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The new entrepreneur

Tennyson Joseph

The new entrepreneur

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SINCE THE ONSET of the Great Recession there has been no shortage of diagnoses, blame and scapegoated groups identified as contributing to the economic crisis by acts of commission or omission.  
The University of the West Indies has been blamed for not producing new ideas; governments for failing to take harsh but necessary measures; consumers for not imposing self-restraint; and, of course, everybody’s favourite bête noire – the workers – for not raising their productivity.  
Clearly reflective of the capacity of the powerful to determine the content of public discourse, commentators have been reluctant to include the one group which should never escape scrutiny where discussions of our economic fortunes are concerned – the owners of capital.
It was for this reason therefore that, in last week’s article, I sought to bring some balance to the debate by turning the lens on the historical and cultural entrepreneurial limitations of the regional private sector and to discuss specifically their failure to show leadership in adjusting to new productive sectors.
In particular I highlighted their reluctance to invest in sports and cultural industries, despite our significant comparative advantage in these spheres.
While several local and regional technocrats and members of the diaspora wrote to express gratitude for the contribution to the discussion on the post-crisis economy, needless to say, the reaction of some sections of the Caribbean private sector was decidedly hostile.  
What was baffling in their hostility was the unstated assumption that despite the reality of the failing Caribbean economies, the private sector is near perfect and above criticism and that if an adjustment has to be made, it should begin elsewhere.
However, implicit in the notion of an economic crisis is the expectation that old ruling classes will fade and new ones will emerge. Otherwise the crisis persists.  
That it took nearly 100 years after the collapse of the slave plantation for the ruling class to transform itself from a plantocracy to a commercial bourgeoisie summarizes the stone-footed nature of Caribbean business interests, and the deeply entrenched nature of business cultural attitudes. Similar inertia and indignant self-righteousness persist in this current round of qualitative shift in our political economy.  
Given that the crisis is not episodic but structural, there can be no “new economy” without a “new entrepreneur”.  
The new entrepreneur carries none of the unnecessary historical baggage which induces blockage with identifying in the creativity of the Caribbean people. He does not reward successful Caribbean artistes and athletes with “gifts” of charity, but fosters genuine business relationships on the basis of equal partnership.  
Like the Indian Premier League Bollywood crowd, he will emerge out of individuals who, having accumulated wealth from sport and culture, are unafraid to reinvest in those industries.
Our policymakers must facilitate the new, since new wine cannot be poured into old wineskins. Let the debate on our economic futures continue.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]