By Mohammed Adamu
Magnus Kpakol, as Chief Economic Adviser to President Obasanjo, once explained ‘economic growth’ in the sense I discerned to mean a most ludicrous paradox. Like: ‘progressing on the path of retrogression’, or maybe ‘gaining in the direction of losses’; or yet ‘improving on the path of depletion’; or better still ‘growing from the rump of decay’.
But I had thought that the only doctrine that supports ‘life’ coming out of decaying matter is that mysteriously transcendental (or is it transcendentally mysterious?) situation in which the ‘seed’ rots so that a seed-bearing plant may come to life. But away from the transcendental, Kpakol it was who first gave me the idea of the possibility of ‘growth’ even in the direction of ‘decay’.
Kpakol chose an abstract kind of logic as ground to support his ‘good reasons’ for commending an ‘under-performing’ economy when he explained ‘growth’ in relation to the fate of a long distance runner who he said ‘falls into a ditch’. A veritable loss scenario you would say. Yet, he said, every effort the runner makes in getting out of the ditch represents ‘growth’. ‘Growth away from ‘growth zone’. Or a sprout from off the nodal point.
What would Kpakol’s ‘runner’ have been recording if he hadn’t fallen off track in the first place? -‘supper growth’? At least even ‘Kelvin’, the never-do-well character in the American Sit Com ‘House of Payne’ has his own queer idea about ‘doing well’. He measures his ‘rise’ only by the fall of his presumed competitors: “My cousin’s house is burned down” he says, “his wife is on crack (drugs) and he is living in my father’s house; wow! I must be doing better than Curtis!”
This is our kind of logic: being better than the next ‘failed guy’! And so since fraudulent economists will not leave ‘logic’ to lawyers or ‘metaphysics’ to philosophers, maybe we should help them suggest even whackier scenarios than simply defining ‘growth’ as a function of ‘push’ from a pre-determined failed-ditched effort!
So now that we know ‘growth’ to be ‘movement toward a loss goal’, -in Kpakol’s terms that is-, by the same stretch of logic, we can help to grow the ‘idea’. And you know what Mencken said about the ‘idealist’: he is “one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup” So ‘growth’ may even go beyond ‘movement toward a loss goal’, to mean: ‘movement toward no goal at all!
Suppose Kpakol’s long distance runner, rather than working his way out of the ditch, decides instead to dig himself further into the ditch, because it appears to him -in the circumstances-, that digging further in, first, is a pre-condition to working his way out of the ditch. Nor would it matter how much ‘further in’ he digs, as long as it is in the belief –or even the delusion- that doing so is sine qua non to returning himself to the ‘lost race’! Logically-speaking according to Kpakol’s theory of ‘inverse growth’, every inch our ditched ‘runner’ gains in ‘digging himself further in’, is also counted as ‘growth’.
And you ask the question: ‘how much further are Nigerians willing to fraudulently stretch logic in order to conjure ‘false growth’?
The renowned American Economist, Arthur Burns, once on a visit to Israel in the 70s, said he had asked David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, how the Israelis were able to make rapid advances in industry and commerce especially in the absence of natural resources and on the bare backs of a barren desert in acute shortage even of the most basic of such resource, namely water? And he said that Ben-Gurion replied “We did it first by dreaming, then by doing what the economists said was impossible”.
Three Ds are deducible from the Israeli kind of mind set: ‘Dreaming, Daring and Demystifying’. But to us only the ‘Dream’. Big ‘Dream’! No ‘Daring’. And rather than setting out to ‘Demystify’ obstacles, we are adept only in ‘mystifying’ that which is simple! We can prove ‘economic growth’ not only in the absence of ‘increase’ but even in the midst of abject depravity!
The Israeli spirit and perspective of development is ‘growth’ achieved in the inverse of delimiting economic principles. It is like saying: ‘we’ll not work to prove any theory right which sets limit to how farther we can achieve!’ But ours is to ‘travel in the direction of rot and decay’, but to believe we are on the path of growth!
The Israelis have proved right, Arthur Burns in his treaties on national economies where he wrote: “the human element” is a basic ingredient in the creation of virile, vibrant and stable economies that combine “full employment with high productivity”. Because the ‘human element’ which he said consists mostly of the dreams, fears, and hopes of ‘individuals’, ‘groups’ or ‘institutions’, is so often capable of upsetting even “the most expert calculations”.
Thus if the ‘human element’ is inert and irresponsive to appropriate and timely stimulus, or if it is haemorrhaged -or discomfitured- by petty and idle hankerings, ‘the human element’ will definitely upset even “the most expert calculations”.
Perhaps it is from human perspectives such as this espoused by Arthur Burns that the coinage ‘man’s hope is a crucial element in man’s fate’ came to be popularised. But what, you may ask, if a nation’s ‘calculations’ are not even any near ‘expert’? Or worse still if they are, like ours, of the ‘most mediocre’ variety?
Singapore’s President, Lee Kuan Yew, when he was asked about the economic and technological ‘miracle’ that is now personified in his country’s growth, said there was actually no miracle: “We did a few things right and we kept doing them right”. Simpliciter!