The Heritage of Short-termism

By 2025 Bangladesh’s middle and affluent class is expected to triple to about 34 million[1], meaning that a great population of untapped consumers are on their way to become target for both local and international companies. The number indicates the immense rate of economic development that the country is experiencing. However as our favorite Spiderman quote reminds us, “With great power comes great responsibility”. Development is power, especially at the rate Bangladesh is progressing. Developing economies can experience power of development in two manners; nurtured development or chaotic development.

There can be no finer example than Singapore for nurtured development. With a tight control, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew transformed a third world colonial outpost into a global commerce, financial, and transportation hub in three decades. Introducing policies with pragmatic long-term social and economic measures, and governing principles of meritocracy and multiracialism, Mr. Lee nurtured Singapore’s development potential to bring out the best of the country. Notice that one of the traits that made Mr. Lee so successful was his far-sightedness. He had envisioned what he wanted Singapore to become in the far future and then followed it up with a detailed plan on how to achieve it. Today after all that struggle, Singapore holds the status quo of a developed nation.

Chaotic development, is when development is allowed to follow its own course and policies are tailored to the course we observe. A major drawback of such a bold step is the game of probability. Chances of success do exist; however, chances of failure or mediocrity is far greater. Furthermore no fine example exists in the world where an economy has transformed itself through the pursuit of chaotic development. A distinct reason, amongst many, behind the failure of chaotic development is short-termism. The concept of fulfilling short term objectives without realizing the consequences in the long run.

Short-termism is a common trait in both the political and business scene in Bangladesh. For somewhat reason it seems that we have inherited this trait as a part of our mindset. Hold any topic that involves planning, we will notice the significant lacking of long-termism in the process. Somehow Bangladeshis in general cannot seem to think beyond the short terms gains from any decision. Take for example the restaurant industry in Bangladesh, where it is usual to see restaurants open, make some quick money, and die down to its closure. The concept of making quick money has become prevalent amongst the restaurateurs of the country, leading to such a culture.

Unfortunately restaurants are not the only segment that has shown evidence of such nature. Numerous examples do exist but we will look into two that depicts the general mindset and a more institutionalized mindset. The stock market has left a scar for most “investors” in Bangladesh after the crash in 2011. What persists even today is a general perception amongst most “investors” in Bangladesh, that how the stock market is more about gambling rather than calculated measures. True, sophisticated investors and speculators have entered the market and certain precautions have been taken by the government, however the perception still exists in the mass.

The perception exists because most people still seek the benefits of short-termism. No, it’s not illegal or against development to reap benefits from speculations; however what we must remember is that most Bangladeshi’s do not speculate in a calculated manner. And that lacking of understanding of risk is what makes things even more problematic. The combination of short-termism and lack of knowledge makes this pool of gamblers a threat to not only themselves but also the progress of the development of the stock market. While this depicts the necessary change needed in individuals, most institutions are not far off.

Dhaka City is an example of how institutions fail to consider long term factors into their planning. With buildings and roads greatly outnumbered by the population, the current infrastructure of the city is already being stretched to a great extent. Problems of traffic jams, congestion, pollution, and overpopulation are all arising due to this lack of far-sightedness. The institutional planning did not envision the future we are having now nor did it anticipate it.

Short-termism arises greatly from the lack of analytical thinking. This absence of analytical skill may be perceived to be a side effect of poverty, age of the economy, or even development itself. But a root cause is the lack of quality education. At any level of education today, Bangladesh observes an absence of a curriculum that depends on analytical thinking, creativity, and at par with global standards. Even compared to neighboring countries like India, our curriculum system fails to compete with them in terms of quality.

Revamping the education system is not an easy task and not possible to do so overnight. However the change is necessary for our development to be sustainable. With the expanding middle class, the Bangladesh economy is observing an increase in purchasing power and development which needs to nurtured to provide future benefits. By taking a step by step approach, a more effective curriculum could be created. The focus of the education system has to change from achieving literacy to creating a conscious, analytical population.

Transforming the curriculum from a memorization based one to a conceptual one would allow students to think more analytically. Instead of occupying the thought process with unclear ideas, it should be used to understand the ideas and their impact. With a strong foundation in critical thinking, students would not only contribute to the development, but also stand as a more effective workforce. Bangladesh can learn from the education system of Singapore and other Tiger economies and create a modified system that serves our specific needs. Breaking down the implementation process in stages would increase adaptability and allow the system to ensure mistakes are quickly fixed. It is important that the nation can shape their development on their own, instead of allowing chaotic development to take lead.

[1] BCG – Bangladesh: The Surging Consumer Market Nobody Saw Coming


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