WHAT MATTERS MOST: Differences in opinion
GIVEN THE NEGATIVE ATTITUDE of some of Barbados’ prime ministers in particular to members of the economic profession in the distant and more recent past, it is not surprising that many highly respected and regarded economists have opted not to speak publicly over the years.
This did not stop the same political leaders from privately seeking their advice.
The attitude never prevented the two pillars of the profession, now Professor Sir Frank Alleyne and the late Wendell McClean, from making their contributions to public debate. Their interventions were always welcome and warmly received, even by some who agreed with them but sat on another fence.
Differences of opinion in some quarters caused severe fallout, enough for the two aforementioned giants of the profession to form their own political party. Subsequent division also gave birth to the National Democratic Party (NDP) in which McClean played a major role.
In 1983, while a student at Cave Hill, I had the pleasure of listening to a discussion that included the concept of credit creation or the printing of money at the central bank, between McClean and Owen Arthur, which was moderated by David Ellis. There was a difference in the interpretation of a policy initiative of the bank. The fact of the matter is that the discussion was engaging and enlightening and no official of the central bank was present.
The role of the economic profession might have diminished in recent years when viewed from the perspective of a constant voice of a particular individual, but the Barbados Economic Society (BES) emerged. The latter allowed and still allows public comment through the voice of an institution. Unfortunately, the active membership of the BES has been dominated by staff of the Central Bank of Barbados, thus making it sometimes difficult to separate the voices.
This brings me to the comment made in last week’s MIDWEEK NATION by Editor-in-Chief Roy Morris who wrote: “Earlier this year, a top official of the Central Bank of Barbados took us to task for allowing columnists like Patrick Hoyos and Clyde Mascoll to offer their opinions each week. He was adamant that on matters of the economy the only reputable voice was that of the Central Bank.”
I have to tread cautiously in reacting to these comments since the official is obviously living in a fool’s paradise. For anyone to say that the central bank has the only reputable voice on the economy in Barbados is a very serious indictment on the cadre of professional economists across the various institutions.
Apart from the lecturers and professors at the University of the West Indies, there are regional and international organisations headquartered in Barbados that specialise in economic analysis.
The official has therefore to be short on common sense and long on arrogance.
There is a highly reputable book entitled Monetary Policy, Central Banking and Economic Performance in the Caribbean written by Derick Boyd and Ron Smith which states that “an important aspect of the Barbados success seems to arise from the policy credibility that was rapidly established with the development of the Central Bank.” The time of writing was 2008 and before.
The book goes on to explain what is meant by credibility of monetary policy. Furthermore, it identifies the characteristics of the countries and the central banks within the framework of the early monetary foundations, especially of the British and their implications for the evolution of the regional monetary systems. It is recommended reading for all and sundry, especially officials.
It is impossible to read this kind of literature and believe that there is only one reputable voice on the Barbados economy. Such an opinion speaks to a fragile and decaying intellect.
The truth is that this is a time when serious minds ought to be engaged in finding solutions to the fiscal and economic crisis confronting our fair land. But it is rather obvious that a few has determined that they have the wherewithal to get the job done, in spite of the fact that they have been doing so for the last six years.
The negativity towards the economic profession that was once reserved for the political class now finds comfort in the high towers, where a top official judges the repute of another economic voice, not on grounds laden with objectivity but out of frustration.
The official needs to look in the mirror.
• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy.