Poverty alleviation in the nation depends on proper distribution
If you ask an economist to explain the causes of poverty in Bangladesh, you are most likely to receive an overly jargonised lecture, beyond the ability of comprehension of common men. The poverty that we experience in our country is certainly complex and deceptive but it hardly is as difficult to grasp as quantum mechanics.
Even ordinary men like us can quickly understand the mystery of our pseudo-poverty in a country which used to be recognised as one of the wealthiest in the middle ages.
Even during the British Raj Bengal was regarded as one of the richest colonies of the British Empire. Blessed with a uniquely fertile expanse of land, temperate weather and abundance of other forms of natural resources, this delta used to be known as a land of fairy tales to fortune seekers from abroad. Where the legendary wealth went and how we became so appallingly poor are two questions which are most often answered wrongly. It is really astonishing that despite being extraordinarily rich compared to many European countries in terms of natural resources, Bangladesh still manages to be regarded as a poor country.
There is really no need to call upon Doyle’s Holmes or Christie’s Poirot to solve this baffling mystery. The foundation of the problem lies in the fact that in Bangladesh the rich are enviably rich and the poor are alarmingly poor. In more sophisticated words, the distribution of wealth is characterised by a very conspicuous lack of uniformity.
So while someone in the city can afford to buy and maintain a Porsche, not far away from his posh house in the same city, another individual, living in a slum, can afford little more than his pair of legs. In fact, in Bangladesh there are a number of people who own such large businesses that estimation of their wealth alone is a daunting task! Clearly when such a large amount of wealth is confined to a very small number of people in such a populous country, it means a huge number of people – most people – lead lives of abject poverty.
Unequal distribution of wealth affects the overall progress of the nation in several ways, and all of them produce profound negative effects. One of the most dangerous of these is that less affluent people are so busy just surviving a country full of heartless people that they have little time to think of progress and development. A garment factory worker’s children have little hope of avoiding the fate of becoming garment factory workers themselves in the future. It is simply because the cost of standard education is well beyond their reach. They can dream of no luxury other than just sustaining their physical existence in an unfriendly and unsympathetic world. Garment factory workers are deprived of a just salary because the owners want to pay only what would keep these unfortunate employees physically able to come back for more work tomorrow.
Let us exemplify the problem of unequal distribution of wealth using the phenomenon of deterioration of the quality of sweets sold in the market. Buy a kilogram of roshomalai from a reputed shop in the city and to your astonishment you will find that it actually contains little milk, contrary to what is usually expected, and is full of flour. So the sweets which are supposed to be made using processed milk are nothing but flour balls in your favourite roshomalai. Why? It is quite simple. How else would you sell a kilogram of roshomalai for Tk200 only? The required ingredients are so costly that to produce a kilogram of real roshomalai following all the standard codes, you would have to fix a price of over five hundred taka for it! So we have to be satisfied consuming flour balls even if we do not like them. Some sellers in the city still persist with quality and this determination has elevated the prices so far that an ordinary person cannot imagine treading in even the shadows cast by those shops! If your salary is Tk4,000 a month, it is outrageous to think of wasting five hundred of it to buy a kilogram of roshomalai.
It is really difficult to suggest solutions to this problem. The first thing we should try to achieve is a situation where general people and the government would be able to recognise the existence of the problem itself. Most people have a firm, erroneous belief that Bangladesh is inherently poor compared to posh European and North American countries! On the contrary, the truth is that if we want to attain similar levels of affluence and prosperity, we need to ensure justice and equity, which will ensure a more uniform distribution of wealth.
Let us hope the ruling authorities will take notice of this very important fact and devise simple strategies to slowly address the imbalance. Changes are not possible overnight but surely it is not a crime to dream of recovering the kind of prosperity that was present in Bangladesh during the reign of Isa Khan.