The 4th Bangladesh Economics Summit (BES), organized by the Economics Study Center (ESC), DU, was held virtually from 24th February 2022 to 3rd March 2022, exploring this year's theme, "Economics of Change: Developing in a Dynamic World." The summit, which acts both as a forum for students to apply their theoretical knowledge in economics and a platform for the dialogue between students and experts, comprised public lectures, multiple heavy-weight panel discussions, policy debate, international research paper presentations, essay and policymaking competitions, and a special message from Professor Nurul Islam, Deputy Chairman of the first Planning Commission of Bangladesh in the closing session. In consideration of the ongoing pandemic, the summit was hosted virtually.
BES began with a public lecture by Professor Wahiduddin Mahmud, Chairman of the Economics Research Group, titled "Economics Crossing Boundaries: Possibilities and Constraints." What are the limitations of economic models in describing or explaining economic phenomena in real life? In the session inaugurated by ESC President Namira Shameem and moderated by Dr. Atonu Rabbani, the Mushtaque Chowdhury Professor of Health and Poverty at the BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, Professor Mahmud tried to explore and answer the aforementioned question along with many others.
Notably, Professor Mahmud highlighted the importance of fusing both moral philosophy and economics to address the limitations of traditional economics in dealing with widespread inequality in the world as it is hard to quantify fairness in the latter. For example, he added, "If a rich man employs a poor man to work 12-hours a day in exchange for food and shelter, is that fair? Even if both parties are better off from the interaction, one party is clearly benefiting more than the other".
On the second day of the summit, the final round for the BES's flagship policymaking competition, Speakonomics 4.0 was held where aspiring policy enthusiasts identified some of the reasons behind intergenerational poverty and suggested their unique solutions to overcome it. While numerous teams submitted their presentations in the preliminary round of the event, only six teams got selected for the final round, including teams from BUP, KUET, IUT, and DU.
The esteemed adjudicators for the final round were Nusrat Jahan, Head of Business Development and Knowledge Management, BIGD, Adnan M.S. Fakir, Lecturer, Economics, University of Sussex, and Mehzabeen Ahmad, Research Consultant, WB who shared their insights on the identified problems and addressed the participants about some of the limitations of their given solutions. Later, during the session of the summit on March 3, Team Kautilya and Team The Incredibles were declared champions to and runner-ups respectively, by Dr. Rumana Huque, Professor of the Department of Economics, DU.
On the third day of the 4th Bangladesh Economics Summit, a panel discussion was held on "Digital Promise and the Role of Governance" chaired by Dr. Shahadat Hossain Siddique, Professor, Department of Economics, DU, who opened the session by describing the premise of the discussion and giving an overview of the digital economy in Bangladesh.
The distinguished panelists for this session were Professor Mushtaq Khan from SOAS, University of London, and Mehnaz Rabbani, Head of Operations & Strategic Engagement and Partnership, BIGD. While Professor Khan stated that digitization enhances transparency but not necessarily accountability, Rabbani emphasized gender disparities in digitalization citing the difficulties faced by female online company owners in registering and accessing financial services.
Dr. Siddique summarised the session by pointing out that Bangladesh is in a transition phase and the only way to embed the system was to "learn by doing," to which Professor Mushtaq Khan has added that we have to focus on improving governance and separate politics and governance from the question of digitalization.
On day four of the BES, the summit's second panel discussion on "New normal in South Asia: Structural changes and social reforms" moderated by Dr. Selim Raihan, Professor of Economics at the University of Dhaka, explored how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will impact the South Asian economy moving forward.
Here, distinguished panelists, Dr. Farida C Khan, Professor of Economics at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs; Dr. Mihir Pandey, Associate Professor of Economics at the Ramjas College, University of Delhi; and Dr. S.M. Turab Hussain, Associate Professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, discussed the lockdown realities of their respective countries.
Specifically, Dr. Khan highlighted the pre-COVID problems like poverty, gender disparity, land scarcity, export dependency, youth unemployment, etc., and how they became more intense during the pandemic and contributed to economic shifts. Similarly, Dr. Pandey concurred with Dr. Khan and added how India also suffered badly during the pandemic due to a lack of proper preparation. Dr. Turab Hussain, on the other hand, talked about the shift in people's lifestyles due to the massive digitalization spurred by the pandemic.
On the 28th of February, an international research paper presentation session was hosted by the ESC where young student researchers from four South-Asian countries had the opportunity to present the key findings from their research papers that had been published in the BSDED Volume IV, to the session's Special Guest, Dr. Rizwanul Islam, former Special Adviser, Employment Sector, International Labour Office, Geneva, and the Session Chair, Dr. Sayema Haque Bidisha, Professor, Department of Economics, DU.
The students presented papers on a diverse range of topics including educational inequality in Sri Lanka, permanent income hypothesis in Bangladesh, and effect of FDI on migration, and received valuable feedback on their papers from the experts.
The final panel discussion session for the BES was held on the sixth day of the summit on "Reimagining rural-urban spaces and sustainable cities" chaired by Dr. Firdousi Naher, Professor, Department of Economics, DU. Additionally, Dr. Mohammad Saidur Rahman, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Faculty of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Bangladesh Agricultural University, Dr. Nawshad Ahmed, economist, urban planner, and former UN official, and Ms. Farah Kabir, Country Director, ActionAid Bangladesh, were the panelists for the session.
The panelists discussed a wide array of issues including the problems associated with rapid urbanization including inequality, poor living conditions in slums, the lack of green spaces in the city, etc. To summarize the discussion, Dr. Naher mentioned that we should think about building smart cities and that we need champions who can think outside the box and radically change the system.
On the seventh day of the BES, a policy debate on "This Parliament demands nationalization of mega-corporations" was hosted by the ESC where DU professors (for nationalization) faced off against students from the Department of Economics, DU (against nationalization).
In a session that was moderated by Dr. M.M Akash, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Economics, DU, the teachers' team comprised Economics Professor Dr. AKM Ghulam Hussein, International Relations Professor Dr. Mohammad Tanzimuddin Khan, and Mass Communication and Journalism Professor Dr. Kaberi Gayen while the students' team comprised Lubaba Mahjabin Prima, Sheikh Rafi Ahmed, and Muktasid Mohammad Rafiul Islam.
While both sides put up compelling arguments and rebuttals supported by facts and logic, the moderator concluded that the effective nationalization of mega corporations depended on the type of government a country has as a democratic one can redistribute wealth while a corrupt one can use nationalization as a tool to consolidate wealth and power.
On the last day of the summit, a closing session was held by the ESC titled, "Luminaries of Economics: Tales of the Past and Hopes for the Future" where prominent economists across multiple generations of Bangladesh reminisced about the past and shared hopeful messages for the future.
The closing session chaired by Professor Dr. M.M. Akash, Chairman, Department of Economics, DU, went beyond the formal setting of conversation and flowed candidly among the special guests - Dr. Sajjad Zohir, Executive Director, Economic Research Group, Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow, CPD; led by Dr. Syed Akhtar Mahmood, Former Lead Private Sector Specialist, WB. M. Sayeduzzaman, Member, CPD Board of Trustees and Former Minister of Finance, Government of Bangladesh, was also present at the session.
The highlight of the session was a special message for the audiences conveyed by Professor Dr. Nurul Islam who shared how he accidentally ended up being an economist, how the 6-point movement was adopted through the findings from the Two Economies Thesis proposed by the economists back then and how advancements were made in the newly independent Bangladesh.
Later, the esteemed panelists discussed diverse topics ranging from the practice of different schools of economic thoughts and significant economic periods in Bangladesh to the practice of economics in policymaking and university curriculum.
Finally, Dr. Rumana Huque provided the vote of thanks and announced the winners of the BES competition Speakonomics 4.0 and the essay competition on "Restoring Planetary Health for More Resilient Economies" with Shadique Mahbub Islam winning the latter.