Put Our People at the Centre of Everything and All Will be Well!
Submitted by David A. Comissiong, President, Clement Payne Movement
Whether the negotiations that the new Barbados Labour Party (BLP) government has commenced with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) end in Barbados entering into an agreement with the IMF and receiving financial support from that institution, or end with both parties not agreeing on terms and walking away from each other, we Barbadians must recognize that– ultimately — our salvation resides in our own hands and no where else !
I therefore say to the new BLP Government:- “Believe in the Barbadian people, have confidence in their ability, put them at the centre of all your negotiations, proposals, plans and programmes, and all will be well” !
And I don’t deliver this advice as a mere article of faith, but as a perspective that is rooted in a particular conception of the social science of Economics — a concept of Economics that was shared with us Barbadians by the great developmental economist Dr E. F. Schumacher some forty years ago.
The occasion was the inaugural Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture staged by the Central Bank of Barbados on the 29th of November 1976. And at the time, the German born Dr. E. F. Schumacher – author of the ground-breaking economic work entitled “Small Is Beautiful” – was perhaps the world’s most highly acclaimed living economist.
Dr. Schumacher chose as his topic “Independence And Economic Development”, and proceeded to offer up to Barbadians an extremely wise and profound prescription for the future economic development of our nation.
Schumacher began by explaining to us that as a small island nation we possess an economic asset of inestimable value: namely, a distinctive quality or personality of our own – our Barbadian or Bajan national culture!
Indeed, he explained that when a people or nation had the good fortune to possess a distinctive and unique culture, it meant that they had within their grasp an “inner wealth” that had the potential to imbue them with the characteristics of “self-confidence” and “self-thinking”, and with the basis for economic “self-reliance”.
And having directed our gaze towards the goal of “self-reliance”, Dr. Schumacher then proceeded to urge us to reject the orthodox approach to economic development!
Schumacher explained that the conventional approach to economic development, with its built-in notion that “Economics is about the production and consumption of goods and services”, inevitably gives primacy to the wealthy elites who command the so-called factors of production – land, capital, managerial skill and labour – and consigns ordinary people to the role of being mere appendages whose only function is to serve the system and the great Commanders of the factors of production!
Rather than accepting orthodox or conventional Economics, Schumacher urged us to embrace a different kind of Economics – one that does not take “goods” or “money” as its starting point, but that instead, begins with and is built upon “people”.
The great economist admonished us as follows:- “…let’s start with people… So, no matter how poor we are we have something to start with: Ourselves, the people, our own ingenuity and labour power, and, of course, our needs… And when the point of departure of economic policy is not production and consumption of goods and services or money but us, ourselves – people – then everything changes and the primary concern of development policy becomes the development of the capabilities of the people.”
This is economic advice that I urge Prime Minister Mia Mottley and the BLP government to take to heart as they engage with the IMF !
What Dr. Schumacher was urging upon us was a society in which people who have manifold unsatisfied needs – who, in other words, are poor and not affluent – will organize themselves for production: a society in which the people will be predisposed to get busy and produce for themselves, rather than depending on some “foreign investor” to come from “over in away” to set up an enterprise that will employ them.
We Barbadians need to constantly remind ourselves that our country possesses a sizable number of indigenous assets that we — the Barbadian people– can and should be developing and commercially exploiting for ourselves. I refer to such assets as our rum, sugar, falernum, sea island cotton, black belly sheep, beer, solar technology, classic Bajan furniture, pepper sauce, pottery, Cricket heritage, music heritage, literary heritage, educational tradition, and the list goes on.
We should also recognize by now that the next phase in the development of our Tourism industry — the phase of Cultural, Heritage and Health Tourism— will be predicated directly upon the talents and inputs of our people. And in a similar vein, it is our very own Barbadian people who can and must drive our new efforts to establish Cultural or arts-based industries; to foster the provision of educational services as a foreign exchange earning industry; to lead a new drive to establish the island of Barbados as a compact, efficient, centrally organized, cooperative-based Manufacturing entity; to develop a Cooperative or People’s sector of the economy based on combining and facilitating the development of the resources of our trade unions, credit unions, cooperatives and churches; and the list goes on and on.
Back in 1976, Dr. Schumacher issued a Call for a national leadership that would lead the people to the fullest possible development of their own capabilities, as opposed to a national leadership that would permit the people to be used as a means of production just as and when it suits the purpose of the wealthy local or foreign “Commanders” of the factors of production to use (or exploit) them. And I hereby repeat that call in this year of 2018 !
Indeed, Schumacher posed the following fundamental questions about the Barbadian society of 1976:- Is there a development of the capabilities of the people to feed themselves, clothe themselves, house themselves and generally to do for self? Is there a development of the capabilities of the people to preserve and generate their own culture, and the inner wealth of self-confidence, self-thinking and self-reliance contained within such a national culture?
And, having pointed us in this wise direction of a national doing for self, Dr. Schumacher then made two fundamental and critical policy prescriptions!
The first has to do Education! Without a comprehensive access, not merely to education, but to proper developmental education, self-reliance and independence will only be a dream! As Schumacher saw it, all people should – through the education system – be given the know- how that would equip them to perform at least some of the basic tasks in food and clothing production, house construction, and building maintenance, and that would set them on the road to an attitude of and an aptitude for self-reliance, self-thinking and self-doing. In addition, the education system should develop the people’s capability to reproduce their national culture, and to work together cooperatively.
And this is why we now need to move with the utmost speed to reform and revamp our entire education system — from the primary to the tertiary level!
Yes, we must restore the free tertiary education at the University of the West Indies (UWI) so that the 3,200 Barbadians who were forced to drop out of UWI could recover their places, but we also need to bring home to the UWI authorities that something of critical importance is clearly missing from the manner in which they are educating our young people, and that they are not doing enough to provide us with the cohort of conscious, highly motivated and committed nation-builders that our UWI graduates should be. UWI educational reform is a must !
We also need to move with speed to sort out the deficiencies in our Primary and Secondary schools — to abandon the practice of dumping all of the low academic achievers in a handful of overwhelmed schools at the bottom of the educational ladder; to provide weaker students with the pedagogical assistance of smaller classes, more individual attention, remedial education teachers, and access to a more diversified curriculum; to take concrete steps to expose our children to and root them in their unique Barbadian/Caribbean/Pan African cultural heritage; and– of course– the list goes on!
The second policy prescription that Dr, Schumacher made in 1976 — a policy prescription that is still extremely relevant today — has to do with technology, appropriate technology.
In addition to proper developmental education, Barbados must possess appropriate technology. Appropriate for what you may ask. Well Schumacher answers this way:- “Appropriate…for the genuine needs of the people so that they can effectively provide for themselves…not everyone for himself…but in human-sized groups. Barbados would be populous enough for this: to have a high level of basic self-sufficiency with plenty of work opportunities for everybody, and without undue reliance on such chancy and vulnerable economic arrangements as monoculture export of raw materials or tourism.”
But, as Dr. Schumacher warns, “appropriate technology” will not simply fall into place, we have to bestir ourselves and go after it:- “Every community that wishes to escape from unemployment, frustration and economic servitude will need to get some institution, some Knowledge Centre, with the unique task of organizing and promoting the requisite knowledge of an appropriate technology.” This, obviously, is an urgent and critical mission that should be undertaken by our Government in partnership with the more enlightened of our private sector business, and our educational institutions, particularly the UWI.
Fellow Barbadians, these are words and ideas of great wisdom that were offered to us forty years ago by a great economist. They were relevant then, and they are even more relevant today as we grapple with a Barbados that is not only beset by crippling debt, but a Barbados in which the “development by invitation to foreign investors” model has exhausted itself.
With or without the IMF, we — the Barbadian people — must be the subject and the centre-piece of any developmental effort that we construct to take us out of the crisis that we now find ourselves in. Let us therefore centre our economic rescue mission around ourselves — the people– around our own ingenuity, labour power, needs, and capacities. And let it be a case of exemplary national unity of effort, with all hands on deck!