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North America 4

Fayyaz Baqir

April 11th, 2017

 

 

Queen’s was a site for popular forms of resistance also. Fall of 1981 started with a welcome party for newly arrived undergraduate students. I don’t remember whether this party was announced through the student's newspaper or word of mouth. The ‘Party’ was completely illegal, the sponsors (known or unknown) were warned of legal consequences but it turned out to be a roaring success. Let me mention three important things to set the context for the party; i) selling beer and alcoholic drinks is forbidden in ordinary grocery stores in Canada; these drinks can only be sold in designated stores; and cannot be sold without checking the age of purchaser through ID card ii) Consuming alcohol in open public spaces is also prohibited iii) It implies that partying in public where beer or other alcoholic drinks are sold and consumed is also illegal. That is what exactly happened in this party. Thousands of students came out on the streets of Queen’s; Kegs and cases of beer and other alcoholic drinks were available for purchase; loud music was playing on the streets, and the guests and hosts spent the night drinking and dancing. Kingston Police got worried as they heard about the party. They did not want rowdy students to disturb the peace of residents. They also wanted to prevent any damage to property and any emergency caused by overdrinking. As a precaution Police were deputed on entry and exit points of the university and Police patrolled the area. ‘The Party’ could not be stopped but some rowdy students and perhaps some sponsors were picked up by the Police and released after completing the due process of law. This was not a protest against any political policy but youth’s political statement of defiance against authority. This was done in the spirit of fun but it set the tone for student’s freedom of expression.

Resistance at academic level was not so much fun. There were all shades of critical opinion against conventional economic wisdom but Marxism was considered as a no-go area. On the one end of the spectrum was Professor Mohinder Chaudhry who very softly punctured the balloon of conventional development economics by narrating the tale of a small Indian farmer approached by an economist. The farmer was sitting under the warm winter sun and enjoying himself. The economist asked him, “Why are you sitting idle. Why don’t you go and work in the fields”. “What difference will it make?” asked the farmer. “you will have a much better crop and make more money”. “Then what”, asked the farmer. “Then you buy more land, work more hard, and make more money until you become a very big farmer”. What will that do? Well, said the economist, “then you will sit down and relax without worrying about the money”. “What am I doing now”, asked the farmer. This simple anecdote pointed to the core issue of economic theory, the place of value judgment in the scientific discipline of economics.  

 This question came up in crystal clear terms in our microeconomic theory class. The class was taught by a progressive professor, member of Canadian left-wing party NDP. At the outset, he said that there are two types of sciences, positive and normative. Positive science is science in the true sense because it only tells you what is. In contrast, normative science tells you what ought to be, and that is based on a value judgment. That is not the domain of science in the strict sense. He said that the basic difference between mainstream ‘Free Market’ economics and Marxist economics is this that the former is positive and latter is normative science. One curious student asked, “Is there no value judgment in free market economics. The professor replied, “There is only one value judgment, more of a good is good”. In simple language the more you accumulate, the better you are. It is amazing that the whole structure of conventional (in our language bourgeois) economics is built on this value judgment and it is still considered a positive science. In my Siraiki expression, even a blind person can see this reality, but a professor of economics cannot.

The most interesting encounter I had was in the economic history class. Our teacher presented a quantitative case study of colonial occupation in an island economy. I don’t remember the name of the island. The case showed that colonisation had no economic benefits for the Empire. The coloniser had to send more than it received from the said colony. Colonisation, therefore, had non-economic motives. It was very hard for me to swallow. However, seeing the perpetual dependence of Pakistan’s economy on foreign assistance, I wonder to what extent that model would explain the case of Pakistan. Despite the right to freedom of expression in the class I saw most of the economic theory as an exercise in elegance at the cost of relevance. However, I had the freedom to express and my professors had the freedom to ignore my views. I took up the question of irrelevant rigor of economic equations to my teacher of international economics Dan Usher. Dan was a very kind man and very affectionate to me. He at one time invited me for lunch to his place also. He told me frankly that there is no science possible without equations, so the challenge to conventional thinking also has to be in the form of equations. My point was that equations require reducing reality into one-dimensional relations and social reality is much more complex. It turned out to be a no-win situation for both of us.

My main interest was in Development Economics and that was the reason I had cited in my application for seeking admission at Queen’s.  I was lucky to have Professor Marvin McInnis as course instructor for this course.  For this course, I wrote a paper on the critique of A.G. Frank’s theory of “development of underdevelopment” as a critique of distortions in the global market not as a critique of the market as distorting economic mechanism as envisaged by Marx. The Professor was pleased with my paper but on the question of doing my PhD work on development economics, he told me, “Let me be very blunt. There is no interest in development economics in our department”. That meant that I had to set the sails and anchor at a new port. Going back under the rule of Marde Momin was not an option. So, after much research, I decided to go Moscow. Not Moscow in the Soviet Union, but Moscow, Idaho, USA.  

However, I had to clear my dues and I could not leave the university without clearing my payments. Chairman of the Graduate Studies Professor Frank Flatter was a great help in this regard. I shall narrate his unique solution for this problem in the coming post. Before that, I want to narrate a couple of events related to Pakistani community at Kingston. (to be continued) 

 

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