Those Barbadians who seek to present themselves for national service should always be encouraged and applauded. And to this end engineer Grenville Phillips II should be lauded for offering his Solutions Barbados as a possible third political party and a provider of answers for some of the pressing problems facing our country.
However, Mr Phillips’ belief that a political party comprised exclusively of businesspersons is the answer to Barbados’ problems appears to be a faux pas of significant proportions. It is true that there is nothing on the local horizon to suggest that such a party would automatically fail. Conversely, though, there is significant evidence to show that businessmen do not necessarily make the best politicians.
Barbados has been served well by politicians from all walks of life. From shopkeepers to pharmacists, teachers to lawyers, doctors to agriculturalists, and several other professions, have sat in the House of Assembly and served with distinction. It is this varied mix of Barbadians that has basically led to our democracy being a highly successful one.
If we were to take a look at the American political scene – one to which we refer for many things – it is interesting to note that a survey of those leaders who have sat in the White House has shown that the worse presidents, or those rated as failures, have mostly been businessmen. The likes of Andrew Johnson, Warren Harding, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Herbert Hoover were all successful businessmen but rated as poor political leaders. President George W Bush who was a successful oilman before entering the White House left the United States in an economic mess after eight years in charge of the most powerful country on planet earth.
Mr Phillips, however, is not alone in the belief that a business background makes for a good politician. Recently, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested an amendment to the US Constitution to require a president to have business experience. He had this to say: “I’d like to have a provision in the Constitution that in addition to the age of the president and the citizenship of the president and the birthplace of the president being set by the Constitution, I’d like it also to say that the president has to spend at least three years working in business before he could become president of the United States.”
Ironically, Romney was one of prominent businessman and President-elect Donald Trump’s staunchest critics during the United States election process. Despite Mr Trump’s longstanding involvement in business Mr Romney considered him a poor choice for president.
But we digress.
There is a school of thought that businesspersons perhaps make bad politicians because their social interest does not always – if ever – match their preoccupation with monetary profit. And in politics attending to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised often does not equate to a swelling of the bottom line.
Social commentator Mr David Comissiong, an individual who has also dabbled in politics and has frequently shown his social consciousness, has taken umbrage with the idea of a political party comprised only of businesspersons. He has described Mr Phillips’ intentions as “the most ridiculous, reactionary and counterproductive” notion in Barbados’ history. He noted that placing the country’s affairs exclusively in the hands of the merchant class would spell the greatest potential to bankrupt and destroy Barbados. Hyperbole from Mr Comissiong? Perhaps. Justifiable observation? Certainly.
Mr Comissiong went further. “You cannot reduce the political management of a society to simple decisions taken by businessmen and based on narrow profit and loss, dollars and cents criteria that businessmen typically apply to their business affairs. That kind of approach is sociologically reactionary, undemocratic and indeed flies in the face of the whole history of Barbados, which is a history of the masses of working class people striving to resist business interests and oppressive policies inflicted by business interests in an effort to protect their social and economic rights and their human dignity.” Hyperbole? No. Historical truths? Yes.
The social activist stressed that any political party had to embrace a wide cross section of the population, including representatives of the working class, culture, intellectuals and business. Mr Comissiong noted the already unholy alliance that often exists between businesspersons and self-serving politicians and underlined the dangers of a socially restrictive base from which to draw our political leadership.
Can one truly argue with an idea or ideal that promotes inclusivity rather than exclusivity? We think not.