ECONOMIC DIGNITY – AN EMERGING ECONOMIC PHILOSOPHY? PART II
From a regional perspective, the mission of getting the countries of the Caribbean to a position of economic sustainability and resiliency will demand national innovation, productive creativity and a herculean effort of prudent fiscal management. It will also require an unfailing commitment to delivering value across the broadest socio-economic divides that these countries have ever experienced and a radical cultural shift at multiple levels.
This is in part because the region is experiencing the most challenging economic crisis in modern history. Consequently, there are increased pressures on the vulnerable segments of the various populations. The rest of the explanation lies in the fact that there has been a level of social and economic inertia across the region that has effectively arrested generations of the same families and groupings to a cycle of perennial economic and social struggle. Often this harkens as far back as pre-independence indicative of the fact that so many have yet to fully appreciate the true effect of the benefits of self-determination.
This highlights a very urgent need for a system of economic intervention, sufficient to change the fortunes of these people; to create greater social and economic facilitation and offering second (even multiple) chances to persons who have failed or are failing.
There is an urgent need for a system that does not care about past failings; socio-economic origin, social status, connections and associations; available resources and wealth in facilitating opportunities for growth and development of the widest swath of the citizenry and residents possible. The chances for success should not bear as heavily on certain association as it does today, or the possibility of failure should not be so contingent on lack of connections.
Knowledge of the Caribbean will cause reasonable persons to readily agree that this is a major obstacle to national development. Too many persons are left behind because of who they are or more profoundly, who they are not and what they do not possess.
Paradoxically, in the grander scheme of global economics, this is exactly what has happened to the countries of the region. Left behind by the harsh withdrawal and deprivation of the means of economic development by former colonizers, cast onto the seas of economic treachery without ineffective economic models.
At a time when the world was leveraging industrialization, the region was largely plunge into an existence of labour intensive commerce and productive adventures. Seemingly, our national historical experiences of being disadvantage have failed to inform a better approach in lifting people from poverty or disenfranchisement. The fervor which developed out of that experience igniting the desire for independence have been displaced in that many, generationally speaking, is yet to truly feel the warmth of the then held possibilities for economic advancement and deep social enfranchisement.
THE BAHAMIAN EXPERIENCE
Analysis will show that historical and prevailing approaches to governance and economic empowerment, built largely on the concept of “trickle-down economics” and economic inequality in The Bahamas, have not proven effective in creating the type of seismic shifts needed to facilitate broad base economic equity. There is a need for greater benefits to accrue to non-traditional and vulnerable groupings. There is a need for the sentiments that drives the idea of “the American Dream” to become endemic in the psyche of the country (and others in the region). Fundamentally, there is the need for greater social and economic equity, and there is a sense that public policy has a significant role to play in this becoming a reality.
This reality is my lay understanding of the oft-mentioned term in the Prime Minister’s lecture. “Economic Dignity”, a bold proposition designed to strike at the very heart of observed failings such as unequal opportunities and generational disenfranchisement. This is solely my conclusion, to some extent speculation. However, a reasonable enquiring mind must wonder whether there is more to this reference and how it might be currently informing policy, even if not explicitly stated.
The Prime Minister was in my mind intending to deliver this substantial idea. The message I believe can be summarized as follows, “economic dignity is the central foundation idea on which I will pursue economic empowerment for the people and in contrast, here is how, up to now, it was not achieved and why”. In The Bahamas, as in other countries, discussions such as these are always going to be met with natural tensions.
To make the point, listeners to or readers of the speech will recall the historical expose in the lecture. This was intended, in my opinion, to show how approaches to economic development over the years have missed the mark of achieving what the concept of “Economic Dignity” espouses.
It however came across as an endorsement of one-party and dismissal of the efforts of another, with some qualifications based on who the leader might have been at any point in time. The fact is, if one approaches the lecture in the purist manner with which Sperling argues the concept, you are likely to better appreciate that the expose might have been a signaling of the perceived shortcomings of all administrations to date vis-à-vis that idea at the core of “Economic Dignity”, empowerment of the masses.
It is easy to argue that the Bahamas has achieved notable national economic success. However, there is always the risk of realizing “national success” without broad-based impact on the general populace while experiencing a continued and dangerous narrowing of the middle class and an even more debilitating broadening of the populations living at or below the poverty line.
This is the antithesis of the ideas promulgated by Gene Sperling. He argues for a “Dignity Net” as opposed to the traditional “safety net” where individuals, regardless of disadvantages, including debilitating physical or mental abilities, are able to contribute, thrive and pursue purpose. He argues for broad base economic equity where despite background more persons are able to enjoy the patrimony of the country. Essentially an environment where individuals have a more dignified experience; one that is akin to the black sanitation workers of the MLK Jr civil rights era being accepted as men.
For The Bahamas and the region, this type of balanced achievement will demand an acute understanding of the challenges that the ordinary citizen faces, and transformative governance undergirded by a sound philosophy and committed leadership.
Public pronouncements by leaders are significant and provide important clues as to personal convictions that may influence public policy. From the lecture, one might conclude that economics and the economy is not a top priority of the prime minister. One might instead believe that matters such as education human development is. The matter though might be a circular argument that recognizes that the latter elements are important facilitators if the broad base level of human dignity and achievement desired is going to be realized from the output of the economy. This is part of the essence of “Economic Dignity”. The question is, are there leaders who are convicted to act in this direction.
Hubert Edwards is the principal of Next Level Solutions Limited (NLS), a management consultancy firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hubert specializes in governance, risk and compliance (GRC), accounting and finance. NLS provides services in the areas of enterprise risk management, internal audit and policy and procedures development, regulatory consulting, anti-money laundering, accounting and strategic planning. He also chairs the Organization for Responsible Governance’s (ORG) Economic Development Committee. This and other articles are available at www.nlsolutionsbahamas.com.