Think 'positively,' and live
Poverty in Pakistan has come down, because the sale of autos in the domestic market has gone up, says the spokesperson-in-chief of the ruling Pakistan People's Party. Only a genius could have discerned the subtle connection, hidden to ordinary mortals, between the drop in poverty level and the rise in car purchases. If nothing else, we can boast of a genius in an otherwise mediocre society.
The spokesperson also maintained that, instead of bewailing that a certain percentage of the population lived below the poverty line, we should rejoice in the fact that a part of society was well above that threshold. Again, an outstanding example of a person who can transcend the customary way of thinking to see the positive side of things - a glass half full rather than half empty - a rare virtue in a dull, pessimistic society. At a time when the country is passing through a critical phase - with terrorists on the rampage and the economy in a shambles - and public morale has nosedived, robust optimism is what the doctor orders.
In point of fact, the people's present predicament can largely be attributed to their irredeemable habit of negative and defeatist thinking: looking, for instance, only at the debit side of the government's balance sheet rather than its credit side, of discounting the accomplishments and counting the disillusionments, of downplaying the achievements and overplaying the failures.
Why do we point out that 30 per cent of the population is mired in abject poverty? Why don't we say that 70 per cent of the people are out of it? Why do we allege that the overwhelming majority of politicians are corrupt and unreliable? Why don't we admit that at least some of them are men and women of integrity and character? Why do we complain about the largescale unemployment? Why don't we acknowledge that not all the labour force is unemployed? What do we raise hue and cry over the fact that the galloping inflation has made life miserable for the vast majority of people? Why don't we content ourselves with the fact that these people are still alive? Why do we bewail the absence of the rule of law in the land? Why don't we take pride in the fact that at least there's a popularly elected government in the country? Why do we point out the rampant tax evasion in the economy? Why don't we admit that sufficient revenue is collected to run the administration? Why do we maintain that most of the national institutions are in decay and decadence? Why don't we acknowledge that some of them are still strong and vibrant? Surely there is a strong case for optimism and positive thinking, and surely the spokesperson can serve the nation even better by writing a book on how to think positively, constructively and creatively.
The power of positive thinking apart, what can we make of the relationship between poverty and auto sales?
Since brevity is the soul of expression and the genius is a person of few words, the PPP spin doctor didn't waste words in explaining the instant relationship. This leaves us ordinary mortals at best in a position to conjecture as to how the increase in car sales is an indicator of a drop in poverty level.
To begin with, it costs a lot to buy a car and the fact that the product's sale is on the increase intimates that the people's purchasing power has gone up. The purchasing power being a function of income, one can safely conclude that the income level has risen. Since an inverse relationship holds between income and poverty levels, a hike in auto sales reflects fall in poverty. Simple logic, indeed!
Another explanation can be this: a boom in car business creates jobs, and job creation is an important instrument of income generation and thus poverty alleviation. The more vibrant the auto business, the larger the number of jobs created and the greater the number of people who cross the poverty line. Again, simple logic.
Henceforth, we have an excellent indicator of the changes in the poverty index: variation in the trade volume of autos and other expensive consumer goods. If the sale of such goods is going up, the poverty index is moving downwards, and vice versa.
Some may object that expensive products such as autos are bought only by the affluent section of society and that increase in auto sales, especially at a time when the economy is in a crunch, in no way indicates that the menace called poverty is on the wane. Rather, it may be an indicator of widening income disparity.