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GUEST COLUMN: Economics training essential

Glyne Murray

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The belief that a people, country or region is different from the norm is a feeling that has characterised human societies throughout the course of history.
Labelled as “exceptionalism”, there is nothing inherently harmful with this concept of uniqueness which, when benignly harnessed, can contribute to positive growth and development.
But historically, immense harm has been done when this outlook has been combined with a superior attitude based on race, religion, geographical size, economic might, military prowess, cultural strength and dominance, or a toxic cocktail of some or all of these factors.
The results have been seen in the still ongoing ravages of crusades, jihads, colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism, or whatever terminology might be the current popular usage.
In the case of Barbadians, this perception of distinctiveness could be seen to be encased in the commonplace and somewhat irreverent popular declaration that “God is a Bajan”, with its implication that, come what may, our country and its fortunes will always fare well.
This is a mentality that has, among other things, been conditioned by the fact that in the 20th Century the island had only been impacted by one major hurricane (Janet in 1955), one social uprising (1937), no foreign military invasion, political stability and overall steadily improving economic and social conditions.
The upshot has been that, particularly since the coming of trade unionism in 1941, the winning of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1951, Ministerial Government in 1954 and Independence in 1966, we as a people have tended to take for granted the generally high quality of political leadership and economic management we have experienced.
However, many Barbadians now seem to have come to feel that without the active scrutiny of the society it could and would automatically produce first-rate visionary and trained political and economic leaders of the proven calibre of Grantley Adams, Errol Barrow, Tom Adams and Owen Arthur, all of whom contributed immensely to the longstanding glowing reputation Barbados had up to recently come to enjoy in the Caribbean and around the world.
No wonder then that there has been widespread concern inside and outside of Barbados and from diverse sources, over the handling of our current protracted economic problems.
Dr Terrence Farrell, former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago observed,” . . . the recent developments in the policy landscape and the dramatic intervention following the Article 1V consultation by the IMF are somewhat surprising.”
Retired West Indies Anglican Archbishop Drexel Gomez was “surprised by the extent of the problem” given his association with the island dating back to the 1950s, adding that Barbados no longer enjoyed its once “pride and place” in the region.
However, the glowing records of the outstanding leaders should not be taken to mean that their tenures in office were crisis free.
They also had their share of economic problems, more so for those serving from the 1970s and onwards and who too had to grapple with difficult international economic circumstances.
The difference between them and the present leadership is that the former leaders were decisive and confident in their policies and actions. According to Farrell, “Policmaking has to be pre-emptive and proactive” to be successful.
For the first time, Barbadians have been concluding that their political and economic leaders do not know what they are doing as evidenced by the failure of the economy to improve after six years and frequent policy changes, thereby betraying lesser quality political management and economic policymaking.
The reality is that Barrow, Tom Adams and Arthur had the formal economics training and the experience required to enhance economic policymaking, qualifications that make a vast difference especially in an era of fast changing economic conditions in a 24-hour international economy.
Barbadians will have to decide whether in future they can afford to gamble with Ministers of Finance not having formal economics training, in contrast with the legal qualifications constitutionally demanded for the Attorney General post.
Political parties should ensure they always have trained economics expertise in their ranks.
Glyne Murray is a retired diplomat, Cabinet minister and journalist.