I was born during the Second World War and its aftermath.
I knew about restrictions on travel: even if your family had a vehicle, fuel was restricted; mostly you travelled by bus. So the cost of transport and travel had to be factored into every activity.
I knew about food restrictions, so during the 2020 covid shutdowns – when restrictions were imposed, when NGOs and some government ministries were handing out food vouchers to people, like self-employed single mothers and entrepreneurs – I had faint childhood memories of my mother, with a determined look on her face, counting coupons as – I think they were called in those post-war days – trying to figure out how to feed us.
The fortunate families had a cow and a few chickens to feed always-hungry children. For those in town who didn’t have family in the countryside, each baby under two was allowed a quart of milk a day, and from two-four, the ration was a pint. I have forgotten now what came after that, but everyone who had even a small piece of land was encouraged to grow a "victory garden."
I don’t remember anything ever tasting as good as a carrot pulled out of someone’s garden (not always your own), the dirt wiped off on your jeans.
As food prices go up these days and things disappear from grocery shelves, I remember the stories about John P “Bonanza” Smith, who was mentioned in dispatches by then Governor Chancellor. He was a small commercial trader who had grown during the war years to build the Bonanza empire. He eventually owned and ran the huge store named after him.
It was a "general store" which sold everything from hardware to ribbons and laces. There are photos of it on the internet taken by Michael Ayre, with glass skylights that used to be called lantern roofs. From near-bankruptcy before the war, according to the governor, after the war, he left a fortune of £250,000, which would probably be £250,000 million now.
How did he do it? During wartime? With submarines torpedoing cargo ships?
He wasn’t the only one. A boy called Serjad Makamadeen was born in Princes Town back in 1910. He began to work full-time as a gardener from the age of ten to help support his family.
Then, he worked as a baker. As he grew up he changed his name and became known as Joseph Charles. He never stopped working and created a commercial empire.
How did he do it?
If, as is being foretold by the economists, we are in for a hard time over the next few years, they might serve as inspiration for other boys now being born with the same challenges in front of them. War was a time of opportunity for those who saw it.
Post-war, when things were still grim, the Colonial Office realised that TT needed many more jobs to sustain the growing population, as the recent line-up for Guyanese jobs indicates we do now.
Although in 1910, the British Navy had switched from coal to oil as a fuel, and TT was ahead of the entire world in the commercial production of oil, with a product essential to the war effort, we were still a colony and could not use the proceeds for our own development. There was a war on. It changed everything. But awareness of the internationalisation of trade and economies had begun as a result.
As early as 1947 the Colonial Secretariat appointed Sir John Shaw, as the governor, to survey the fields of finance, economics, production and development. As a result, an Industrial Development Corporation was set up in 1959 (these things take time) and several disconnected bits of incentive legislation that had been enacted and run over ten years by TT administrators were evaluated. How were we doing?
It was realised that – and this won’t surprise anyone – insufficient or no data had been kept to be able to evaluate the incentive performance. If you don’t measure, you can’t manage.
The chief incentive had been to provide jobs, but 93 per cent of the industrial development had been in oil and gas, both capital-, not labour-intensive. It made a lot of money for some foreign-based corporations, and tax and royalty money for TT, but created relatively few of the desperately-needed jobs.
Agriculture, which is labour-intensive and sustainable, was left by the wayside. I used to listen to Prof John Spence, year after year in the budget debate, argue and plead the case for agriculture, with a feeling of helpless futility as he was given a polite hearing by the Finance Minister ,and then ignored.
In a Newsday article on October 23, a Central Bank panel set up to re-evaluate the economic sustainability of Carnival was reported as discovering that, as an industry, and a labour-intensive one at that, there was simply not sufficient data to do a proper evaluation of what exists in tourism. No basis, realistically, on which to plan to recognise the labour-intensive potential of this internationalised industry.
Plus ça change...
TT went through over a decade of an import-substitution policy, under the pioneer industry-protection rubric helping to finance new manufacturing industries, supporting those in particular that could produce goods and services to replace imported ones. They could bring in machinery and inputs under tax and tariff-free concessions, some for five, others for ten years – only to discover that nearly all the millions had poured into pioneer enterprises had gone into capital-, not labour-intensive incentives.
Meanwhile, in front of the corporate /government and no longer colonial noses were export-oriented chocolate varieties, marijuana, and hot pepper labour-intensive agricultural products waiting to be developed. Only Angostura bitters made it to the finishing line. Meanwhile, Carnival, calypso, soca, bhajans, chutney, plus a myriad of distinctive cultural varieties that only TT developed, needing some sophisticated international marketing, were just not paid attention.
As for international transposition? Supported by government financial incentives? These were recommended in 1967.
Get onto any public transport in Toronto or London and look at the overhead ads as you travel in the subway or bus and you will see ads for St Lucia, Jamaica often Grenada, but never TT.
As Ken Gordon once said, "How can we attract tourism? We don’t bother to advertise. Not even hurricanes can find us."