By C ben-David
Jomo Thomas’ recent analysis of economic development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is flawed in several respects.
- We are a relatively poor country by global and regional standards but are very far from the bottom in term of extreme global destitution with only five per cent of our population living in abject poverty (https://worldpoverty.io). The figure that Thomas gives (over 30 per cent) refers to relative poverty, i.e., the level of income inequality in our country. Even rich countries like the United States have considerable poverty defined as the gap between those have more and those who have less. A relatively poor person in America SVG would be well off in SVG. A relatively wealthy person in SVG would be classified as a person of average wealth or less in America.
- Overall, our people are far better off in income and possessions today than 20 years ago. Most poor people in 1999 were also better off than their counterparts in 1979. Our progress has been very slow; but it has still been progress.
- Income inequality — the gap between the rich and the poor — has also decreased over the decades.
- That there are so many vendors on the streets partly reflects the fact that ordinary people, both income earners and those dependent on remittances from abroad, have far more spending power today than ever in our history.
- Migration and remittances have been with us since the abolition of slavery in 1838 when the ex-slaves migrated to other lands to seek their fortunes and send money back home to family and friends.
- Disunity and other negative forces do not necessarily adversely affect development: two of the most disunited countries on earth, the United States and Canada, the former by party politics and the latter by culture (the Quebecois vs. all other ethnic groups), are also two of the richest and most developed.
- “… [O]ur country has NOT been awash with tourists” since last year unless he means the one-off surge in cruise ship visitors because of the devastation to port facilities by two devastating hurricanes in the northern Caribbean. As for overnight visitors (those landing at AIA), the maximum 2018 figure would be one per cent higher than in 2016, according to my preliminary estimate. (Stopover visitors in 2017, the year AIA began operation, saw a 3.5 percent decline from 2016: 78,751 to 75,972, according to official records.)
- The “structural fault lines” he fails to mention as keeping us poor as well as the “international economic, financial and trading architecture” he fails to detail (but which surely includes free trade, a curse for a tiny economy like ours which has nothing much to sell without preferential market access) are overwhelmed by the fact that we have no natural resources on the mainland that would allow us to ever prosper.
We simply have very little potential for development (exacerbated by a poorly educated and motivated work force and poor public policies like high taxes), an assertion few patriotic Vincentians and no elected politician would ever admit.
Scores of nation-states have risen and fallen in power and prosperity over the past 5,000 years, a pattern that is likely to continue for the next 5,000. During that time, some parts of the world enjoyed near continuous prosperity for many of its residents while others saw nothing but grinding poverty for most of its people. Our own Vincentian era of relative global wealth was a mere 50 or so years between the late 18th and early 19th centuries based on cultivating sugar cane using slave labour.
Though the world may well go back, at least temporarily, to the economic protectionism that ensured our survival during much of the post slavery era, it is unlikely to help us very much in the future since we are unlikely to ever have as good (and wicked) a patron as Great Britain again. And if the developed countries of the world close their doors to mass immigration, as they are likely to do in response to enhanced labour-saving technology coupled with artificial intelligence, not to mention ethnic chauvinism, we would be royalty screwed.
I am no fortune-teller, but except for increased tourism in the Grenadines, our developmental options are close to zero.
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