It is difficult always to get things just right. Our Prime Minister is correct in seeking the advice and collaboration of vested interest in planning for a bleak post-coronavirus future. Alas, there are inevitable omissions in his choice of a Road Map to Recovery team. It’s expected that its members will consult widely, but the composition of the posse at the table suggests we could well miss a trick.
Quite apart from insufficient presence of female minds and experience, perhaps the most important cohort not represented is the young. The average age of the participants is probably 50, which is a little too long in the tooth for the important future-looking deliberations that are meant to take place, even if they are purely economic, and that is another trick missed. The very notion of the future is about the young, not people of my and the PM’s generation. Their concerns are necessary factors just as much as their insights, which could turn on a light in some of the well-tried minds of the great and the good. We repeat the now-almost-hackneyed fact that we have never been here before, so we need new thinking. New perspectives from the advantage of the different stages of the life cycle would add much and help arrive at novel solutions.
Matters of the economy, oil revenues, banking, manufacturing, trade, agriculture, workers etc are critical but so are the environment, education, technology. These issues have to be top of the TT post-coronavirus agenda and those are the very ones that most affect our young people. Trail blazers like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg, the young education and environmental activists respectively, dazzle as unexpected warrior leaders but many follow in their wake. Young people are not as passive as we might believe. In the UK in the 2017 general election, two-thirds of young voters supported the Labour Party (although they lost the election), and three-quarters of voters aged 18-24 voted in the Brexit referendum to remain in Europe (they did not win). So it’s not to say that young people have no political currency but the potential for political disenfranchisement exists. It would be interesting to compare those young voter actions with TT’s since it is clear that young people are not without responsibility and power and that we should involve them more widely, especially at times such as these.
Young people are our biggest asset but we live in very divisive times as covid19 amply demonstrates. Human Rights Watch reports that over 1.5 billion (91per cent) of children in 188 countries are currently out of school. Covid19 is laying bare the terrible inequalities and deprivations our young people endure. How many of them have homes with access to the necessary technology in order to benefit properly from enforced distance learning? Meanwhile, the children of top earners will pull even farther ahead, having had full parental attention for two months of covid19 isolation. We make assumptions, but teachers know just how many will pay the tall price of this crisis, emotionally and academically. The effects of this pandemic will be long-term and its depth is still unfathomable.
The challenges are enormous but in the economic equation the PM’s team must insert the fundamental one of inequitable wealth. We all know that in TT wealth is unequally distributed, and that’s in spite of free education and the extreme largesse of successive governments. We have not reaped adequate benefit simply because we did not also improve our social infrastructure or fundamentally reform our economy. What does this mean for the future?
The tendency, especially now, is to hold on to what we have but we should be considering how to build on what we have. Radical ideas are needed from the bankers on how to curb their profound risk aversion and the pressure of shareholder profits. Many young people and the economically challenged are being inventive, finding new revenue streams. The private sector has the opportunity to partner with the government to support start ups, for example. Elemental is the importance of asset ownership for both individual economic security and an egalitarian society. Our policy on wealth is not to tax it, which means that assets pass from one generation to another of privileged families. With high bank lending rates and zero interest on disappearing savings, plus higher unemployment how do we square the circle? The wealth (read, those with jobs, homes etc) gap will widen, and more deeply for the young whose parents cannot bail them out, invest in their businesses, or help them get onto the property ladder.
It would be instructive to see research on wealth by age in TT. It would certainly show the relative impoverishment of the young, which will be compounded by the coronavirus fall out.
The composition of the PM’s post covid19 team matters because it should speak to belonging – the notion that we are all invested in the future – and that is the sort of economics we need going forward.