The sane faction of the opponents of trade liberalization had organized a Citizen’s Commission to work up a report on what Sri Lanka’s national trade policy should be. But it was not a qualified or balanced Commission, with only one economist (even that, an ideological economist, as evidenced by the manner in which he introduced me) and one person with experience in international trade. Every single protectionist appears to have been invited to present their views before the Commission. I was preceded by one of the leaders of the anti-CEPA protests in 2010. There is value in these kinds of fact-gathering and report preparation activities outside government.
As part of the Inclusive Information Society research, we at LIRNEasia were in the process of interrogating the labor force and related data. Then there was this headline about there being no need for one million jobs when only 400,000 people were unemployed. Two days later, the op-ed refuting the absurdity of comparing one million over five years target with a static unemployment figure was published. As can be seen, having the data ready was extremely helpful for the quick response. If we are to escape from the middle-income trap and get established on a high-growth trajectory, it is imperative that all sectors of society understand the importance of creating jobs with the characteristics demanded by our young people and by the women who are sitting out the job market.
I was invited to speak on “Political Changes in Asia: Are We Better or Worse Off?” at the Asia Liberty Forum in Kuala Lumpur. Since Asia is a pretty big place and people understand principles better when presented in terms of concrete examples, I decided to focus, first on Sri Lanka, and then on trade policy debates. The presentation is here. The key point I wanted to get across was that informed citizens and policy intellectuals have a responsibility to engage in policy reform; it is not enough to sit back and expect the political leadership to drive the reforms alone.