An interview with Saeed Shirkavand
Saeed Shirkavand is an economist and faculty member at University of Tehran, assuming various executive roles in previous governments as well as the current administration. He believes that in addition to an organized and disciplined relationship between government and academics, there have been collaborations in various governments. He emphasized the crucial importance of such collaboration.
Saeed Shirkavand is an economist and faculty member at University of Tehran, assuming various executive roles in previous governments as well as the current administration. He believes that in addition to an organized and disciplined relationship between government and academics, there have been collaborations in various governments. He emphasized the crucial importance of such collaboration. According to him, such meetings provide the academics with the chance to learn about the economic problems and put forward solutions. He said that the recent meeting with economists made it possible for them to face the realities and obstacles and provide solutions accordingly. He added that the exchange of information would build a consensus among them.
In your opinion which Iranian government after the revolution had the most extensive collaboration with economists and then implemented the provided solutions most effectively?
Generally speaking, after the Islamic Revolution academics have always had government executive roles at different time periods and at different levels. It happened in Mr. Moussavi, Mr. Hashemi, Mr. Khatami and Mr. Ahmadinejad's tenure and the relation with academics was never cut off. From a different point of view, in my assumption, a systematic and well-organized government- academics relation was never established throughout these years, of course in some administrations there were stronger bonds but as I just mentioned members of the academic community were not alongside the governments as a research and strategic planning institution.
As far as I am concerned, during Mr. Khatami's tenure (reformists era) some progress was made in government-academics collaboration, in this regard, a think-tank was established to facilitate the interaction between scientists and the government officials. I would say that Mr. Khatami's administration had a better economic performance comparing to other administrations. With the help of academics effective measures were taken in order to bring in legislation and make progress.
Hassan Rouhani's government is following the same path by inviting economists and holding talks. In my opinion this is a great start and the exchange of information would build consensus among them. I hope this mutual collaboration will continue to grow in the future. We can have some technical commissions to provide effective solutions. On the other hand the government would be able to explicitly express its concerns and issues.
What is the most effective way for this collaboration? Is it as you mentioned establishing a think tank?
Let me put it in this way; the lack of coordination in government executive branch makes it hard to provide a framework for government-academic collaboration. I think that "contingency management" would be the right approach towards it; of course there might be an institution in the future.
Is it possible for the government to be open and collaborate with economists across the spectrum?
Firstly, the objectives must be defined. Consider a scenario in which the government tends to hold meetings in order to shed light on realities of the economic situation of the country and raise awareness among the academics. It's obvious in order to do that the government invites economists across the spectrum. Another scenario would be the application of theories in practice. In order to accomplish its goals, executing strategies and delivering on promises to nation, the government needs to collaborate with pro-government economists rather than wasting its time and energy arguing with critics.
At the outset of Mr. Ahmadinejad's tenure, the administration had good relations with critics and there were joint meetings in Iranian year of 1385(2006) and 1386(2007). After that the relation soured and was limited to correspondence, and finally terminated. According to you, there are constraints on government-critics relations. What's your overall assessment? How can the government meet their demands?
Actually it didn't occur in Mr. Ahmadinejad's tenure. Serious concerns over the situation compelled the economists to write open letters to the government thus they were invited to a joint meeting to express their concerns and criticize the policies. Experts embraced the invitation for direct talks although not expecting a turnaround.
As I said there has always been sort of collaboration between the government and academics but not systematically. Such meetings is the starting point, academics will face the realities. In the next step, academics and experts put forward proper solutions. In my assumption, the 11th administration needs to maintain this relation for its own benefit. Government - academics relation is of crucial importance and I hope Mr. Rouhani's administration continues the practice.
You emphasized the importance of continuing the collaboration. Don't you think the bitter experience with the previous administration may repeat?
Government - academics' collaboration did not fit in the intellectual framework of the 9th and 10th government. However, I see the potential in Mr. Rouhani's administration to establish a long-lasting and thriving relation with academics.
Looking at the guest list of the meeting with the vice-president, they're mostly pro-government …
There were also other names on the list that they couldn't make it to attend the meeting. The important point is the objective of the government. In my opinion, the government tends to familiarize the academics with the realities of Iran's economy so that experts put forward solutions accordingly. On the other hand, the government listens to demands and expectations of the society. Ties could be expanded and it would be possible for the government to invite critics as well. Moreover, the government needs to establish an economic pro-government think-tank. Let me say that again, First of all the government objectives must be defined.
Sometimes proven scientific facts don't work with Iran's economy for instance increase in currency exchange rate didn't lead to jump in exports. With regard to the unique system of our economy do you think economists, alone, can help with its revival single-handedly?
No one expects that. Lots of the current issues in our economy are mainly rooted in other areas but are manifested through economic indexes. I mean it's not possible to tackle the issues separately. Economy, culture, foreign policy and social issues are all inter-related. Economists can't work single-handedly however, comprehensive talks with government officials and exchange of information is of great help to the government in order to resolve the issues.
To sum up, according to what you just said, can academics in general and not only economists attend the meetings with government official?
Surely, but the economists' presence is highly effective. It helps them to figure out the structure of Iran's economy and the outside factors.