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T&T’s wake-up call
We are celebrating 42 years of republican status on Monday.
As a republic, we the people are vested with the power to determine how we govern ourselves. If I may draw a layman’s comparison, independence refers to the state of the nation whereas republican status refers to the status of the people in that nation.
The question for we the people of T&T is: do we understand our power and know how to use what has been granted to us?
The question is not one of revolution or anarchism but rather one that speaks to our understanding of how the world has changed over the past 42 years and whether we have collectively adapted and adopted the mind set that is required to thrive in the world of today.
The question speaks to an understanding that the right of self-determination carries with it the need to be capable enough to determine things for ourselves.
Yet many of us wait to be told what is happening around us, what to do, how to do it. We glibly accept what has been represented to us based on who is saying it. In many respects we live in a republic but our collective is trapped in a pre-Independence, colonial mindset.
I have recently been introduced to a body of work called Maxims and Reflections by the Italian historian and political writer Francesco Guicciardini.
The book is a collection of his thoughts and journals gathered during life. It is almost like a 1500s version of the contemporary bestseller Principles by Ray Dallio.
In reflection number 37 he wrote: “Always deny what you didn’t want to be known, and always affirm what you want to be believed. For, though there be much—even conclusive—evidence to the contrary, a fervent affirmation or denial will often create at least some doubt in the mind of your listener.”
As you can see, waiting to be told has its risks and challenges. In a world of instantaneous news and the added complication of socially transmitted news and the advent of the term “fake news,” we are required to look past the messenger and understand the message in order to be effective in our decision making.
Effective decision making and its precursor—critical thinking—are crucial ingredients to success in the era in which we now live. Waiting and wanting to be told what to do means that you are already behind the rest of the pack.
We remained in this position primarily because of our oil and gas resources. Prior to independence our access to our resources were determined for us and we had no choice but to accept.
Today, because of the massive use of handouts, transfers and subsidies we have accepted the manner in which our resources have been handed out because “there was always something in it for me.”
Now with the closure and subsequent restructure of Petrotrin a new reality is here and this will cause us significant dislocation.
The world of today is vastly different to the world of 42 years ago and vastly different to the world pre 1962.
To be relevant, our thinking as a people, would have had to evolve at the same pace at which the world has changed otherwise we are in a very precarious state.
The extent of our challenges is moreso now as the buffers that has allowed for our complacency is rapidly diminishing.
The world is moving into a fourth industrial revolution but, in many instances, our thinking and approach to life and our economy is still rooted in the themes of the first industrial revolution.
We have had the Petrotrin wake-up call, now the question is whether we take heed or decide to falter.
Another quote from Guicciardini, his 31st entry, is as follows: “Even if you attribute everything to prudence and virtue and discount as much as possible the power of fortune, you must at least admit that it is very important to be born in a time that prizes highly the virtues and qualities in which you excel.
“Take the example of Fabius Maximus whose great reputation resulted from him being by nature hesitant. He found himself in a war in which impetuosity was ruinous, whereas procrastination was useful.
“At another time the opposite could have been true. His times needed his qualities and that was his fortune. To be sure if a man can change his nature to suit the conditions of the times, he would be much less dominated by fortune. But that is most difficult and perhaps even impossible.”
T&T has been extremely fortunate. We had oil, then we discovered natural gas. We developed a downstream oil sector and have done the same with natural gas. Those four pillars will become three as the Petrotrin refinery is closed.
Our downstream gas efforts seem to be intensifying and in the short term that is a good thing. Over the longer term it makes us more concentrated in the commodity space. That can prove to be a challenge.
If industry is built out and made to run efficiently then the projects as we know them to be will employ less people.
Overall we are already into a world where capital commands a greater share of corporate profitability than labour. This is because capital is able to leverage technology at a faster pace than labour is able to adapt to new uses of technology.
To move past fortune we need to adapt and do so quickly because the times that we are in requires rapid and frequent adaptation and adaptability.
The way our leaders lead, the dynamics of our politics, the attitude of each citizen as a productive member of society, the state of our institutions to support citizens so that they can be more productive are all required to change and change rapidly.
We are decades behind where we are supposed to be and the quicker our buffers deteriorate the faster we need to change.
There was a time when we sought employment and worked in the same career or the same place for the rest of our working lives. We were able to rely on a pension and various forms of benefits from our employer.
That scenario is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
The question is whether our workforce is flexible enough to adapt. If not, there will be increased social disorder.
Further, the economic model of trickle down economics is under significant scrutiny as capital takes a bigger slice of the pie and income inequality grows.
The antidote to this is greater levels of entrepreneurship but this also requires a merit-based social structure so hard work and risk taking gets its just reward and the reverse is adequately punished.
Achieving this in a society so accustomed to political patronage and where our institutions have been systematically weakened over time is a difficult ask.
However the bigger question is: are we able to rapidly shift to a merit-based society then where will we end up?
We have the model of Singapore that is often held up as what we should aspire too.
However the impact of political interference and patronage and the erosion of merit and the institutions that support also offers another example in our next door neighbour Venezuela.
T&T has had its wake up call. Now it is time to make a determined choice as we chart our path to 50 years and beyond as a republic.
Ian Narine can be contacted via the website: iannarine.com
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