WHAT MATTERS MOST: Face reality
There is no doubt that the year 2011 will be very challenging for us.
It is in every sense the beginning of a new decade in which there is a need to understand the new dimensions of the economy, the society and the politics that are very much in evidence to the most denying of us.
Since Independence, Barbados’ major economic challenges have all come at the beginning of or within the first half of the decade – in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s.
The last crisis was followed by the longest stretch of economic growth and prosperity in the post-1966 period. In each case the character of the crisis differed but the response always called for fiscal adjustment.
In 1974, in response to the country’s first real fiscal problems, there was the introduction of the ill-conceived five per cent sales tax that was quickly abolished.
The next two crises were more severe and received progressively better and bitter prescriptions to match the diagnoses.
The social ills confronting the country in the post-Independence era have not been as obvious, but the 1970s witnessed the evidence of growing tourism on the social fabric; and this was compounded by the dampening of expectations following on the decade of the 1960s.
The political difficulties emerged in the mid-1980s with the lost of two formidable political architects. The evidence of one loss in particular was reflected in the fallout with leadership that occurred in the Democratic Labour Party in the early 1990s; an episode from which the party has not yet fully recovered.
In each of its dimensions, the country is more challenged than at any stage in its recent history. For the first time, Government is being called upon to rescue itself from a bout of severe pneumonia; on previous occasions it was a case of the cold with a fever.
The social ills had never been accompanied by half of the population between the ages of 15 and 25 on an idle journey. It is not apparent to but a few that although there are more young men than women in Barbados, the enrolment of men in tertiary institutions is one-quarter that of women.
It is a travesty for a country that requires every available ounce of human capital to help win the battle for prosperity up ahead.
Unless we are in denial, the political cast does not engender an atmosphere of hope, as the desire to dissect the country’s journey into component parts speaks to the mindset. Such a separation is without recognition among post-colonial Caribbean thinkers and leaders.
The desire to separate the society from the economy is rooted in falsehood, or better still is an admission of the obvious weaknesses in the Cabinet with respect to the management of the economy.
No lamentation about the economics profession is going to serve the Cabinet any good. It is time to come to grips with the reality that an understanding of economics is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for managing an economy, especially the small open economies in the region.
It is not good enough to allow the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to steer the wheels of Government and to give in to the book-keeping principles so typical of the institution and so evident in the management of the economy since 2008.
Clyde Mascoll is a professional economist and former Government minister in the last Barbados Labour Party administration.