Those who scoured newspapers and remained glued to TV screens throughout the year that just passed would recall that most of the discussions and headlines didn’t have much to do with the public welfare. Most discussions pertained to point-scoring between the ruling party and the opposition. For the public, it meant living in interesting times, which in traditional Chinese means a curse. Does the new year show any promise for the better or the worse? If we divide society into three classes, the upper class, the middle class, and the downtrodden, it would be easy to understand the priorities of each class. The high-profile types who make news belong to the upper class and day-to-day sustenance have never been their problem. The middle class has to maintain the façade of social respectability in the society; it’s hard to put in maintaining its budget. The lower class is treated as the beasts of burden, as usual. Sharp dichotomy afflicts our society. The ruling class preaches austerity and claims to sympathise with the impoverished and dispossessed but lives in the world of luxury unimagined by the hoi polloi. Many among this class live on public taxes and brazenly flaunt their lifestyle. How one wishes the governors’ mansions and presidency were open to public visits, as the white house in the US. But weren’t these palatial buildings supposed to convert into universities and other educational institutions in Naya Pakistan? Our economy remains hostage to IMF loans, despite being an agricultural country and having vast mineral resources worth billions. In another world, however, the priorities seem quite the opposite, as portrayed by a short video clip when the French President visited Denmark for the first time. The Danish premier received the French president on his maiden visit to his country. Both greeted each other warmly and got on their bicycles and pedalled away together while the traffic on the road continued unhindered. No road blockades and no security protocols unlike in the utopian state of Medina. What stuff were the guys on the bikes made of? However, we must determine the main causes of public disillusionment with the system, called democracy. Why are the masses restive and seem deeply concerned about what they perceive as an uncertain future for them? Psychologists contend that uncertainty about the future saps the mental and physical abilities of individuals. Reportedly, 65 % of the country’s population is below the age of 30. A large number of them attended one or the other university but they remain unemployed because of a lack of job opportunities. Anxiety among the qualified yet jobless youth and their families is but natural. Now Rs360 billion mini-budget hangs over the public as a proverbial sword of Damocles, especially for the middle class and more so for the poor layer of the society whose daily occupation is to stay alive. Once passed, it would hit the public like a bolt from the blue. About 150 items will be imposed with a 17% general sales tax, making these items much more expensive and casting an indirect impact on innumerable other items used by the public. Interestingly, 17% GST is proposed to be levied on the raw materials for preparations for infant milk, which will collect Rs9 billion and other preparations for infants will generate Rs 6 billion, totalling Rs 15 billion, according to finance ministry sources. Henceforth, even the infants will be brought up in interesting times! Implementing the mini-budget, which the finance minister claims will not trigger inflation, is one of the conditions of the IMF to grant the loan. It’s about time for serious introspection at the national level, especially by those who control the levers of power to determine what has driven us to such a deplorable financial state. Our economy remains hostage to IMF loans, despite being an agricultural country and having vast mineral resources worth billions – Balochistan – untapped. What essentially ails our financial system is that we live beyond our means. The bureaucratic setups are too big for the economy to support hence even the bare bones have to be taxed. Most worrying however is that our present state of subjugation to IMF dictates will adversely affect the CPEC, the economic game-changer. Clearly, the US foreign policy is to stymie the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative in the region. The dream of economic revival in our overpopulated country will most likely remain a dream. We are only to blame ourselves for it. Interesting times indeed! The writer is a Lahore-based columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.