WHAT MATTERS MOST: If you fail to prepare . . .
If there is one thing that the economic mess of the past four years has reinforced, it is that there are horses for courses. In the animal kingdom, the pedigree of the horse is determined by origin of birth. In our world, it ought to be determined by preparation. But, not surprisingly, the two can be become blurred.
No matter what the pedigree, there is no substitute for hard work.
The notion that a society can be built without working hard informed the magic that it can be built without an economy. This simple and unwise thinking has led to Barbados’ economic mess.
In my quest not to understate preparation, given my pedigree, I have been consuming books that I could not have enjoyed in my youth, yet I still do not read enough. There is a substantial difference between reading for examinations and reading for life. The latter is one of the few things that get better with age.
I have long regarded the appendix to the Theory Of Economic Growth, a book written by Arthur Lewis, as recommended reading for all. It is neither esoteric nor mathematical; it is simply applied common sense in answering the question: Is economic growth desirable?
Now that there is consensus over the state of the Barbados economy, even though the consensus is absent on the way forward especially among members of the Cabinet, there is no need to focus on numbers. The focus now has to be on saving the future.
In this regard, the debate has to start with some perspectives. There is no guarantee that increasing wealth in an economy is going to lead to more happiness, but there is a guarantee that decreasing wealth is going to bring more unhappiness. Barbados is at that stage of growing unhappiness.
Lewis argued that “the advantage of economic growth is not that wealth increases happiness, but that it increases the range of human choice”. The range of choice only increases if the human is able to participate in the increasing wealth. The notion that the government is the creator of wealth is false; that it is therefore the major and sometimes only participant is more false. Somehow, the current Government has effectively conveyed the falsehood.
As we write, a highly indebted Government is promising to find the finance for projects, even those that are in the domain of the private sector. Of course, there is a need for stimulus on the building side of Government spending, but there is certainly no need for the Government to become the provider of first resort in the area of financing to the private sector. There are horses for courses!
The Government becoming the employer of first resort is very much responsible for the country’s fiscal mess, which is now being partially addressed. The only thing that the government has to be the first provider for is security and yes, the provider of education and health. Saving the future has to revolve around saving our children.
Already our children’s future has been compromised with the policies to deny universal access to health and education. Unfortunately, while doing so, the Government has saddled them with the repayment of more debt, having increased the debt by more in the last five years than the previous administration did in 14 years. This is unforgivable, especially since there is nothing to show for it by way of investment in future economic growth and development.
There was a slogan in the past that the wealth of a nation is its health. When this is coupled with education being its major investment, it is clear to see why government after government in Barbados took pride in jealously guarding these two social provisions. This pride crumbled as the adage “horses for courses” became blurred in the political intercourse.
In the present circumstances, it is impossible to live without fear of what the future may bring. It is equally impossible to ask people to simply take life as it comes, dwelling on the pleasant rather than the unpleasant. The capacity to face an uncertain future is very much rooted in the inherited circumstances at birth and the preparation.
When all is said and done, the ability to cope is tied up in pedigree, not determined by birth but preparation. If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail. Since failure is not an option, be prepared.
Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy.