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Tell the people!


Shantal Munro Knight

Tell the people!

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Numbers have always intimidated me. From the period spanning my early childhood to my undergraduate studies I have always felt ill-equipped to deal with anything which involves numbers, equations and symbols.
I remember literally crying like a baby after my first micro-economics class at the University of the West Indies (UWI)?because I could not make sense of the gibberish (my interpretation) which was presented. Because of this, I have always been in awe of people who could interpret the gibberish and confidently speak to issues of economics, finance and accounts. I felt that somehow God had given them some extra power that people like me were not worthy enough to have.
That is, until I encountered statistics, which used to be one of the most dreaded courses at Cave Hill. I remember feeling a sense of impending doom that I would never escape UWI because I could never pass statistics. But I did – and I did not just pass either. I got a very high grade because I encountered a lecturer who was good enough to teach the course in a simple way that made sense. That was a major light bulb moment I have carried with me ever since.
While it is true that we all have diverse capacities based on how God has made us, I truly believe that the majority of people can understand most things if they are explained properly.
I really do not understand how governments that boast of how highly educated the population is, can have no qualms about treating us like nincompoops who must depend on their eternal wisdom when it comes to issues of the economy.
It befuddles me why having a discussion on the state of the economy and what we need to fix it often amounts to political platitudes and empty reassurances or disagreements about what the Government is doing or not doing.
The economy is not the preserve of the Social Partnership. What happens to this economy directly affects John Jones and Mary Smith in the street, so what is the problem with engaging them in an open and honest discussion on the fundamentals of what is wrong with this economy and how they can help to fix it?
If we lay a large part of the blame on consumer habits and recognize that we need people to alter how they spend and become more aware of how that spending is related to the health of the economy, why are we not telling them? Making banal comments every now and then about the need to grow kitchen gardens and reducing spending is not what I am talking about.        
In the same way that we have town hall meetings about every other thing under the sun, why are we not engaging this country in a discussion about the fact that our economic fortunes are unlikely to improve fundamentally unless we have a complete culture change that would help us to restructure and retool for the continuing recession?
Adjusting interest rates, enunciating budgetary measures and cutting spending here and there will only take us so far. Unless people understand why they must change or the importance of certain measures, they are unlikely to have any traction.
Regardless of the political rhetoric, the nature of our open economy means that unless things change worldwide, our recovery will continue to be delayed and our standard of living will be further impacted and that is a fact, whether it is painted blue or red.  
What is necessary is that we get people to prepare and that we begin to mobilize and energize an unaware population. The solutions relating to where we go from here can no longer be the preserve of an elite few; they must become owned by the entire population.
To continue to fail to capture the attention and efforts of John Jones and Mary Smith will be to reduce the available and necessary capacity for bringing this economy out of the situation it is in.
• Shantal Munro Knight is a development specialist and deputy coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre. Email [email protected]

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