Introduction: Inequality and Tragedy in Pakistan
“A stampede at a Ramadan food distribution centre in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi has killed at least 11 people, all women and children,” as reported by Al Jazeera.
Pakistan is often portrayed as a country with a small number of wealthy individuals amidst widespread poverty. The net worth of the top 1% of the wealthiest has increased at an exponential rate since the inception, unlike the rest of the 99% who have witnessed only a minimal increase.
All banking systems, business models, stocks, and investments seem profitable to the wealthiest with enough cash in hand. They know well that the risk factor becomes negligible when monopoly guards its investors’ interests.
Unsustainable Wealth Accumulation and Individualism
However, this model of accumulating wealth is unsustainable and ultimately destructive. The pursuit of individual gain at the expense of the collective good fosters selfishness and ultimately results in a zero-sum game.
Adam Smith would likely be dismayed to see the invisible hand of the market, which he believed would lead to a trickle-down of wealth, being used to justify the considerable wealth accumulation among the top 1%.
Today, wealth is all but equally distributed in Pakistan and anywhere else in world. The most astonishing fact is that society has found ways to rationalize such unequal distribution by equating greater wealth with better services and living standards.
This mindset is rooted in social Darwinism, which promotes the idea that humans must compete to survive and improve their position in life, or else be ready to be condemned to death, much like the earlier mentioned stampede at a Ramadan food center.
The model seems unsustainable at best and destructive at worst. The former lacks not only the motivation for the collective good but also brews selfish traits leading to the accumulation of wealth. The very model of competition is unsustainable and ultimately leads to a breakdown in the collective good.
Redefining Parameters for Judging Value and Worth
One solution to this problem is to redefine the parameters to judge the value, motive, and worth of essential commodities. Paper money should not be the only measure of wealth. Instead, we should tie social good to currency in a way that is more sympathetic and less self-centered. For example, assigning value to the good that is done for others, rather than to the commodity itself.
If A delivers a bag of commodities to B, the value of the good done to B by the commodities should be considered when determining the value of the service provided by A. In this way, the satisfaction of the consumer is what holds value, rather than the commodity itself. Both social good as well as motivation to do more will go hand in hand. The rich will stay rich but not at the cost of the poor.
By implementing this model, we can incentivize the production and delivery of essential commodities to people, rather than merely selling them for profit. The satisfaction of the people would serve as the currency that would add to the wealth of the company, thereby ensuring that both social good and motivation to do more are aligned. The rich can still maintain their wealth, but not at the expense of the poor.
Initially, this mechanism could be implemented for the delivery of essential goods to the most vulnerable sections of society, such as the poor. Food, water, education, and shelter are capabilities that should be universal, as per Nussbaum’s capabilities model. Making social good contingent with currency will definitely help bridge the gap between theory and practice in sustainable development.
Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice: Nussbaum’s Capabilities Model
The quality of life will be improved regardless of material wealth possession, and everyone will be able to live a fulfilling life, as advocated by the likes of Martha Nussbaum, and others. Initially, this mechanism can be implemented for fundamental consumer goods. At the domestic level, the Social Return on Investment (SROI) will serve as a means to make the transaction possible. It is worth noting that the estimated global economic cost of malnutrition is $3.5 trillion per year, and yet only $330 billion per year is required to eliminate malnutrition and hunger globally by 2030, as highlighted by the World Food Program.
Collaboration between Public and Private Sectors
To make this model work, collaboration between the public and private sectors is essential. They can work together to structure financial incentives that promote the delivery of essential goods for the social good. For example, when a child is not malnourished, it saves costs on health services, which can be redirected to incentivize producers for delivering commodities for the social good.
Benefits of Meeting Fundamental Needs for Social Good
Furthermore, meeting fundamental needs, such as nutrition and well-being, has a positive impact on an individual’s cognitive abilities and productivity, which in turn benefits the economy. By tying commodity worth to the satisfaction and need it fulfills, producers can receive compensation in exchange for the social good their products do for consumers. This allows consumers to consume according to their needs, without financial constraints. In this model, accumulation of wealth for producers would be based on continually giving more, maintaining a balance between wealth inflow and outflow.
The vision is for a society where equitable distribution of resources is prioritized over material wealth, making collective good an integral part of economic transactions. Such a system can create a more just and sustainable economic model, promoting social well-being and reducing inequality.
Suleman Yousaf is a young graduate of International Relations. Currently, he is working with a non-profit NGO that is devoted to women empowerment and social welfare. He has a keen interest in studying capitalism and its unfulfilled promises as envisioned.