Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A lost Economic Generation does not have to be our reality.

During a recent debate in parliament an Honourable member of the House spoke of the consequences of Barbados not having a viable economy. By his assessment, if our economy is not managed well, the island faces the certain prospect of having a lost economic generation. 

In January of this year similar sentiments were echoed by the World Economic Forum (WEF) at its Davos meeting. During that meeting, income disparity and social unrest were highlighted as major issues likely to impact the world economy in the coming decade.  At the centre of this economic tragedy was the world’s youthful population or what the WEF described as a “lost generation”.  According to the WEF this generation consists of several young people recently thrown on to the job market who lack both jobs and skills and are likely to cause social unrest as they vent their frustrations.   

Barbados is in no way isolated from this economic nightmare. Our young people too are facing significant challenges with diminished job prospects and with the luxury of switching jobs not available like before. Employers can reduce wages due to the high demand and oversupply of labour and with limited experience many young people are either bypassed or forced to take lower wages. 

Even for those who are able to obtain jobs there is still some difficulty. One recent study conducted in the USA noted that obtaining a job during the economic downturn can have possible psychological effects for many years. This occurs when persons aren’t working in their ideal jobs and there are limited prospects for growth, they may resign themselves to that job experience as being their fate in life and thus not grasp other opportunities which come along.

There are other impacts such as delaying marriage or the purchase of a home because the financial stability simply is not there. Those pursuing tertiary education would have been spared the encumbrance of student loans in the past. However with government’s new position on paying university fees this will mean that many will have to acquire student loans. Such a scenario may lead to a situation where there are many young persons with high debts who are also jobless causing further social and economic dislocation.  

All however is not lost for those young people facing these challenges. Experts assessing this global situation have recommended that young people remain flexible and be willing to move and try different things. These experts also encourage youth to consider delaying certain material goals until such time as they have stronger job offers. In addition continuing to upgrade one’s education with important and practical skills is also a sure way to increase one’s job prospects.

The G20 Young Entrepreneurs Summit of 2013 was held under the theme ‘Avoiding a lost Generation’. This summit of young entrepreneurs from some of the world’s most advanced economies reflected on the economic situation impacting youth. Coming out of the summit, entrepreneurship was seen as the main tool to tackle the youth unemployment situation and to increase economic growth for countries across the world. However some of the barriers cited in achieving this included a lack of entrepreneurship education, tax and regulatory systems which proved extremely prohibitive to potential entrepreneurs and inadequate investment funding.  

The G20 Youth Summit made certain recommendations which should be followed locally. These included expanding funding alternatives for young businesses as well as quality mentorship and business support services. In addition, embracing a culture where young entrepreneurs were celebrated even if their businesses failed, providing incentives and reducing red tape and excessive taxation were seen as critical to a youth-led economic recovery.

Whether or not we wish to admit it, this is a special time in which we find ourselves. Gone are the days of finding a ‘good job’ after completing one’s secondary or tertiary schooling.  Of course our young people must recognise that they have to work harder and smarter to achieve and to understand that they are competing with others from across the world when it comes to employment or even establishing their own businesses.  For this reason they must have an eye focused both on the local and international landscape and be willing to explore all opportunities.   

A lost economic generation does not have to become our reality. Both the public and private sector must play their part in helping to overcome this daunting prospect. Young people must also recognise that they are not entitled to life's luxuries. They too must play their part by agitating for change, embracing new ideals, becoming more aware of the economic and global difficulties which confront them and grasping opportunities which can lead to a more prosperous future despite the gloom surrounding us.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Population Growth does not mean Economic growth

In 2011 the world surpassed the 7 billion mark, a significant milestone which was recognised by several countries and international development agencies. In its state of the world population report to mark the event, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) noted some implications for this rise in population. Among the concerns was that population growth would outpace economic growth and where there was a lack of family planning this could cause severe problems. The report also emphasized that the attainment of a stable population was necessary for economic growth and development. We can assume that by a stable population we mean one in which there is a steady increase with a slightly higher birth rate to the death rate. 
Caribbean countries have faced the problem of population growth outstripping economic growth before. In the 1940s period the Moyne Commission reporting on the living conditions in the West Indies expressed its fears at the growing population, the lack of economic and social development and the need for family planning measures to be introduced. Population growth at that time certainly did not result in better economic conditions. There is a link between economic growth and population to be explored but one also has to consider economic development. Economic growth is related to an increase in a country’s output and income, it is largely fuelled by greater consumption. So that population growth necessitates a rising demand for products and certainly the need for more persons to work and to deliver these products and services.

We often speak of economic growth without considering economic development. Economic development is traditionally seen as the move from an agriculturally based economy to an industrial or services based economy through a range of policies including the adoption of new technologies. It usually results in an increase in living standards for a population. It is therefore possible to have economic growth without economic development, but growth alone fuelled by a larger population and increased consumption does not mean better living standards for a people. There are many places across the world which have had massive increases in population yet there are thousands of citizens without meaningful jobs and without access to basic things such as food, water, shelter, access to proper health care and education.

Resources such as land, water and energy will also come under increased strain with population growth. The British political economist Thomas Malthus’ writing at the height of the industrial revolution posited that population growth outstripped the rate at which food could be produced thus inevitably leading to hardship and suffering. While Malthus’ theory has been disproved by the ability to significantly increase food production through new technologies, there are still concerns over the ability to sustain large population with scarce natural resources. A country such as Barbados with very limited natural resources and a limited land mass will face unimaginable problems with a rapid population increase.

The recent suggestion by a senior government official of increasing our population to over 300,000 people will certainly create an increase in demand. However it does not mean that such demands will be met unless persons have the necessary disposable income to purchase these products and services. Higher incomes are achieved through economic development and economic growth. Economists have noted that there is a strong correlation between the reduction of population growth rates and increases in economic growth and higher incomes. Those countries with a higher level of economic growth also have a lower rate of population growth while conversely those with higher population growth rates have a lower economic growth. 

The introduction of a family planning policy and access to free education have both prevented a population explosion in Barbados. Those with a higher degree of education usually delay or limit the number of children they have. On the other hand those without such tend to have more children. These policies have worked in Barbados with a reduction in the population growth rate and a strong investment in our human resources leading to economic growth, higher wages and greater consumption.

At the beginning of the new school year last September, a local radio station in its newscast highlighted the plight of a young mother with six children. The mother lamented that the monies which she received previously from her Constituency Council had been reduced unexpectedly and queried how she was going to find school supplies. This is not an uncommon occurrence. Any increase in population growth is likely to be done by those who can least afford to support their offspring. It is a signal of the hardship and difficult circumstances which we are likely to find ourselves in if we pursue a population growth strategy without thought to sustainability and the implications it will have for our resources and economy. Population growth therefore does not lead to economic growth it is a false assumption. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Retrenching in a Humane Way

There is never a perfect time to hear the disappointing news of the loss of one’s job and ultimately the loss of income. In the trying economic circumstances with which we are faced the words retrenchment, restructuring and downsizing have all been used to placate harsh news delivered to employees almost on a weekly basis. 

Whether in the private sector, civil society or the public sector job cuts have been the order of the day no matter the size of the organisation. It is acknowledged that things cannot remain the same with the ripple effect of declining revenue. However the manner in which downsizing and restructuring have been ongoing is certainly a cause for concern.  

There is no shortage of press coverage highlighting irate workers and union leaders voicing their displeasure at the manner in which dismissals have been undertaken. From letters delivered while on vacation, early morning calls not to report to work, locked office doors and dismissals in the middle of union negotiations; workers have been having a torrid time.

Being treated in this manner by an employer is understandably heartbreaking particularly for those who may have been with an organisation for ten years or more and have given of their best effort in whatever position they held. Not only is the emotional attachment severed but there is also disruption to other aspects of their lives.  

Many of these persons will have dependents; children still in school or elderly parents who may need to be taken care of. There may also be mortgage or car payments, groceries and of course utilities to be paid. Barbados is still a society comprised primarily of single parent households. The majority of such households are headed by females. In light of the current retrenchments we can safely assume that women are more likely to be affected than men and will find it more difficult to become re-employed. With all the various responsibilities of a typical single parent household and suddenly being thrown into a state of unemployment, one can easily imagine the emotional distress of many single mothers across our country.   

The way in which restructuring has been carried out in some sectors has certainly been anything but humane. It raises the question as to whether our society and its institutions are really as caring and compassionate as we make them out to be. One social commentator giving his views on the issues noted that there is no easy way to tell an employee that he or she will be let go. The commentator also noted that the employer has to take into consideration the possibility of retaliation such as physical harm, damage to the equipment and property and the destruction of critical information and documents if advanced notice is given.

In my estimation, while an employee is not likely to express joy on hearing of job loss, he or she is certainly less likely to react in an expressly negative manner if that loss comes with a human touch to it. In many circumstances persons are hired through an interview process and go through an orientation process with management and human resource personnel before assuming their duties. If the process coming in requires such formalities then going out should also have a human touch to it, particularly where an employee has been dismissed not due to underperformance but the need to  restructure.

Retrenching an employee with simply a piece of paper stating that his or her services are no longer required makes it appear as though some invisible hand has intervened and decided that person’s fate. Such an approach leaves a lasting impression on the former employees, on the general public and certainly on those who remain with that organisation.

For the employees retrenched, trust is broken and there is a feeling of betrayal or what some in management may refer to as a break in the psychological contract between employer and employee. For those employees still within in the organisation there is every possibility that they will become distrustful of committing their time and energy to the organisation having seen the treatment of their colleagues. As is currently the case in many organisations, the remaining employees will be expected to undertake additional duties with greater pressure exerted on them to produce without commensurate adjustments in pay while operating in a climate of uncertainty.

Our late Prime Minister often stated that Barbados is more than an economy it is a society. With the plethora of management professionals, management textbooks, courses available at our institutions of higher learning and unlimited seminars, our country should be better equipped to manage the process of downsizing across the various sectors.

We must remember that the retrenched worker is also a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a potential customer, voter, and future employee within the society. In a small society such as ours it would not take much for lower morale to impact productivity, profitability and any other indicators of economic growth. Our people must be treated as human beings and not merely as economic or financial statistics. The current situation calls for greater emotional intelligence and for a greater sense of dignity to be accorded to our ordinary workers especially in circumstances where they are to be relieved of their jobs.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Vybz Kartel Tragedy and Dancehall’s Future

A major feature of Jamaican dancehall music has been the glamorisation of violent images and personalities over the years. Many dancehall artists have come to exemplify the image of the bad boy, the rude boy, the shotta and the don. Dancehall has created a powerful subculture and even counterculture of its own spreading throughout the Caribbean and even internationally as it is big in places such as Germany, Japan and South America.

Despite its international acclaim a strong element of violence still persists. As Jamaican cultural expert Brenda Pope has noted, the gun remains a symbol of liberation as well as masculine and personal power in dancehall music.

At the heart of such lyrics are often poor communities suffering from unemployment, teenage pregnancy, poor housing and neglect. Some have argued that such lyrics are merely symbolic of the day to day struggles of ghetto people. However the lyrics are more than symbolic, they are often the lived reality of many of the artists who have originated from such backgrounds and find a way of expression through music. 

The guilty conviction of Adidja Palmer more infamously known as Vybz Kartel brings to the fore these issues of violence, representation and the double impact of dancehall music. 

There is no doubt that Kartel is one of the most gifted artists to emerge onto the dancehall scene in the last decade. Whether or not one agrees with his lyrics, his writing ability is exceptional. Kartel became the iconic figure in dancehall music and for some the voice of the poor people. From his lyrics to his skin bleaching, Vybz rum, his own condom brand and even shoe line, his popularity soared. He has had international collaborations with the likes of Rihanna, Jay-z, Pharrell and Eminem and the popularity of songs like Clarks saw him featured prominently on international television. 

All of this of course was mired by controversies such as the infamous Gaza/Gully rivalry between himself and former label mate Mavado. The rivalry spread across the seas even to influence many young people here in Barbados. A show was promoted as a Unity concert featuring the two artists but a strong public outcry forced the intervention of the late Prime Minister, the Hon. David Thompson and its subsequent cancellation. 

At the time, as head of the Barbados Youth Development Council my opinion was canvassed on whether the artists should have been allowed to come for a Unity concert and Youth Forum. Personally I saw nothing wrong particularly with the youth forum. I welcomed the idea of young people interrogating the two gentlemen over their actions and the negative reverberations they caused.

As with most things in Barbados, the more conservative forces won out, never mind that only a few months before, both artists had performed on the island with no objection whatsoever. As was expected, the ban had the opposite effect. Kartel’s popularity soared with local radio DJs seemingly protesting the ban with a heavy rotation of his songs for weeks on end. 

In months to follow Kartel would accept an invitation by the UWI Mona, Cultural Studies department.  A presentation similar to the youth forum was held with Kartel being heavily bombarded with questions about his skin bleaching, his violent lyrics and sexually explicit content.  Kartel was clearly on the defensive as he attempted to make a distinction between Kartel the entertainer and Adidja Palmer the father, son and ordinary human being.

He tried to further distance himself from his influence, but the clear message from the gathering of very conscious youth was sent; to whom much is given much is expected. Yet this artist has produced songs such as Life We Living, Poor People Land, Ghetto Road and more recently School. These songs have drawn attention to the plight of the poor and even encouraged his young audience to take stock of their lives and educational opportunities. This is interesting since Kartel cannot claim to have been impoverished and destitute like some other dancehall artists. During his trial, his sister who is a high school senior teacher lamented that Kartel was raised in a good home with both parents who insisted on education and strong morals.  

Kartel has therefore created his own fantasy world as evidenced by his self-proclamation as ‘World Boss’. One has to admire his business ethic and the vision to take his music globally. However inflicting violent punishment on dissenting members of his music label and being implicated for the heinous act of murder must be strongly condemned. An artist with more sway than any politician in Jamaica has forfeited his chance to become a true champion for ordinary people, to give them a voice and the hope of a way out through the music industry.

The debacle of Vybz Kartel or ‘di Teacha’ as he also calls himself is a lesson to all young people: that power, influence and money used for the wrong means can lead to self-destruction. There is still a place for dancehall music and its artists. The other way is shown through Shaggy’s recent concert in aid of the Bustamante Hospital for Children. If only such acts can be replicated with a greater focus on the use of dancehall for good, we can see greater positive transformation in the lives of the many ordinary young people who follow this music.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Demise of Collective Responsibility?

Growing up in church there were many catch phrases which never really made sense at the time, but which I became appreciative of as I matured.  One particular phrase, ‘a house divided against itself shall not stand’ became increasingly apparent as I joined organisations and later assumed various leadership roles. The phrase was one of the favourite lines of the older preachers, who in retrospect tried their best to keep the congregation in line and to stem the wider divide which often afflicted the church.

It would seem that the proponents of the parliamentary system which we inherited also had great respect for this biblical excerpt. The doctrine of ‘Collective Responsibility’ is one of the key pillars of the Westminster System of Government. This doctrine of cabinet government holds that all ministers are obligated to give public support to government policies. It ensures that within parliamentary democracies members of the Executive Branch of government do not break rank with the decisions made by Cabinet.

If this is done elected officials holding ministerial portfolio can be expected to be stripped of their positions and relegated to the back bench. In a way this is reminiscent of the old time Pentecostal churches. In such churches   whenever one brought public embarrassment to the pastor and the congregation, one would be sanctioned by being asked to sit at the back of the church.  

Recent political events in some Caribbean countries have gone contrary to this custom of Collective Responsibility. Some have found it appalling even at times amusing to see Cabinet ministers distancing themselves from decisions taken by the highest decision making body in Caribbean countries. Even more surprising has been the absence of any sanctions for these types of breaches as is customary under systems such as the British parliament.

This trend provokes many interesting thoughts and scenarios. In the past there has always been the feeling that representatives never fully put forward the interest of their constituents as they were forced to tow the party line. If the current trend continues there might be in fact greater direct participation by the people, if representatives speak and vote on a more independent basis.  It could very well reverse the notion of the parliamentary system being seen as an elected dictatorship, not reflective of popular sentiment. It also provides for an environment in which there is greater need for consensus building and where the position of Prime Minister is no longer seen as having almost unlimited power. Traditionally the Prime Minister can hire and fire as he pleases particularly for such outspokenness. 

On the other hand there is the likelihood of confusion. A government in which publicly expressed opinions are contradictory has the appearance of being weak and unstable. The locus of power becomes difficult to locate and there appears no real consensus in decision making. This has implications for the level of confidence reposed in the country from investors, the electorate and from the members of the Executive/Cabinet itself who may still hold fast to the doctrine of collective responsibility.

Throughout the Caribbean where there has been a departure from this norm, the leadership should signal that public expression of divergent views is allowed. Failure to do so only heightens uncertainty and makes for much unwelcomed speculation on the direction of the country and its stability. Such clarification is urgently needed as economic crises often precede political crises and signal the demise of factious regimes in small island states.