The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Day of the Double Downgrade
I trust that readers are not misled by today’s caption into thinking that I am writing for a second successive week on the economic misfortunes of Barbados; a circumstance that I chose to refer to last week as “our darkest hour”. As would be widely known by now, Barbados’s sovereign credit rating was downgraded on Thursday of last week by Moody’s, thereby confirming a similar and earlier failing assessment of its fellow rating agency, Standard & Poor’s.
I suppose that for those among us who are given to counting these things, these would amount to two downgrades in raw numbers, although I am more partial to the notion that the latter assessment should serve merely as corroborative of the first rather than a discrete downgrade itself; indeed, on paper it appears to be ostensibly better than the S&P rating-Caa3 as opposed to CCC+. So it is not a cumulative downgrade or a downgrade from S&P’s earlier assessment; it is, rather, a downgrade from Moody’s last assessment. Not to put too fine a point on it, it remains an unacceptable rating nevertheless.
Even more nettlesome is the turgid notation to the Moody’s rating, -“the stable outlook on the Caa3 rating reflects the high probability of a credit event in the next 2-3 years, and reflects a balance of risks between lower and higher levels of loss given default”.
I readily concede that I am not versed in the jargon of global financing but my limited skills in the interpretation of language inform that a “credit event” does not foreshadow the granting of a sizable loan on easy terms, in much the same way that a “cardiac event” does not portend a love affair! And while a “high probability” does not equate to certainty or even places the matter beyond the familiar reasonable doubt, it carries the sense of being “more likely than not”. Against this likelihood is the enviable Barbados record hitherto of never failing to repay a debt incurred. We trust that this shall continue unimpaired.
Suitably stung by this poor grade, the governing administration has chosen to react as would have any student identically situated and to urge focus not on the mark awarded but on the overall integrity and cultural capacity of the individual examinee. “You may give a failing mark but you do not thereby make me a failure”. I have heard it often throughout the years. After these initial reactions of incredulity and rationalization should come that of acceptance and, ultimately, the resolution to improve. This last is not always readily forthcoming, however.
I choose today, however, to focus on another downgrade, perhaps of lesser consequence, that also occurred on Thursday last. This was the relegation of the regional cricket team to a lowly ninth position in the world rankings and therefore currently, though temporarily only, out of the running to qualify for the next ICC ODI World Cup in 2019 that will comprise the top eight teams.
Let me here enter the caveat necessary whenever a commentator who has not at least played cricket at least in the local first division attempts to offer an opinion on the state of the game at any level in the region. I console myself, nevertheless, with the celebrated dictum from CLR James “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?”
And the decline of the regional side seems an apt metaphor for the decline in our economic fortunes over the years. In one sense,there has been an undesirable devaluation of the brand in both cases. Time was when Barbados was ranked at a heady level among the developing countries of the world and commended for “punching above its weight” whatever that meant, as was once the West Indies ODI side during the decade of the seventies when we won the first two World Cup contests in London in 1975 and 1979 and lost the final in the third by 43 runs to India in 1983.
Both entities have subsequently descended rapidly from those lofty perches, and while I am prepared to leave it to others perhaps better informed to ascribe the reasons for the decline in our economic fortunes, I posit that our cricket decline may be attributed to a cocktail of bizarre selection policies, a preoccupation with self, a failure to come to terms with a changing environment, a regrettable absence of self-confidence and a woeful dearth of the concentration and focus necessary to succeed in any undertaking.
Having written these, I suppose that it might fairly be argued that the metaphor is even further actualized and that similar reasons might be advanced for our current economic misfortunes.
Our selection policies in the recent ODI series against England beggar belief. Apart from changes enforced through injury, we seemed to have been content to field the same team throughout the three matches in spite of some rather novel and exciting additions to the original squad. Second, we remain engrossed with the number of locals in the team as if that were a relevant and not a distracting factor in the moulding of a necessary team spirit. Third, we appear to be victims of our history whereby a single outstanding performance by a player in a different context is liable, after the fashion of the ancient Greeks, to guarantee that player the keys to the city and a pension (or, in this case, a spot on the team) for life.
So far as the changing environment is concerned, just as we have been substantially smitten in certain respects by the global economic downturn given the vicarious dependence of our economic fortunes on those of others, we appear in the cricket context to have over-relied on our historical status, blithely ignoring the reality that others have restructured their modus operandi to confront the opposition. We are thus preparing to play 1980 Australia and England while they are fielding remodeled teams of the twenty-first century against us.
The surface difference of course is that in the economic context we might be considered to have been innocent victims of circumstance while we may fairly be charged in the cricketing context with having failed to adapt to our habitat, a certain recipe for destruction. However, in both cases it may be submitted that we have failed to adapt in that in the economic context we have persisted with the same paradigm despite the change in the global economic outlook.
Much like another metaphor, that of the boiling frog.