By Brian M. Francis (Ph.D)
Two days ago, your humble servant had what can easily be considered a rather exciting conversation with a former student who has only just returned from the United States, having completed her master’s degree in economic development.
Fresh from her studies and filled with new ideas for the advancement of our economies, the student engaged me in an almost two-hour discussion of the problems facing the sub-region both economically and politically and what are some workable solutions to the challenges identified. I was highly impressed by her insights!
Specifically, we discussed the issues of inter alia crime and violence, the lack of diversification of our economies to make them more flexible and resilient to external shocks, weaknesses in the macroeconomic policies in effect in some countries, the high and rising fiscal deficits and public debts in most territories, weak export performances, the limited trade among the member countries, relatively weak environments in which to do business, the absence of good governance in some cases, high levels of poverty, rising cost of living and the lack of adequate rates of real economic growth.
Later, I reflected on the contents of our discussions and started to imagine what life could potentially be for the citizens of our countries. Hence, in thinking about this week’s contribution, I decided to set up a scenario in which two sets of features of our economies will be presented to you the readers, who will determine individually in which OECS you would prefer to live and work. The idea behind the exercise is to force us into thinking about the things we accept from our leaders and put us in a position, hopefully, to start demanding change. Of course, we are assuming that economic integration is in effect.
Clearly, this writer does not intend to make the choice a runaway! To avoid that pitfall, I will deliberately mix the characteristics so that critical thinking can be employed in your decision-making process.
Here is the first scenario: In our small, open economies accountability and transparency in public affairs are at an all time low, politicians are dedicated to the development of the country as opposed to their own personal financial gains, the government controls and directs most economic activities, private businesses are under constant stress and hence are unable to expand their operations, inflation and unemployment are both relatively low, absolute poverty is nonexistent, most social services such as education and health are provided free of direct costs to nationals, property markets are dormant, exports are falling, the domestic currency is strengthening and consumer and investor confidence are soaring.
In the second scenario, the countries are characterised by the following: accountability and transparency in public affairs are at an all time high, politicians are committed to the accumulation of personal wealth at the expense of the development of the country, government’s involvement in the management of the economy is mostly limited to providing a conducive environment for private enterprise to flourish, inflation is high but unemployment comparatively low, absolute poverty is nonexistent and relative poverty is rising, those who can afford to pay for social services such as education and health are asked to do so by the state, property markets are booming, exports are expanding, the domestic currency is weakening and consumer and investor confidence are low.
There you go. So tell me, which OECS would you choose and why?