Tuesday, April 16, 2024

THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE – Time is running out


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ON OUR ADAMS-BARROW-CUMMINS Highway there are a few merging lanes. These allow for a smooth entry of vehicles at right angles to the main roadway, rather than a dead stop.
But those merging lanes have their limits: they do not go on forever. Indeed, if you are unable to merge, the lane soon ends. You must stop.
I use that analogy to understand Barbados’ economic position today. If we do not merge soon, we will simply run out of lane.
Like most Barbadians interested in the future of our country, I have been wading in with the analysts and other economic gurus trying to find explanations to our current problem.
I eventually found a clear and cogent analysis in the Business Authority issue of Monday, June 27, and so, I have to thank Mr Andrew Brathwaite, president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, for the enlightenment.
Mr Brathwaite, with acute accuracy, zeroed in on what – to my mind – is the most telling of Moody’s diagnosis of the state of the Barbadian economy:
“Barbados’ limited growth prospects, a function of its deteriorating competitiveness and declining productivity, make it unlikely that it will be able to grow out of its debt burden in the near-to-medium term.”
Mr Brathwaite described the statement as a wake-up call.
But the analyst had a suggestion – not a novel one; I’ve been hearing about it since the middle of the last decade of the last century: the Barbados economy needs to be restructured. But how? When will we start? Do we know how?
Mr John Williams, the new chairman of the Private Sector Association, says we don’t need outsiders to tell us what to do – our political and corporate leaders already know. So why don’t we get on with it?
Or are we waiting for the IMF to show us again?
Mr Brathwaite suggested that we will have to seek out new products and services for export to new markets, reduce our import bill and rebuild our national work ethic.
That’s more easily said than done. New products and services result from creative thinking and financial support for new ideas. It won’t happen merely by preaching from every podium the need for innovation and entrepreneurship, as if those attributes fall from the skies like rain.
Entrepreneurs like Mohammed Nassar, James Husbands, Ralph Williams, Rawle Brancker, Gordon Brooks, Ronnie Morris – and a few others whom you can count on the fingers of one hand – come along all too infrequently.
To reduce our import bill will mean a sea change in our champagne appetite supported only by our mauby pockets and “maxed-out” credit cards.
The rebuilding of the work ethic? That’s our Mount Hillaby. No, make that Mount Everest!
The ratings of Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s are warnings that we have almost run out of time and options. Decision-makers will have to think about the importance of research and development and invest in such facilities.
 As Dr Lennox Chandler reminded Barbadians recently, science and technology must go beyond your facility with a BlackBerry or an iPad3 – whenever Steve Jobs introduces that!
Barbados will have to produce the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators – not at university or even secondary level; that’s too late – at nursery level. We will have to train Barbadian babies to think; to ask questions; not to be afraid to take risks and to make mistakes.
Who will train the next generation to think? People with a fearsome leather strap inflicting pain and anger in our children? Homes without a single book in sight? This country’s future will depend on how well our children are taught today.
Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s can only warn us about the economic slippage, but there is perhaps an even more perilous slippage taking place on the social plane. Long after we’ve fixed the economic problems, galloping social decay will be our bigger challenge.
Moody’s can’t help us with that.
Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator. Email carlmoore@caribsurf.com


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