David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, was at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum a few days ago. Brooks discussed the way forward for the United States following the reelection of Barack Obama but one anecdote he mentioned struck me as instantly applicable to the present struggle Pakistan faces.
When Alexander Hamilton was 12 years old, his mother died in the bed next to him. His father had already deserted him and the death of his mother left him orphaned. Following his mother’s death, his uncle adopted him, only to die shortly after. He was then adopted by his grandparents, who also died. At 14, a young Hamilton had nothing. Over the next decade though, his fortunes changed. By 25, Hamilton was a notable war hero and the chief of staff to George Washington. By 35, he had authored the Federalist Papers and had established himself as a successful lawyer. By 40, Hamilton had retired as Treasury Secretary of the United States. His is a story of awesome social mobility. Through progressive industrial and social policies, he gave struggling boys and girls like him the chance to succeed. The system he designed became the hallmark of American progress in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Where social mobility and the ideal of the American Dream became the bedrock of the American superpower, similar social mobility can become the avenue for Pakistan’s global eminence. The following decades should be remembered as Pakistan’s equivalent to the Hamiltonian Age where social mobility is possible and probable. We need to become a country that provides its citizens with the tools and opportunities to survive in today’s globalized capitalist economy. A Hamiltonian Pakistan will be one in which basic necessities like food and water are no longer craved. A Hamiltonian Pakistan will provide universal education and healthcare. A Hamiltonian Pakistan will thrive on meritocracy by rewarding effort and creativity. Most importantly, a Hamiltonian Pakistan will elicit hope and not despair.
The ascent of a Hamiltonian Pakistan will require our focus and priority to be on improving economic conditions. As is the beauty of living in a democracy, the coming months will provide each of us with the opportunity to seek the economic development required for a climate of social mobility. With the recent progress in electoral transparency through the development of legitimate voter rolls, now more than ever the political process depends largely on us, the people of Pakistan. In developing nations like ours, public leadership and governance can have a direct and tangible impact on economic development. So, as election season heats up, we must look for candidates and parties that have the ability to serve in a manner that enables the necessary focus on economic development. It is a simple criteria, but one that will not fail us.
Progress is a structured process. One election will not transform our lives. But one election can certainly begin the process of transformation we eagerly seek. While we need to start with economic progress, there is additional progress Pakistan craves. What we must not forget though is that this additional progress – let us loosely refer to it as social progress – will follow economic progress. Selecting the better candidate in our constituency may feel minute in the greater context of the progress our country must make, but wholesale change is achieved with bits of progress on a broad scale. Social mobility will be the basis of tomorrow’s Pakistan. To achieve that tomorrow, we must vote intelligently today.
A version of this op-ed was published in the Express Tribune on Saturday, December 8, 2012: http://tribune.com.pk/story/476512/pakistans-hamiltonian-age/.