sector education system and so, for them, education is not an issue of interest. Furthermore, even the poorer constituents have a number of needs like access to jobs and access to basic infrastructure in addition to concerns about educational and health services. Education, concerned with the medium to long term, might not be a top priority for these constituents. For the politician, since benefits are a reward for support in elections, the benefits have to be a) focused on the supporters, b) deniable to non-supporters or those supporting rivals, and c) visible for all to see. Jobs, paved roads, water and sewerage schemes fit the bill very well. If there is no school in the area, providing a new one, even though once it is there, it will not be possible to check if any non- supporters also use it, is a visible and large enough benefit that it might make the cut. But improving educational quality in a school or schooling system, which is hard to see and gauge, and is equally hard to deny to certain people also, might not make it.

LOPS also predicts that no amount of rhetoric and advocacy for education will have any traction as long as the political equation is set up the way as described above. It is just not in the interest of the politician to pay heed to education provision or quality issue. She might be interested in posting and/or transfer issues of teachers as these are private benefits that she could focus on certain constituents and posting/transfer of certain teachers might have quality externalities too, but this has nothing to do with taking on education or quality provision of education as an issue.

Malik makes the point that in societies where the state and its institutions are weak, and Pakistan being in that category and where resources are quite constrained, even basic rights will only be extended to the members of the winning coalition. We used the example of education to illustrate some of the implications of the thesis, but the implications are much wider than just education.

Coming from a slightly different context, and from the discipline of sociology, Gupta (2000) argues that we actually do not elect ‘representatives’ when we elect politicians, we elect ‘patrons’. Patrons who can protect us, intermediate for us with the institutions of the state, and provide private benefits to us in return for support to the patron. Representatives make laws that are universalistic and ensure that benefits are provided to all on the basis of citizenship or other universalistic criteria. ‘Patrons’ cannot afford to do that. Patrons have to signal that they can not only break the law for themselves and they are actually above the law; they have to break laws to give private benefits to clients. If they can not or do not, what is the point of having they as patrons? Gupta relates a particularly poignant anecdote in this regard: “I remember a conversation with some industrial notables who said that V.P. Singh would make a useless leader because he would not even give his mother a gas connection out of turn. The argument went on to suggest that if a man cannot do his mother such a small favour, how can he do anything for his country?” (154- 155).

Connecting the two perspectives one can see that the LOPS framework, though broader, is actually talking of patron-client networks. It is not a simple case of one patron and many clients; it is a hierarchy of patrons and clients: A patron at one level is a client at the next and so on. The political parties are also such networks as are most of the other institutions of the country, including the armed forces. But it is not just a matter of patron-client networks; there is a very strong logic to why the system continues to thrive and why it is hard to break as well. There are strong incentives for people in the coalition, in the form of specific benefits, to not go out of the coalition, while those outside might want to join in but they are not really needed by the winner. So, the equilibrium becomes very stable. And the smaller the winning coalition given the institutional framework of the country, the more stable it will be. This explains for Malik why Bhutto, for example, who came on the basis of an appeal to a large coalition of interests, chose to go back, very quickly, to the traditional interest groups and do away with the weaker parts of his larger coalition. It also explains why it is hard for people at large to challenge dictators who are in power: When in power, he has the support of those who benefit from his presence. These people will resist challenges to the dictator’s power (Muslim League Q and MQM in Musharraf government). Similarly, the same calculus of benefits have allowed President Zardari to manage both the politics of Pakistan People’s Party (rewarding and punishing individuals as a patron) as well as the dynamics of the coalition that he has been heading (MQM, ANP, and Muslim League N).

If institutions cannot be strengthened in the circumstances described, can a person or political party make an appeal that goes across various coalitions and challenge them effectively? It has been done before; Bhutto’s case was mentioned, and it seems Imran Khan and PTI are attempting to do the same with their rhetoric about justice for all, and against corruption and nepotism. Their appeal is universalistic and PTI is making its pitch at the national level. But given the weakness of institutions in the country and the lack of traditions for universalistic norms, it is not clear if people will be swayed by the universalistic message. The tendency to see Imran as a messiah or patron shows that many supporters are still thinking in those terms. Even more importantly, if PTI does succeed, it will be very interesting to see if they can actually deliver on promises in a universalistic style and not revert back to winning coalition politics that the other parties are doing and are quite good at.

After introducing the framework in detail in the first two chapters of the book Malik takes some specific episodes from our history to explain how the framework helps in understanding these episodes in a deeper and more profound manner. These episodes are taken from across Ayub, Bhutto, Zia, Benazir and Nawaz Sharif regimes; thus representing a wide enough period of our history. The framework is conceptually quite elegant and very amenable to modeling too: it will be instructive if Malik or others will use the framework in the future to do very specific case studies/histories from our past. But more importantly, the framework allows us to understand a lot of what is happening in the political economy of the country. As we near elections, and in such unsettled times, LOPS framework and Malik’s reading of Pakistan can be very helpful for students and researchers in understanding some of the more entrenched issues and problems of the country. We used education as an example, but there are many other important issues; from development of institutions and political parties, to issues of extraction, corruption and lack of growth, that can be usefully analyzed using this framework and such analysis can help us in thinking about what policy space is open to us and what policy options can work in our situation.

LOPS framework is parsimonious. With the fewest of assumptions, about politician goals, it tries to derive significant implications. The strength of this approach lies in the clear identification of implications and viability of testing those limitations. But it does leave two questions open: were the initial set of assumptions justified, and does it leave out too much in an effort to be parsimonious? This can lead to development of a rich debate. Is the author right in almost ignoring the role of ideology in Pakistani politics? Can issue of terror or the politics of Jamaat-e-Islami be explained without ideological considerations? Can we apply the same framework in understanding the international context in which Pakistani politics is situated? Should leaders only be seen as authorities for extraction and resource allocation? The book provides a host of very provocative implications and thoughts that could lead to a very rich debate in intellectual circles in Pakistan.

J-SAPS Volume 01, Number 02, June 2011

(PS. Have removed footnotes and bibliography)