A watershed election

Our next election will be a watershed election.

Either we make fundamental changes to the way our society is organized and governed or we will become yet another failed post-colonial country.

The international environment in which we live has changed radically from that in which we became independent in the 1960s. And it is in the throes of even more rapid change, driven by technology and geopolitics.

Fifty years ago we might have picked up a manufactured object and said, “Hey, look, this was made in China.” Today we pick up a similar object and exclaim in surprise, “Hey, look, this was not made in China.”

The rise of China to be the dominant power of this century is but one of several geopolitical currents roiling the familiar contours of international relations.

The age of smart robots is upon us, from self-driving vehicles to automated workplaces. Despite what the populists say, it is automation, not globalization, that is killing human jobs across the world. Although technological change historically has always created new areas of employment as it has made old ones obsolete, both the pace and substance of the new technology are destroying jobs at a far faster rate than they replace them.

This inevitably leads to national economic, social and political crises as wages and purchasing power stagnate or plummet. Populist leaders and parties arise promising solutions they cannot possibly deliver. This ends in autocracy and the destruction of democracy. At the same time, it drives capital frantically across the globe in pursuit of investment that offers a better return. This in turn leads to international volatility, ferocious competition among states, and armed conflict.

Of course, this fatalistic scenario is only inevitable if we accept that machines must rule humans and impersonal systems displace human agency. Are human beings a means to an end or the end itself?

Automation can be a godsend, freeing up humans from doing stressful repetitive work, but at some stage we are going to have to decide what we do about the increasing decoupling of income and employment, and how we go about teaching and re-teaching the skills necessary to flourish in the new gig economy. And what should be the role of trade unions?

The Barbados economy depends upon tourism and international business, but the latter is now taking a beating as fiscally strapped states around the world scrabble for the last cent of tax revenue. On the other hand, there will always be international financial transactions so there is always scope for efficient and law-abiding jurisdictions to benefit from the flows of capital. Barbados, for example, might still be a safe regional bridgehead for Chinese capital into Latin America. We would also have to be constantly innovating our business services products.

I know that most Barbadian politicians think it is political suicide to suggest that agriculture and manufacturing are sectors without a future, except for specialized high-end products, but that’s the reality. It’s like Trump promising to revive coal production in the US. The sooner we abandon our illusions about these two sectors and face facts honestly, the better we will be.

That does not mean that we should allow all agricultural land to be converted to commercial or residential use willy nilly. That’s a recipe for disaster. In a tiny country like Barbados,  one of the most important things we need is a well thought-through land use plan that preserves green and community recreational space.

Tourism itself is changing, and we too have to change. I do not see any circumstances in which we can compete with Cuba or the Dominican Republic, just to name two prospering Caribbean destinations, and we should not try to. Our best bet is to continue to aim for the high end of the market. This means, however, we must ensure our physical plant, our island environment, and our service are exceptional. Value for money is the critical criterion. Our money should be spent on improving the product offerings and general environment of the island rather than on promotion.

In a world of relentless change whose outcomes we cannot predict with any accuracy, the best path forward for a small society like Barbados is to invest in innovation, or, more specifically, the capacity of our people to be innovative.

Right now we have an antiquated educational system that does not really come to grips with and help to develop the different capabilities of students, and, even worse, inflicts on them the highly damaging common entrance examination as a ludicrous means of testing their abilities, and of distributing them through the secondary school system.

Our educational system, instead of releasing the talents of our children, stifles them. We need radical reform.

    change the primary and secondary curricula into ones that value and promote innovation and creativity

    Convert as many of the older secondary schools as necessary into a combined pre-university sixth form college

      abolish the 11+ as a means of allocating students to the secondary schools

    turn the Community College into a college of the visual and performing arts, akin to the Edna Manley College in Jamaica, offering degrees in dance, music, drama, photography and videography, film and so on

    turn the polytechnic into a College of Science and Technology offering degrees in computer science, etc

    create a well-funded centre for innovation at the UWI campus that would also monitor and promote both national productivity and service excellence

All of these measures would together work to provide a human resource base for a creative and innovation economy.

Bu all this requires:

      An efficient and productive public service that makes investment and business activity painless

      Transparent and accountable governance both in the public and private sectors (it takes two to bribe and be corrupted)

    A deepening and widening of our democracy that involves all of our citizenry

    A cultural mental emancipation that comes to terms with our complex history (without looking back we cannot go forward).

Source: (Dr Peter Laurie is a retired permanent secretary and head of the Foreign Service who once served as Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States)

13 Responses to A watershed election

  1. Chris Alleyne
    Chris Alleyne December 6, 2017 at 11:52 am

    Wrong finger.

  2. Danny Clarke
    Danny Clarke December 6, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Though it would be money shed

  3. Veroniva Boyce
    Veroniva Boyce December 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Sewage Election!

  4. JOHN GODDARD December 6, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Good article, Dr Laurie. It is a pity more Barbadians are unable or unwilling to see the need for change in an educational system they consider sacrosanct. Fear not, though, change will be forced on us. I hope by then it is not too late.

  5. jrsmith December 6, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    We are so educated but our people is not carrying the right education.. My take we need strategic educational planners , who would choose and select , the right education and technology, aiming at our country’s economic success………………………

  6. Patrick Cozier
    Patrick Cozier December 6, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Very good article by Dr. Laurie.

  7. Lord-Ridley Greene
    Lord-Ridley Greene December 6, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    When them come canvassing insist on money for the vote.

    • Peter Lowe
      Peter Lowe December 6, 2017 at 5:03 pm

      I agree. No sense voting for people who’s guts are big like Santa clause and you are hungry.

    • Eddy Murray
      Eddy Murray December 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      Peter you mean with two waist lines and you can not even get on waist line.

  8. Ria Ifill
    Ria Ifill December 6, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    Christopher Barnett

  9. Bajan Patriot December 6, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Wow. You nail it Dr.laurie. but the question is this.
    Is anyone listening or have the guts to carry out these changes?. I don’t think so.I’m in total agreements with this article. The only thing i would correct is not to abandon agriculture but diverse it. Example. Limes.oranges. pine apples. Mangos. Pears. And so on. We are a tropical country. Make use of our location. Sir its time to hold open forum all across barbados to reach the people. They need to hear your message. Please do that. PLEASE for the less inform amound us.

  10. harry turnover December 6, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    All that would happened if we all live in a PERFECT WORLD.
    You say ABOLISH the 11+,but that would mean certain children will be going to TOP SCHOOLS….money pass will determine who goes where and who got good marks during the continuous assessment.

    • Bajan Patriot December 6, 2017 at 7:26 pm

      Utter nonsense Harry. You are a classic example of what’s wrong with barbados. I could never understand why i kid have to leave St. Lucy to travel all the way to st. Phillip to set in a building. Look its not the building that’s important here. Its what being taught in the building. Some countries teach they kids in less fancy accommodation and get better results. Drop the busing system and create school zones in each Parrish. What is needed is a better system and more Quility teachers. Student turning teacher and repeating the same thing that was thought to them 12 year’s earlier is like my cat trying to catch his tail.

      Reform the system. Here is what is needed. A monthly Accessment test to gauge whether the students are understanding the work. Those overall scores should be use to Quility Student for entry into the high school system. By the way. It’s time for a middle school system in barbados. This system will introduce students to high school work while refreshing there primary studies.

      Student should be going to school within they neighborhoods or Parrish. Each Parrish should have at lease (4) high schools. Like i said earlier. It don’t have to be big fancy Experience building. Portables are cheaper to build.

      Just my take.


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