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EDITORIAL – Spreading the wealth

marciadottin, [email protected]

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Once again, as has so often happened in the past, the question of the distribution of wealth in our island has come under the microscope. The commentator on this occasion is none other than Mr Tennyson Beckles, an economist and former human resources manager, who was recently a guest lecturer at the Democratic Labour Party’s lunchtime Lecture Series.Mr Beckles remarked that “the majority of people in Barbados are black. The majority of the labour force is black. So why are the majority of entrepreneurs not black? I have to ask myself that question as a trained economist”.One need not be an entrepreneur to ask that question, although training as an economist or perhaps a sociologist might enable one to come up with an answer after proper research and analysis. Any such answer may suggest that there are more questions than answers, and that many of the answers might reside in our social and political history, issues of ethnicity, access to capital, as well as a certain attitude of personality which is risk averse and which may have been inculcated in us as a direct result of the said historical legacy.It does not necessarily follow that because the majority of people in a country is black, that one ought to find a majority of entrepreneurs of the same ethnicity. It may be a highly desirable objective, and may even be common policy between the alternating political rulers.Yet, a country dominated for 400 years by a political and social ideology which depersonalised the majority black ethnic population, which has now been legally free of those shackles for less than 200 years, but truly free for only 43 years; cannot expect that a majority of its black people will dominate the commercial and business elite in a single generation and one half. A generation being regarded as 30 years.It would have been unrealistic to expect the full potential of the black entrepreneurial class to have flowered before 1966, and one has to concede that considerable progress has been made since that time by Blacks who aspire to the commanding heights of the economy, with Blacks owning many of their own businesses or in many cases skilfully and successfully managing businesses on behalf of white or other entrepreneurs. Mr Beckles then makes the further point that many of the natural advantages which our black entrepreneurs enjoy are, as he put it, “abrogated by the reality of the disproportionate amount of accumulated surplus accruing to the white minority”. This assertion may be only partly true, but there can be no denying that at this time, we need to encourage and develop a culture of business risk and enterprise throughout the entire community.The wider availability of venture capital and easier conditions for borrowers of capital from commercial banks, as well as new methods for entrepreneurs to save their companies from the hands of creditors and receivers and managers when recessionary times occur are among the changes that must be made if we are to encourage many more people to engage in business so they too can accumulate accumulated surplus.In a democratic society which respects the rule of law we cannot adopt a Zimbabwean solution and appropriate the wealth earned by some of the minority population. But at the same time, Barbadian political administrations must continue to press forward with policies that encourage and establish as far as possible equality of opportunity, while encouraging the entry of all Barbadians to become more interested in starting their own businesses.Mr Beckles has raised an important question. Successful businesses, properly managed and ethically operated are at the core of a cohesive society in a well developed property owning democracy. We therefore encourage policymakers of all political organisations to develop and publicise their plans for the encouragement of an entrepreneurial culture.