ALL AH WE IS ONE: Whose company?
THE REACTION by sections of the Barbadian population to the news of an impending takeover of Barbados’ Banks Holdings Ltd (BHL) by a Latin American company AmBev has provided useful lessons of the manner in which misplaced “nationalism” can instill a false sense of public stake in privately owned enterprises. A common response has been to bemoan the fact that “yet another iconic” Barbadian product is being snapped up by a foreign entity.
Two University of the West Indies colleagues, Drs Don Marshall and Justin Robinson, have made separate and important contributions to the ongoing debate. Dr Marshall’s concern was that “Barbados’ economy is in danger of being denationalised”, and that “more and more important private sector-related decisions that are supposed to marry well with our macro-economic policy are being determined outside of Bridgetown”.
Similarly, Dr Robinson, though less preoccupied with the policy and political implications of a foreign takeover, also exhibited a degree of economic nationalism in his concern that “companies listed on the stock exchange may be seriously undervalued and may be vulnerable to foreign takeover”, due to the “infrequent level of trading on the Barbados Stock Exchange”.
What is critical is that the reactions to the AmBev move on Banks expose the myth of a “national capitalism”. It also lays bare the contradictions in local believers in the free market who are fearful of global capitalism.
Capitalism is capitalism. The assumptions that capitalism works in a special way for an island nation, that the wealth of private capitalists is the wealth of all, and that a private (or shareholder)-owned business enterprise is a “national company” all exhibit a kind of “false consciousness” which often distorts thinking on how such entities should be treated.
Exposing the contradictions between national and global capitalism is particularly important in light of the fact that the “supremacy of the market” has often been used to keep labour in its place. Why does local capital expect special treatment when similar expectations from labour are often denied? Indeed, despite their claims to being for the “free market”, it is local capital that has made the loudest calls for special protection from the full impact of global capitalism. Is it only “wrong” when the call for protection comes from labour and civil society?
As global capital continues to swallow more so-called national entities, it will open up a space for a more honest national discussion on the kind of capitalism that best reflects the collective good. When this process begins, we may very well find ourselves settling for the social-democratic traditions which recognise that whilst we are immersed in a global marketplace, our national independence demands that local capital, labour and civil society deserve special consideration.
The terms of this “social contract” will depend ultimately on the debates within our political parties, trade unions and civil society bodies. Forward ever.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specialising in regional affairs. Email [email protected]