The role of economists


In The Nation of Monday July 20 2015, two eminent personalities had their views quoted about economists and politicians. Professor Ben Kaluwa is reported to have denounced presidents who pretended to know economics instead of leaving economic matters to experts. Dr Naomi Ngwira of the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) pointed out that not just politicians, but economists had to be blamed for the poor performance of the Malawi economy.

If economists are going to play an effective role in this country and in other African countries they must take a leaf out of Dale Carnegies book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The Central Bookshop in Blantyre stocks this book from time to time. You may have the skills, the expertise and the learning alright, but be tactful when talking to people in high places.

The first president of Malawi, NgwaziDr Hastings Kamuzu Banda employed an economic advisor Kenneth Baldwin from University of Cambridge. He was a very able man. Baldwin was the first manager of the Malawi Development Corporation (MDC). At joint ministerial meetings, which I attended, he spoke with rare expertise and clarity. President Banda used to summon him time to time again, but then suddenly we heard Baldwin had been expelled. What happened? Those were not the days of transparency.

But at one time Dr Banda said economics was nothing but, advanced civics. As far as I know, he never employed another economic advisor, and none of those he employed as governors of the Reserve Bank was a professional economist.

Would the use of more economists have made a difference to the recent economic history of Malawi? A good deal would have depended on the type of economists. Are we talking of those who have doctorate degrees in economics and professors of economics? These are indicators up to a point. Let us reflect on what the man the world during the 20th century considered the greatest economist since the days of Adam Smith, I am talking of John Maynard Keynes of Cambridge University. In an essay on life of Alfred Marshall, his former teacher, Keynes said inter alia: “The study of economics does not seem to require any specialist gifts of unusually high order. It is not intellectually regarded a very easy subject compared with higher branches of philosophy and pure science? Yet good or even competent economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject at which very few excel? The paradox finds its explanation perhaps in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. He must be a mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher in some degree. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purpose of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood as aloof and incorruptible as an artist yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.”

If an adequate supply of economists was all that was required for a country to prosper, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) would always be in the lead. They have produced most of the world’s greatest economists yet 20 years after World War II, it was Japan whose exports were dominant in world markets. Now China is on the road to becoming the world’s largest economy displacing the US.

It requires a convergence of experts and talents in various fields of life for a country to make headway economically. For Malawi to forge ahead and leapfrog those which it is trailing, we must be better organised for success.

In the field of marketing management, it is said that corporations in which every department is customer oriented do best. All those who work in production, sales, transport, personnel or engineering departments must have the customer in mind. The role of the chief executive of the corporations is to constantly monitor heads of department to this effect.

Whatever expertise economists dish out, it will only make sense if scientists invent or innovate products. There must be top notch research and development facilities. Imagine scientists found new uses of tobacco, what difference it would make. What if geologists discovered precious minerals that the world is looking for.

Economists are only a section of a battalion that is to conquer the poverty of Malawi. Without production, engineering, entrepreneurs, farmers, competent and honest administrators, whatever economists say will just evaporate into thin air. We must be organised for success. There must be institutions staffed by men and women of exceptional caliber, who will focus their thoughts ad energies on solving Malawi’s economic problems.


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