N Touch
Saturday 18 August 2018
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Commentary

Breaking the mould

Marina Salandy-Brown

As I write this, the much anticipated midterm/midyear budget statement is being announced. It seems it will not meet the expectations of economists and past politicians who have been opining on what should be in the statement.

On the whole, people seem to be discontented with the “steady as she goes” economic stewardship of our present government who contend that they had no option since they found the cupboard nearly bare and that energy production slipped drastically under their watch. Some of the commentators have experience of office and know that what appears to the outsider, even Opposition, is not what you find when you actually are sitting in the hot seat. We could interrogate the figures in all manner of ways but we will never know the truth of why a government makes the economic decisions it does. However, we do know that whatever the facts there is a huge element of self-serving involved in politics. From our external perspective the rational choices always seem clear cut and the government always seems irrational and inept in its handling of the economy.

The question I cannot answer is how to get governments and the people who comprise them to think and act differently?

I met someone in the street and we were discussing the undying human instinct to self-destruct. A former Opposition cabinet minister joined us and suggested that since we cannot change the system we should all concentrate on doing what we can to make a difference where we can. I realised that fact at the age of 26 and have spent the rest of my life doing just that. The resulting cumulative effect is that things do eventually get changed. It is not a bad policy because many people appear to feel helpless that we, and our governments, are currently being driven, due to desperation and disillusionment, to make even more disastrous collective mistakes than those already committed, eg Brexit and perhaps voting for President Trump. We can keep our sanity by at least having the satisfaction of doing something that we know to be positive.

So what is the system that is beating us down? It is vested interest and the value system we inherited that take eons to upend. Only scientific discovery seems able to change misguided human opinion, and even that has to wait for the right tide in order to be accepted. Every schoolchild probably knows, or should know, that the Catholic Church, for a long time, rejected the observations of Copernicus, the Renaissance astronomer, that Earth is a planet that revolves around the sun and is not the centre of God’s universe.

In the UK, the government’s chief drug adviser was sacked in 2009 for daring to say openly that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, which has been scientifically proven. His research into LSD and Ecstacy found them beneficial to depressives. He wants the law changed so that people are not sent to prison as a result of bad legislation that outlaws certain drugs when the leading cause of death for under-50s males is legalised alcohol abuse. But vested interest cannot contemplate the dismantling of the very lucrative alcohol industry. The powerful hold of international business renders science temporarily useless, but it won’t last forever. Scientists in the USA have made gigantic strides in countering succeeding government bans on scientific research into cannabis so that now several farms cultivate enormous areas of weed destined for medicinal use. Yet, consider how our impoverished Caribbean countries, challenged for cash crops, routinely destroy acres of marijuana, with US help, when we should be striving to be primary producers and to provide the laboratories for development of medicinal uses of our crops. It may be difficult, if nigh impossible, but our leaders should not collaborate in supporting a world order that is ruinous to us, rather they must insist on a changing it.

Returning to TT’s economic future, any serving government should possess the courage to raise the retirement age to 65 or people will suffer in their old age. Education needs a big idea to reform it from the bottom to the top or we will continue producing too many people who lack critical thinking and graduates who cannot be absorbed into our economy. Health, too, is ready for a revolution because the figures and priorities do not stack up. Government also needs to better relate spending to future needs and to create structures and financial support to better enable civil society to help build resilience, and, finally, consistent policies to encourage the private sector to play a more active role. Alas, the dots are still not joined up.

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