GOOD NEWS: WHAT COMES DOWN EVENTUALLY GOES BACK UP

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By admin October 13, 2011 13:52

GOOD NEWS: WHAT COMES DOWN EVENTUALLY GOES BACK UP

The economic condition of our Anguillian and Caribbean forebears was shaped and dictated by two main factors. The first was the colonial plantation economic system founded on the enslavement of our African ancestors. The enslavement of Africans was followed by the exploitation of Indians and to, a lesser extent, Chinese through the system of indentured labour to satisfy the demand for labour by export agriculture, mainly sugar. The second main factor was the climate and weather conditions which dictated wet and dry seasons – planting and harvesting.

 

The plantation economic system thrived in the larger fertile island countries of the Caribbean. Not so in Anguilla. Sugar’s hold on the economies and societies of countries such as Antigua-Barbuda, Barbados and St. Kitts-Nevis was extremely strong over the centuries. Antigua-Barbuda abandoned sugar in the 1960’s and turned to tourism as the main source of livelihood for its people in the closing years of the 20th century and into the 21st century. St. Kitts only managed to wean itself off sugar just a few short years ago. Barbados is still mulling over exactly what it should do with King Sugar.

King Sugar was dethroned in Anguilla quite a long time ago. In fact his throne was shaky from the start and he fell quickly, in short order. The Anguillian community of our forefathers was forced to lower its expectations. Our ancestors had to adjust their outlook and strategy to focusing on survival in the face of grave environmental hardships, attributable to the arid and volatile climatic conditions of Anguilla and the visitation of hurricanes.

The plantation system ceased to dictate the economic fortunes of the Anguillian community fairly early. While slavery in Anguilla continued into the 19th century, until emancipation in 1834, the failure of commercial plantation agriculture led to local adjustments in the system. This resulted generally in slavery being purged of the more extreme manifestations of ill treatment and exploitation of enslaved persons.

The two main factors that came to dictate the fortunes of the Anguillian community in the 317 years from colonial settlement in 1650 up to the Anguilla Revolution of 1967 were, firstly the uncertain weather conditions of its dry Tropical Marine Climate and secondly the Caribbean Sea and its resources. Put another way, life in Anguilla was dictated by the land and the sea.

A subsistence economy and a hardy, self-reliant and tenacious society evolved. It generated an unbreakable bond between our ancestors and this land of Anguilla, our little left over, almost useless piece of God’s creation. To them it was some kind of rough diamond that only they could see. Without their deep sense of place and belonging to the island place called Anguilla, Anguillian society in the more than three centuries after colonization in 1650, would have failed in the face of the hardships that beset the community over those centuries. It took a lot for our forebears to refuse to be lured in great numbers by the call of the colonial authorities to abandon the Anguilla ship and start fresh elsewhere in the Caribbean, anywhere from the BVI to Guyana.
Our ancestors understood that the man was much more than the tattered clothes on his back, was more than the hunger in his belly, in the middle of a relentless drought. They understood that God did not ordain nor promise that life would be rosy. They played the cards dealt to them as best they could. They left the rest to God, always hopeful and faithful believing that everything would work out for the good in the end for them and their children here on the Rock, Anguilla.

Hope, faith, belief and trust in their destiny and in God’s providence. Anguilla, to everyone else a forbidden place to be abandoned. To our forebears their native land – home. To them a place of hope and a vision, no matter how blurred of a New Anguilla to fight for and even to die for.

The sea enabled our people to traverse the Caribbean, selling their labour as migrants. They were forced by lack of economic opportunity to sojourn in foreign lands, until the day they could return to the Rock, Anguilla, for good. They would live out the rest of their days until their number was called from on high. The sea enabled our people, without any natural resources suitable to the industry, to create a ship building and shipping industry second to none in the Caribbean. Anguillian vessels transported much of the merchandise traded between the islands for many decades in the 20th century, until the industry faltered and fell in the face of major technological changes in shipping.

Our people created an Anguilla labour brand characterized by good manners and respect for others, honesty and fairness, industry, quick learning and adaptability, loyalty, determination and commitment, frugality in spending, a strong saving habit, and moderate expectations about the future. These served us in good stead for a time only, following the Anguilla Revolution.
The 1967 Anguilla Revolution catapulted Anguillians and the Anguillian community into the eye of history, becoming the makers of their own history. For the centuries before then, Anguilla was a mere footnote, an afterthought, in the colonial history of the Caribbean. 1967 opened the door to the creation of a modern national economy based on trade and commerce. It triggered the decline and disappearance of the traditional subsistence economy.

Our Anguilla labour brand has been gradually, but severely, eroded since 1967. To an alarming degree today, Anguillian labour has lost its competitive edge. Anguillian employees are being driven increasingly by an overemphasis on self and getting by at the expense of employers and coworkers. Many are intent on doing as little as possible, while collecting as fat a cheque as possible. Average productivity levels are low especially in construction. Basic skills and competencies have been significantly eroded. Dishonesty in the workplace, in one form or another, is a problem across the various sectors of the economy. The problem of low productivity is a major hindrance, preventing Anguilla from maintaining and strengthening its competitive edge in the global marketplace. It threatens to become our economic downfall, and the undoing of the economic gains we have achieved over the past thirty five years since 1976 when ministerial government was introduced.

Low productivity exists alongside high expectations for levels of compensation comparable to wages and salaries in the more affluent and higher per capita income Caribbean countries such as the BVI, USVI and Cayman Islands. The upward pressure on wages and salaries, especially in the Construction Sector, is driven in part by the need to “live large” and secure all of the up to date consumer goods and services that are associated with the affluent life styles promoted by American consumer society. We face the dilemma of a workforce that is low in productivity – that expects and pressures for higher wages to finance materialistic life styles.

A spacious home; all of the up to date consumer durables, gadgets and equipment outfitting the home; the latest SUV in the carport (“The Great Recession is for the rest of you not for me”); annual cruise vacation; two mobile phones changed annually; weekends at the slot machines in St. Maarten; eating out at least once a week; shopping monthly in St. Maarten or Puerto Rico and now online. Credit cards maxed out. Got to have it all. Holding down two and three jobs to have it all. Perhaps! Maybe! Perhaps not, maybe not! Beware of living above one’s means!

The most spectacular period of growth in Anguilla’s economy was the unprecedented boom period from 2004 to 2007. Optimism was at an all time high. The sky was the limit, or so many of us thought and proceeded to pile on debt. We got ‘mad’ when our credit requests were refused by the bank or the business owner. Our expectations about the future performance of the Anguillian economy went through the roof. This was the beginning of a “golden age” of uninterrupted high growth and there was nothing to fear. Anyone who did not take the plunge was thought of as a coward – too conservative.
Many were caught up and intoxicated by the unprecedented flows of money in the economy and overextended themselves. They forgot that “what goes up must come down” sooner or later. Well it turned out to be sooner.

Many of us were caught off guard because we allowed our expectations to run away with us. Our expectations were too high. We were over optimistic and did not leave any room for disappointment. Only to be devastated by the sudden shock of the 2008 financial crisis, followed by the major contraction in the global economy and a veritable economic “bust” in Anguilla. We went from “boom” to “bust” in Anguilla in a “jiffy” as they say.
There has been no choice but to lower our expectations. But I am afraid that not everyone has lowered his/her expectations sufficiently or at all. Some of us are in denial and are fooling ourselves that the global Great Recession, and its local manifestation, the slump in Anguilla’s economy hurts everyone else but us. The pain of the financial blues is for others not for us.
The bad news is that economic conditions in the USA and Europe, which dictate our fortunes through the tourist industry, will remain at best sluggish, with low growth for the next three to five years. I hope the unfavourable economic situation ends sooner, but it seems unlikely given the projections of the various global economic think tanks.

We all would be well advised to further moderate and lower our expectations and adjust our behavior accordingly. We who have been spared the unemployment lines must cut back on consumption expenditure and save more. Government must cut back on non-essential expenditure and save more. Government also needs to make strategic and prudent investments in infrastructure and other public capital creating projects that expand Anguilla’s productive potential. Existing and new entrepreneurs must make careful investments in innovative ventures working collaboratively with each other and with external investment partners.
The good news: what comes down in a commercial economy will eventually go up, sooner or later. I hope it will be sooner. Moreover, Anguilla’s economy is like its land. Two days of heavy rain and the land turns green from brown. Two significant projects start and the US Dollar greenbacks flow again, the lean times turn to greenback times. So Hubert you have no excuses.

By Marcel Fahie

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By admin October 13, 2011 13:52

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