IF THURSDAY’S Central Bank’s lunchtime lecture by Sir Courtney Blackman achieved one thing, it was to confirm that the global economic malaise had resulted in an ideological crisis for the defenders of the old order.
This assertion is borne out by two statements from the former Governor. The first was his apology for his earlier single-minded support for free market economics. The second was his agreement with Paul Krugman that the discipline of economics itself had been thrown into crisis by the present global recession.
The plus side to this is that confession is good for the soul and once the main ideologues admit to ideological failure, the ground immediately opens up to fresh thinking and new ideas. You cannot put new wine into old wineskins.
Also positive is that the general acceptance of the collapse of the old order has led to a debate in Barbados about the need for restructuring the economy. What is often forgotten, however, as suggested to me by a senior colleague, was that the efforts at deepening the regional integration movement were precisely the kind of restructuring that was being taken and should have been taken in a context where
it was increasingly being realised that new global realities were impacting upon the Barbadian economy.
To be fair to the Barbadian and Caribbean leaders from the Time for Action report since the mid-1990s onwards, the main rationale presented for creating the CSME was the inescapable reality of globalization which imposed a regional imperative. Indeed, it had become almost a bore to listen to Owen Arthur link his call for regionalism to this or that pending new trade arrangement emerging out
of the advanced North. Interestingly, Sir Courtney mentioned nothing of regionalism in his talk on “economic strategies in a time of crisis”.
The fact is, unless there is a discovery of oil, or the creation of new industries not yet seen, the current productive base of Barbados has reached near exhaustion. The scientific modernization of agriculture and the move to ethanol production can offer only limited reprieve.
So, too, would be the construction of off-shore islands to extend the tourism product.
Economists who have highly developed noses for sniffing out “efficiency” issues are often suspicious of politics since, in their view, it is in the realm of politics, particularly democratic politics, that efficiency deficits abound. On this occasion, their suspicions are justified. There was a strong case made for the restructuring of the Barbadian economy from a narrow local base to a regional one. The obvious necessity of such an imperative was destroyed by petty nationalism, which ignored economic necessity.
But not only politicians are to blame. Civil society has been lukewarm to the project.
As the crisis deepens, the regional imperative must re-emerge. We either integrate or we perish. Forward Ever, Backward Never!
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specializing in analysis of regional affairs.
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