Realities of Time: Policy Makers are not privileged in today’s Global Political Economy

By SYED MAFIZ KAMAL

Note: This is a guest post. Content may or may not reflect my own opinions.

Policy-Makers at domestic, international and global stage are constrained by time and limited execution options. They have to choose and implement policies to meet their political goals, may it be to keep power of office or to keep the society functioning in a stable manner. Such constrains, especially, applies to the policy makers of Political Economy; in particular Political Economy of a Globalized planet i.e. Global Political Economy. They have to make harsh choices on which policy/policies to opt in or out, and thereafter put the respective policy/policies into practice.

Is Bangladesh privileged enough from its policy makers’ decisions?

I will not go deep into defining what is “Global Political Economy”, in contrast to what is “International Political Economy”. It is a well-felt debate in the international affairs study arena whether the world is becoming a single unit or is it still fragmented into blocks of nation-states. My assumption in this post: Global Political Economy is the Political Economy of a geographic unit- our planet. International Political Economy, as opposed to Global Political Economy, is divided in nature i.e. the Political Economy of inter-units: various states of our planet.

No matter what side of the debate you may lye, the assumption in this paper is that the policy makers are the same people of the world economy; may it be International or Global. They are the public servants in charge of mobilizing a state’s economy through global cooperation. They are involved in decision makings such as trade deals or regulation of FDIs. They are the elected officials, head of states, bureaucrats, technocrats, civil society leaders and appointed officials who are responsible for public resources.

Policy makers have many sources of reference from which they seek advice. Major ones are: academic scholars, law enforcers, civil society groups, private organizations and public views/opinions. In an ideal situation they have to listen to the advices of everyone and implement the absolute rationalized policies. Since they cannot please everyone, they have to abide by their instinctual understanding of policy recommendations to choose the best possible option. Good policy makers hereby consider the trade-offs and recognize the losses while they choose a particular policy.

In this post I argue that policy makers are biased, even if they may be reflexive about surrounding issues. They will only consider the options which reflect the “realities” of the given time of decision making. In other words, policy makers are not privileged, unlike academics, to consider multiple options while make decisions. They will only choose the policies which are politically and socially mobilizing the political circumstances around them. Hence, reflecting the realities of the time!

Let us consider a hypothetical example: Bangladesh is going to host the Olympic Games for 2020!

A global event such as Olympics will have many policy makers involved not only from Bangladesh but from all around the world. Therefore, all the “foreign” policy makers will have to collaborate and cooperate with their Bangladeshi counterparts to produce a successful event. Now, this group of policy makers calls upon experts from different fields to discuss how this event will impact the society and what measures to take to in order to best conduct the event. They call upon a Marxist, a Liberalist, a Feminist and a Mercantilist; few of the classical theorists who view the world through different lenses.

The Marxist advises them to see that the activities for undertaking Olympics – such as building stadium and organizing cultural programs- should not exploit the labor. They should not affect the working class people by moving them from their homes in order to make space for a big Olympic Village. In sum, the working class population should not bear the country’s burden for organizing a global event.

The Liberalist suggests the policy makers to let the event run as it would with foreign investments and less control of the government over any kind of projects. He/She would pay less attention to the topic of “exploitation of the working class”. His/Her main suggestion would be that the event should be profit driven where everyone including the host country should maximize benefit.

The Feminist would propose that the body should consider the impacts on women that the Olympics would have. If the Olympics would displace people, then women would be the ones to suffer the most because Bangladeshi society has a poor track record in women empowerment. The projects that the Olympics committee will undertake in Bangladesh should employ a work force, at least half of which should be women. Special programs to train women to participate in Olympics related projects should be set up. In sum, all steps of the Olympics planning should be designed in a way that women are represented and not exploited.

The Mercantilist will set his priority as the benefit of Bangladesh. His/Her country-first policy would aim to leverage the ultimate benefit out of the event to go to Bangladesh. He/She would suggest that limited foreign investments are to be accepted by Bangladesh for this event. And if there are foreign investments, then the most possible benefit of any investment should remain within the borders of Bangladesh. Most importantly, no form of state sovereignty should be violated under the shadow of this event.

After listening to all the analysts, the policy makers have to make their decisions on how to best conduct the projects of the upcoming Olympics. As I believe, this is where the “realities of the time” will kick in. Following are the two influential “realities” which will affect their decision making:

  • The political environment of Bangladesh will determine the policy makers’ decisions. For example, if there is nationalistic political momentum in the country then the policy makers will incline towards the Mercantilist and some elements of the Marxist suggestions.
  • The attitude of the international community will pose the policy makers to choose certain options. For example, if there a global movement against oppression of women at the particular time then the policy makers will incline towards the Feminist’s suggestions.

I realize that there are many other variables that may influence the policy makers’ decisions. But I advocate that the political and social realities of the time will drive the upcoming policies.

This “Bangladesh Olympics” case highlights a significant observation: that the policy makers reflect their unknown and unintended bias while making policies. They over-look important elements of policies such as long-term impacts or alternative consequences of their policies. They are stuck in the trap of the “realities of time”, which makes them take into consideration only constrained strategies. They are not privileged to choose what they want. Rather they are forced to choose a policy which may not be the best or the smartest possible policy. Their limitations are many. They may be reflexive, they may be analytical, they may see the policies from the lenses of different experts but they will only choose policies which are influenced by political vibe around them, both at global and domestic stage.

Syed Mafiz Kamal is a graduate student at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs.

Follow me on Twitter: @rjamesbarrete

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