Schumacher still speaks to Barbados today!

fighting goliathSome 39 years ago, a message of critical importance was delivered to the people of Barbados by Dr Ernst F. Schumacher, one of the world’s greatest ever economists.

The occasion was the inaugural Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture, staged by the Central Bank of Barbados on November 29, 1976. And at the time, the German-born Dr E. F. Schumacher –– author of the ground-breaking economic work entitled Small Is Beautiful –– was perhaps the world’s most highly acclaimed living economist.

Dr Schumacher chose as his topic Independence And Economic Development, and proceeded to offer up to Barbadians an extremely wise and profound prescription for the future economic development of our nation.

Dr Schumacher began by explaining to us that as a small island nation we possessed an economic asset of inestimable value: namely, a distinctive quality or personality of our own –– our Barbadian or Bajan national culture!

Indeed, he explained that when a people or nation had the good fortune to possess a distinctive and unique culture, it meant that they had within their grasp an “inner wealth” that had the potential to imbue them with the characteristics of “self-confidence” and “self-thinking”, and with the basis for economic “self-reliance”.

Having directed our gaze towards the goal of “self-reliance”, Dr Schumacher then proceeded to urge us to reject the orthodox approach to economic development. He explained that the conventional approach to economic development, with its built-in notion that “economics is about the production and consumption of goods and services”, inevitably gives primacy to the wealthy elites who command the so-called factors of production –– land, capital, managerial skill and labour –– and consigns ordinary people to the role of being mere appendages, whose only function is to serve the system and the great commanders of the factors of production.

Rather than our accepting orthodox or conventional economics, Dr Schumacher urged us to embrace a different kind of economics –– one that does not take “goods” or “money” as its starting point, but that instead begins with and is built upon “people”.

The great economist admonished us: “. . . Let’s start with people . . . . So, no matter how poor we are, we have something to start with: ourselves, the people, our own ingenuity and labour power, and, of course, our needs . . . .

“And when the point of departure of economic policy is not production and consumption of goods and services or money, but us, ourselves –– people –– then everything changes and the primary concern of development policy becomes the development of the capabilities of the people.”

What Dr Schumacher was urging upon us was a society in which people who have manifold unsatisfied needs –– who, in other words, are poor and not affluent –– will organize themselves for production: a society in which the people will be predisposed to get busy and produce for themselves, rather than depending on some “foreign investor” to come from “over in away” to set up an enterprise that will employ them.

Dr Schumacher therefore issued a call for a national leadership that would guide the people to the fullest possible development of their own capabilities, as opposed to a national leadership that would permit the people to be used as a means of production just as and when it suits the purpose of the wealthy local or foreign “commanders” of the factors
of production to use (or exploit) them.

Indeed, Dr Schumacher posed the following fundamental questions about the Barbadian society of 1976: is there a development of the capabilities of the people to feed themselves, clothe themselves, house themselves and generally to do for self? Is there a development of the capabilities of the people to preserve and generate their own culture, and the inner wealth of self-confidence, self-thinking and self-reliance contained within such a national culture?

And, having pointed us in this wise direction of a national doing for self, Dr Schumacher then makes two fundamental and critical policy prescriptions.

The first has to do with education. Without a comprehensive access, not merely to education, but to proper developmental education, self-reliance and independence will only be a dream. As Dr Schumacher saw it, all people should –– through the education system –– be given the know-how that would equip them to perform at least some of the basic tasks in food and clothing production, house construction, and building maintenance, and that would set them on the road to an attitude of self-reliance, self-thinking and self-doing. In addition, the education system should develop the people’s capability to  reproduce their national culture, and to work together cooperatively.

I would like to pause here to make the point that the education policies of the current Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government are the very antithesis of Dr Schumacher’s education policy prescription. Far from exerting itself to provide comprehensive access to proper developmental education, the current Barbados Government has instituted a policy that has led to some 4,200 Barbadians actually dropping out of university education.

This is a politically treasonous policy that should cause the Barbadian people to impose a severe punishment on the DLP whenever the next general election is held.

The second policy prescription has to do with technology –– appropriate technology.

In addition to proper developmental education, Barbados must possess appropriate technology. Appropriate for what, you may ask. Well, Dr Schumacher answers this way: “Appropriate . . . for the genuine needs of the people so that they can effectively provide for themselves . . . ; not everyone for himself . . . but in human-sized groups. Barbados would be populous enough for this: to have a high level of basic self-sufficiency with plenty of work opportunities for everybody, and without undue reliance on such chancy and vulnerable economic arrangements as monoculture export of raw materials or tourism.”

But, as Dr Schumacher warns, “appropriate technology” will not simply fall into place, we have to bestir ourselves and go after it.

“Every community that wishes to escape from unemployment, frustration and economic servitude will need to get some institution, some knowledge centre, with the unique task of organizing and promoting the requisite knowledge of an appropriate technology.”

Fellow Barbadians, these are words and ideas of great wisdom that were offered to us almost 40 years ago by a great economist. They were relevant then, and they are even more relevant today. I urge you to take them to heart!

(David A. Comissiong is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)

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