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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Then and now


Clyde Mascoll

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It may be argued that the period of most radical thinking in the Caribbean occurred in the 1960s when the more developed countries attained Independence and had to clearly define the role of the state. For the most part it was assumed that there was a natural correlation between Independence and greater national control over key sectors of the economies. The evidence has so far shown that such a strategy failed in Guyana, Jamaica and to a lesser extent Trinidad and Tobago.
The obsession at the time was over how to develop the economy within the context of national economic independence. There was obviously some confusion about political independence being accompanied immediately by economic independence. There was even greater obsession with the role of foreign private investment and the ownership of land by foreigners. These are legitimate obsessions that demanded realistic concessions.
The realism required a clinical view of the countries’ resources both human and non-human. In some quarters realism was clearly lacking. What was not lacking was the vision of the region’s greatest economist Arthur Lewis who in 1950 proposed that the West Indies create export-oriented manufacturing industries. This contrasted with the Moyne Commission, appointed by the British Government in 1938, which suggested that the West Indies should continue to specialise in primary agricultural export production.
But “it was fashionable those days in the region to decry the future Nobel Prize winner as ‘Afro-Saxon’, ‘neoclassical’, and ‘non-progressive’”. According to Sir Courtney Blackman, we have paid dearly for our neglect of his work and advice. Better words could not have been written!
Unfortunately the region, including Barbados, is once again at a critical historical junction where to remain silent is to court obvious neglect and to speak out is to receive a label.
To remain silent however leaves a vacuum that may be filled by monetary arrogance or fiscal magic.
Given the obvious fork in the road that we are at, I am enjoying re-reading the likes of Lloyd Best, George Beckford and William Demas on the one hand and Arthur Lewis and Eric St Cyr
on the other. So far it is clear that the issues which were being grappled with 50 years ago are still present.
The thing that transcended all of the development issues was the need for change. This was the thing common to both sets of thinkers; some believed in the “Caribbeanisation” of the economics agenda, while others recognised the globalisation of the agenda. Contrary to the thinking of some the two were never separate and distinct; but they both required change which is still in evidence today.      
Though my training is in economics, I am not lost on the need to change our values as the critical need going forward. Demas identified that “only a change of values could enable the people to accept a revised definition of development itself and reject the Madison Avenue [New York] definition of the ‘good life’”.
The parameters of development in which the debate was located have changed. The notion that the region is over-populated is now false and the rejection of foreign capital is no longer to be based on emotion. Venture capital remains scarce and appropriately trained labour is still elusive.
The two basic elements of production are not yet in abundance and may not be for a long time, unless we change our view of ourselves and by extension our world view. This has to start with our understanding of the role of the state which must reflect an appreciation of our size and our power as individual states.
Emotive responses to things which are fundamental to our initial existence and our eventual prosperity are no longer in order. Our responses “must be disciplined by analysis and rationality”.
Those who are happy with the status quo may not be around to witness the new areas of wealth that await a new and adventurous spirit.
The time is upon us!   
• Clyde Mascoll is a professional economist and a former Government minister in the last Barbados Labour Party administration.

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