The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
by David Comissiong
The underlying message behind Barbados divesting itself of the Queen of England as its Head of State, distancing itself from all of its old colonial trappings, and becoming a Republic, is that Barbados intends to become as self-reliant, self-sufficient and as socially just and equal
And if that message is to be realised, it will call for the emphasising of a strong strain of what I choose to call, “Republican Economics”, within the mainstream of Barbados’ traditional economic model.
Thus, while it is right and necessary that our Government do everything in its power to re-energise the country’s traditional major foreign exchange earning industry of Tourism, I believe that the November 30th 2021 coming of the Republic has to self-consciously call forth an enhanced and intensified emphasis on advancing initiatives that are directed towards developing a number of more secure, self-reliant and self-sufficient spheres of indigenous economic production, and also towards engineering a lifting up – economically and socially – of persons in the lower socio-economic layer of the society.
I would therefore like to propose that our Barbadian strain of “Republican Economics” should not be based on the conventional approach to economic development.
The conventional approach to economic development, with its built-in notion that “Economics is about the production and consumption of goods and services”, gives primacy to the wealthy elites who command the so-called factors of production – land, capital, managerial skill, and labour that they have “purchased”– and tend to consign ordinary people to the role of being mere appendages whose function is to serve the system and the great commanders of the factors of production.
The alternative approach (or emphasis) of our “Republican Economics” should be one that begins with, gives primacy to, and is founded upon the great mass wwof our Barbadian people.
Indeed, it should conceive of the people of Barbados as being the primary economic actors and owners–to–be of the new economic and business enterprises that our Republic will be striving to create.
Our model of “Republican Economic development” should therefore be centred on the intelligence, creativity, mental prowess, physical power, and material, social and cultural needs of the mass of our Barbadian people. And if this is the case, then the very first objective of our “Republican Economics” would have to be the fullest possible development of the capabilities of the masses of our Barbadian people.
Our first order of business would therefore have to be to equip ourselves with a national education system – formal as well as informal – that not only is as socially equal as possible, but that also has a laser-like focus on developing the capabilities of our people to think creatively; to engage in personal initiative; to value and prioritise national
self-sufficiency; to master science and technology; to engage readily and effectively in entrepreneurship; to master and readily utilise critical technical and vocational skills; and to appreciate, reproduce, and root themselves in our unique Barbadian and Caribbean culture, history, arts
So education and training come first! But the second order of business would be to develop a “national network” of technology development and adaptation institutions that are geared towards researching, organising, promoting, and deploying technologies that we will need in order to develop new indigenous agricultural, industrial, craft and manufacturing enterprises – enterprises that would help us to respond, first and foremost, to our need to feed, clothe and house ourselves and to provide ourselves with electric power, water supplies, health care, communications technology, and other critical human necessities.
This proposed initiative may sound a bit complicated, but it could be easily grasped and appreciated if – as an example – we apply it to the sphere of alternative energy/solar technology.
So, we are talking about a network of local institutions collaborating with each other to develop Barbados’ understanding of and capacity in the field of solar energy and its several technological applications. This is just one example.
Let me hasten to add, however, that we would not only be interested in developing a capacity in physical production.
There is also the equally important non-tangible, “spiritual,” area of the arts and culture as well!
And so, we would also need to emphasise the development of a similar “institutional network” servicing the sphere of Barbadian arts and culture. Indeed, it is critical that we preserve and further develop our unique Barbadian /Caribbean arts and culture – the source of the “inner wealth” that will deliver to our people an ethic of self-confidence, creativity, national dignity, self-respect and self-reliance.
And, of course, the third order of business is to provide a source of public/private sector local financing to help underwrite and support the establishment of the new locally and democratically owned productive enterprises
that our model of “Republican Economics” envisages.
Now, please take note that I am not claiming that any of these prescriptions are original or have never been advanced before. However, I do think that the coming of the Republic of Barbados provides an ideal opportunity to package and shape these prescriptions into a new social and economic philosophy for our country.
I also wish to point out that when – in September 2020 – the Mia Mottley administration used the annual Throne Speech to announce that Barbados would be becoming a Republic, they also listed a number of projects that they would be embarking upon – several of which fit the criteria of “Republican Economics”.
I refer to such projects as the – Educational Support Programme; Industrial Transformation Fund; Creative Economy Engagement initiative; Farmers Empowerment and Enfranchisement Drive; Vendors Market development programme; Co-operative Society Investment Fund; Commission for People Living with Disabilities; Affirmative Action Programme; Home Ownership Providing Energy project; Water Infrastructure programme; Post Office Bank; Renewable Energy Programme; Medical Cannabis industry; Junior Stock Exchange; Youth Development Directorate; and the System of People’s Assemblies.
These projects, and others that are even more specifically designed to advance the philosophy underpinning the concept of Republican Economics, must become part of our new social and economic reality in Barbados. Onwards to the Republic of Barbados and the new Republican Economics!
David Comissiong is Barbados’ Ambassador to Caricom.