Pakistan Institute of Development Economics



Reforming Institutions: Where to Begin? (Vol. 48 No.3-2009)

Institutions promote growth—this view now holds firm ground. The task then is to ‘engineer’ growth promoting institutions. Endogeneity characterises institutions, for example, groups enjoying political power influence economic institutions but political power itself is a function of wealth. The question then is: what to reform first? History stands witness that generally the societies with extreme inequality and a heterogeneous population tend to evolve institutions that restrict access to economic opportunities for the poor which in turn constrains economic development. On the other hand societies with greater equality and homogeneous population typically enjoy growth-promoting institutions. Institutional reforms should therefore begin with institutions that serve to create or perpetuate inequality and heterogeneity in the society. We argue that the four different kinds of educational systems in operation in Pakistan are a major source of creating and perpetuating inequality and heterogeneity in the population. Access to a single and common educational system will open-up similar opportunities of higher education and job attainment for all the citizens, thereby reducing inequality. Diverse educational systems promote different sets of beliefs while a uniform system forges beliefconvergence in the society that in turn facilitates agreement on a common set of institutional reforms. Therefore it is the educational system that should be the first to reform. We also argue that in Pakistan, unlike some European countries in the 17th century, neither commercial interest nor fiscal constraints can force the de jure power to reform institutions. Typically, large commercial interests in Pakistan have thrived on favours from the de jure power and therefore have no interest in changing the system. Foreign aid eases the fiscal constraints from time to time relieving government of the need to reform institutions. The thought of a revolution of some kind is still a far cry, the society having no such inclination. The alternative then is the gradual approach preferred by North, Acemoglu and Rodrik. This gradual approach suggests the area of educational reforms.

M. Idrees Khawaja, Sajawal Khan.