One thing is certain in this time of greatest uncertainty: It will not be possible to return the Trinidad and Tobago economy to the model by which it was previously operated. The country does not have the money to do so.
Dr Terrence Farrell recently comprehensively explained the economic facts of life in two pieces in this website entitled The Perfect Storm published, a month ago.
Even if we could return the economy to the questionably ‘good old days’, we would or should, in good conscience, have to consider whether that model drove or accelerated an undesirable level of inequality.
Related questions are whether the education system provides avenues to equal opportunity and equips citizens to be fit for work and whether state-sponsored economic activity fairly and effectively mitigates inequality and offers a sustainable existence.
Disgustingly, race and class frequently prejudice and blunt the good conscience to which I refer, to the extent that if we see disadvantaged persons as ‘those people’ or ‘cockroaches’ we will not succeed in a meaningful re-examination of our troubling socio-economic realities.
The Prime Minister has appointed a 22-person committee to help the government chart its way forward in light of the Covid-19 and reportedly to produce ‘a draft road map’ by the end of May.
Without being ‘mischievous’ or ‘subversive’, one may ask: Road map to where? In order to take us somewhere productive, will this committee fully focus on the depth of entrenched inequality in the economy and the practical, sometimes crushing, and now possible starvation effects of it?
Given our enduring post-colonial preference for foreign advice, it may be useful to set out the contents of a BBC interview, on 18 April, with professor Michael Sandel, Professor of Political Philosophy at Harvard University.
Here are some words pertinent to where the road map should take us:
“The pandemic came along at a time of deep inequality and intense polarisation, and yet contending with it requires resources of solidarity that are not easy to summon. I think one of the moral lessons of the pandemic, thus far, is how mutually dependent we are, including on workers who have not fared very well in the economy in recent years. So I think it’s a chance for re-thinking in our society in our economy to accord greater recognition and reward to those on whom, we really understand now, we deeply depend.
“I think that the inequality that we have seen has heaped enormous financial rewards and also social esteem on those in Wall Street, hedge fund managers, those in the city of London. The social contributions of working people who actually are essential at this very moment, that social esteem, has been quite low and diminished.
“So I think it’s an opportunity, both from the standpoint of financial reward and from the standpoint of social recognition, to rethink the way we appreciate every member of society and to really ask who makes the kind of contribution on which the rest of us depend.”
Professor Sandel questioned the use of the slogan ‘we are all in this together’ because: “the way we have organised our economy, as a practical matter, shows that we are not all in this together. The question is whether we can emerge from this crisis with a keener sense of the way in which we are all in this together.”
It is also obvious that we no longer have either the foreign exchange earnings or reserves to support the conspicuous consumption and the current imitation South Florida lifestyle that accompanied inflated social esteem, real or wannabe.
With respect, a hard core of this committee may be predisposed towards attempted resumption and preservation of the status quo, before the new coronavirus—particularly import-only business that drain foreign exchange to provide stuff for the conspicuous consumption and imitation. The ghost of negative list may yet have to take a seat at the committee table.
In addition, the road map will not lead us very far without broad-based ‘buy into it’ by our citizens. This is not likely to happen if the government continues to lapse into bullying or self-righteous postures.