A HUMAN-CENTRED ECONOMY Emmanuel Liche and Dominic Liche Does the current understanding of economics benefit in any

significant way the majority of the citizens of the country? How can we rate or judge the so many promises the current government has made to develop Zambia in a significant way? Is it even possible for a developing nation, such as Zambia, to address many of its economic and social challenges when resources are scarce? What is the determinant for a good economy – people or the system? These and many other questions about the relationship between the economy and the people has prompted us to share a few thoughts about an economy that is centred on the human person. An economy built by the people, to serve the people and enable them to live lives of fully human dignity. An economy that constantly ask whether economic policies and regulations benefit the people, and more especially, the most vulnerable in society. In the past five years, we have seen the face of Zambia changing. Before 2005, Zambia was heavily indebted (up to US$7.2 billion foreign debt), suffered from bad policies of Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that saw wage freezes and stagnancies in the education and health sectors, high inflation rates, high poverty levels, high borrowing interest rates by the banks and generally a very high cost of living. Now we are seeing that Zambia that has a new face – low inflation rates (as low as 6 percent in 2012), high Gross Domestic Products (close to 7 percent in 2012), lower borrowing rates from lending institutions especially banks (ranging from 11 to 17 percent), and increased foreign investments. But in this era of the often celebrated “economic boom” where people continue to struggle to come out of extreme poverty, there always seems to be those who take advantage of such progress for themselves. Although many policies (e.g., the national development plans, Vision 2030) and economic models have mushroomed in an attempt to see that people’s lives are uplifted, such polities and models have not yielded marked gains of success that directly benefit citizens. Current trends in the economy The trend in economic thinking is to look at policies and plans through the lens of a cost-benefit analysis and making decisions based on available revenue versus expenditure. In economic layperson’s language, decisions are made if the benefits far much outweigh the costs of the outcomes of that decision. Even when the benefits outweigh the costs, a second factor is to look at whether the revenue side would finance such a decision. This trend regards the economy in purely mathematical and logical terms without looking at non-quantifiable benefits to human persons in many decisions that are often avoided because they do not make “economic sense.” Decisions in the past that were thought to make economic sense include a liberalised and privatised economy, encouraging poor nations to borrow as much as they can even when debt servicing was unsustainable, structural adjustment programmes, wage freezers for civil servants in order to cut on government expenditure, and stagnation in spending on social sectors that are often seen as not bringing something back into the economy. But such decisions that seem to make economic sense have brought a lot of suffering to Zambians. The first example is that of privatisation of state-owned industries and mining

companies that saw many people without jobs due to downsizing, technological advancements, and the search for more competent people. Privatisation and a stress on private ownership (very popular in capitalist economies) saw people in rural areas loosing markets with a withdrawal of services (such as banks) from rural areas. The second example is that of small holder farmers mostly found in rural areas. They work hard to have increased yields (bumper harvests) to earn more money that they can use on their day to day needs. But in many cases (because of private markets), prices for crops are so low that they tend to fall back on middle-men to dictate prices that are well below the value of the crops. Even the government controlled markets have very low and sometimes unreasonable prices compared to the real value of the crops and the labour from the farmers. The prices of fertiliser, seeds and other inputs are very high compared to the buying prices of crops. The third example is about a failed education system that does not promote skills training and entrepreneurship that has seen unemployment levels on the rise. There are now many young graduates who after working tirelessly at school with exorbitant school fees, end up languishing in town streets looking for employment which they might not get because most employers require experience. In addition, there are too many people chasing too few jobs. Building blocks for a good economy The first block for a good economy is to accept the fact that resources will always be scarce and that this defence is not enough justification to deny citizens human development. There is no nation in the world where resources are readily available and can address all the sectors of human life. What matters in any nation is how the scarce resources are used, which areas are prioritised, and having a clear plan how resources will be utilised in the short term and in the long term. We think that in developing nations where there are myriad of needs chasing few meagre resources, a prioritised targeted budgeting is necessary. Instead of thin-spreading resources to all the sectors every year, it could very well mean that in a five year plan, each year, a huge budget goes to address a particular area. For example, the first year could be for building roads, the second year could be for building schools especially in rural areas, the third for building clinics and so on. Even though done in a very unplanned and badly motivated way, the MMD-led government showed the nation that in the short term, it is possible to apply resources to projects that in the past have taken years to complete. The second block is to cut all unnecessary expenditure. Although in other articles, we have argued that such expenditure is in all circles including at personal level, we will restrict our comment on government expenditure. There is a lot of wastage of national resources in government departments. The waste include expenditure on state dinners, state travels (even though we recognise a significant decrease in this area with the PF-led government), government department workshops that make no sense (e.g., workshops on HIV awareness taking place in plush hotels and lodges when this can easily be done at workplaces), expenditures on special days (e.g., Malaria Day, Labour Day, Youth Day) and there are so many of these days to be commemorated in a year, and expenditure on unplanned activities (spending outside the initial national budget), The third building block is to look at social sectors as an important investment in the major driver of the economy, the human person. Spending on education, health, social security,

guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of citizens is an investment that yields much more profit than spending on the so-called economic sectors of mining, agriculture, and industry. Whilst these economic sectors yield short term profits, investing in the social sector has both short and long term profits. The economic sectors yield profits because the drivers of the economy, the human person, is knowledgeable, healthy, has access to her basic needs. We therefore regard as myth and bad economic practice to prioritise expenditure on economic sectors and downplay expenditure on social sectors. It is sad that the current trends in economics tend to instil a belief in the minds of our policy-makers that once you concentrate on sectors (e.g., mines, manufacturing companies and tourism) that produce and make profit and contribute to high gross domestic products (GDPs) then the country would develop. Human beings, who ought to be the owners of such economic policies, are only thought of in terms of the now discredited “trickle down” effect (because in many nations such an effect rarely happens on a broad scale). Even when social sectors are downplayed, the fact is that there cannot be development when people are hungry, sick, uneducated, and lacking in basic and social needs. Human-centred economics It is a reflection of these building blocks and a rich history of failed economic policies that we see one major problem, that has also been highlighted by other writers, the omission of the human person as being at the centre of the economy. The precondition for any economic policy or theory should be asking the following questions: How would such a policy or theory benefit the people involved? How will the people, especially those who are most vulnerable, benefit from such a decision? The current disrespect of human rights in areas such as education, health, food, or even the abuse of the rights to free trial and to life through the derogations to these rights, not only show that there are problems in the current social order but that maybe our policies and economic theories may not be specifically and directly directed to the wellbeing of all Zambians especially the poor. We consider good economics and mature development processes as those that raise the standards and dignity of all the people. In the development process, human dignity and the common good should never be compromised. There is need to stop taking a limited view of economics under current models and start looking at the broader view that places human beings at the centre. We should keep an eye on the most vulnerable in our society when making economic policy decisions. Our measure of development should be when we have many more people who were poor coming out of poverty. Conclusion The goal of the economy should be human flourishing. If problems of poverty, unemployment, lack of access to services and markets, non-enjoyment of all recognised basic human rights, unfair treatment especially of the high density urban and rural populations, we will continue having an economy that is the master of human beings when it is the human person that should be the master of the economy. The problem of ignoring the many problems that people face, especially the poor and concentrating only on wealth creation is that this results in a world in which the rich who can afford a good life begin thinking that poverty does not even exist around them and that those that are poor are either lazy or not using all their have to full potential.

Dr. Emmanuel Liche is a junior medical officer at Kitwe Central Hospital. emmanuelliche@yahoo.com Dominic Liche is a Lecturer at the University of Zambia. lichedominic@zambia.co.zm