August 25, 2015

Laudable acts of the government

Abdülkadir Civan

Government officials can have various impacts on the welfare of societies at different times.

The needs of societies and the appropriate responses in the short, medium and long run can be very different. Sometimes they can be at odds with each other, i.e., what is good in the short run can be very bad in the long run. Politicians are usually criticized because they concentrate on the short-term rather than on the medium or long-term needs of societies because of reelection concerns. However, I want to express my appreciation for the government officials' concentration and determination on the long -- indeed very long -- term needs of society.

In the short term, there might be several issues that need to be taken care of. For example, fundamental macroeconomic indicators such as unemployment, growth and the current account deficit (CAD) can be bad and getting worse. The value of the local currency might have declined by 30 percent in the last several months and trade might be deteriorating, even with the significant depreciation of the currency. It is not only foreign direct investment (FDI) but also domestic investment levels that might be decreasing at an alarming rate. The reserves of the central bank may be depleting. Consumer confidence might have fallen to record lows; at the same time, strangely, savings might not be increasing. Most governments in the world put most of their energies into solving these urgent problems. They utilize every tool they have to fight these serious problems. But I applaud our government officials since they are not hung up on these short-term problems and do not exert much of their energies on these.

In the medium term, there might be some structural problems in the economy leading to weak growth. The economy might be fluctuating wildly -- some years growing at a rate of 10 percent, in other years contracting by 4 percent. The labor market might not be functioning properly; it might be providing the worst of both worlds, i.e., no social protection for workers and no flexibility for employers. Financial markets may not be playing their proper roles. Financial institutions might not be providing funds for investors for projects with a high social rate of return. They might just be funding the government deficit or construction projects with dubious social returns, if at all. There may not be competition between private companies because what matters in markets is not who can produce the best output at the lowest cost, but who can get the most favorable treatment by the government. Thus, there may not be efficiency in either the short run or in the long run. Usually government officials work hard to eliminate these structural problems, expending most of their resources to implement structural reforms. But not the Turkish government, so I applaud them because it does not waste its precious energy on these medium-term issues.

In the long run, what matters most is human capital. Individuals with high levels of human capital conduct their jobs in the most efficient manner. On top of that, they improve productivity by innovating. It is also possible for high productivity individuals to be frustrated with the political, social, and economic situation in the country and they thus migrate to other developed countries. However, what matters in the very long run is the human capital level of future generations.

What should we do to make sure that next generation has the highest level of human capital? Obviously by making sure that schools are of the highest quality as possible. In fact the government has been working very hard on inspecting mostly private schools in the last few months. Many private schools – inspired by the Hizmet movement -- including kindergartens were inspected rigorously by public officials. The government takes these inspections so seriously that SWAT teams accompany these public officials. According to leaked reports, some egregious violations of regulations have been detected in these kindergartens. Many trashcans are oval rather than rectangular. In some cases, the pictures of the founders of these private grade schools were not hung on the right walls so that students can admire them. According to leaked information, those private educational institutions will be punished severely; many of them might even be shut down. I am proud that our officials take education very seriously.

On a different note, the summer holidays of approximately 20 million students have been extended by two weeks by the government. Why? Because many hotels have lost money during the bad tourism season. Our officials decided that if holidays are extended by two weeks, hotel owners might make more money and at the same time, our pupils would have an additional two weeks to get ready for school.

One final note, one lawyer of the inspected (raided) schools in the east noted on Twitter that he had attempted to go to the school to help his client during the inspections but was unable to because all the roads to that area were blocked by Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) terrorists.

I admire my government because they put all of their efforts and resources on the very long run prospects of the country and do not dwell on the short and medium-term problems. I only hope that my lovely country can survive this existentialist threat in the short run.

Published on Today's Zaman, 25 August 2015, Tuesday