Of dollars and sense

By Raffique Shah
April 26, 2021

Raffique ShahI round off my intervention on the many possibilities we might find in a new post-­Covid economy by reminding readers the pandemic has hammered economies across the world, irrespective of their sizes, in ways never before seen.

Oil was rocked to unimaginably low prices. Stock markets swayed as if in stupor, major commodity prices collapsed to uneconomic levels, and the virus disrupted world production of essential industries, goods and services, leaving governments confused, powerless, defeated.

It was the only time in recorded history that the world stood still, almost literally.

Now, as nations scramble to restart their economies, they find themselves drowning in debt, some of which they had incurred before the pandemic, but a substantial amount directly related to it. Given the global reach of this debt crisis, the lending agencies will have little choice but to reschedule repayments, which adds a new dimension to the IMF-Shylock-style pay-or-you-die modus operandi that the world, more so poor countries, has experienced ever since such establishments came into existence in the wake of another catastrophic event, World War II.

By virtually shifting the earth from its regular axis, the pandemic has opened new possibilities for nations such as ours, offering opportunities for us to get rid of the neocolonial structures and economies: after independence, according to the colonisers’ rule-book, we remained sources of cheap labour to produce primary commodities that we exported to developed countries at prices that they determined—of course. They then manufactured finished products that they re-exported to us, again, at prices they fixed based on an illusion misnamed “market forces”—and yes, they controlled those, too. It was all a racket of humongous proportions that was imposed on Third World countries, such “packages” to include leaders who marched to the still-colonial drumbeat without missing a step—or faced the military might of the imperial powers.

Witness the fates of those who dared to disagree: from Sukarno of Indonesia to Nkrumah and Lumumba in Africa; that upstart, Gaddafi, who dared to have oil-producing countries determine the price of their product; the Castro brothers of Cuba, never mind their sterling achievements in self-sufficiency, their success in education; the only country that size to produce a Covid vaccine, and before that an Ebola medication and other life-saving pharmaceuticals. Many other bright stars of the Third World who came up with brilliant ideas that would liberate neocolonial countries—death at the hands of the CIA, long before Putin learned the art of assassination.

So, we enter this new, post-Covid world salvaging what we can of oil, gas, petrochemicals. Our big manufacturers are experienced and competent at adding substantial value to imported raw materials and, in instances, stamping their local brands on foreign markets (Angostura, Carib beer, Charles chocolates and candies, Bermudez crackers, SM Jaleel beverages, TCL cement, Abel clay blocks).

There are scores of other smaller manufacturers who are doing pretty well in exports, but they can use some help by way of advertising. They also need Government trade officers assigned to their destinations to offer help when needed. These include fashion designers who have carved their names in a tough market. We also have a reservoir of talent in the performing arts that can make it big in this very lucrative field.

In food production, I shall not venture into the fantasy world that “we can feed ourselves”. That is nonsense, a near-impossible target. In staples alone, we import and consume close to 80,000 tonnes of wheat per annum, approximately 80,000 tonnes of maize and other livestock feed, 70,000 tonnes of sugar at prices way lower than our cost of production, 28,000 tonnes of rice, massive amounts of dairy products, edible oils, and so on. So let us not delude ourselves about our ability to feed ourselves—certainly not when we cannot live for one day without any of the above, or without fast foods of all descriptions. When we can adjust our tastes to nutritional local “carbs” such as cassava, sweet potatoes, ground provisions, healthy vegetables, and healthier, tastier local fruits, come talk with me.

But the biggest, most lucrative avenue to dramatically alter our employment opportunities and revenue sources lies in communications and information technology. Covid has forced us into “virtual” work spaces, classrooms, offices… hell, virtually everything—pun intended. Therein lies our diversification of the economy, immense job opportunities that we can create for ourselves.

The biggest market that Covid opened up is online tutoring. There are hundreds of millions of people from East Europe, Asia and Latin America who want to learn the English language. We have many potential tutors who can become professionals in this field. But we must first master the language, spoken and written—and the cyber-world will be our stage, our workplace where we earn real dollars.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?

5 thoughts on “Of dollars and sense”

  1. The beating the dead PNM donkey on all of this, the 1% getting foreign exchange, so don’t expect anything to change.

    1. They are the backbone of the economy as Confidently expressed on public media!
      During the boom days as they labelled it many had a great easy life in nationalised industries and many politicians influenced their supporters with irresponsible phrases and racist ideology!
      The price of fossil fuel
      Is falling the new technologies will require great technical skills and technical expertise!
      The days for just “ looking the part” is ending and nations who fail to develop scientifically and technologically will cease to exist eventually!
      The days for cultural activities as a sign of intellectual achievement is no longer influencing the capacity to innovate and contribute to the economy by either by technical or scientific is paramount to future survival!

  2. Oil was rocked to unimaginably low prices long before the Covid pandemic. T&T failed to accept this fact, dreaming of some sort of miraculous recovery while ignoring the impending change to clean energy.
    The North American stock exchanges are rebounding nicely, in particular the financials.
    The debt to GDP ratios in developed countries are still in good shape in spite of the unusually high deficits created because of Covid 19. Deficit reduction targets so far have been realistic in developed countries which have the economic engines to realize quicker growth.
    The situation may not be as volatile and pessimistic as stated with the exception of poorer, developing countries, unprepared for any sort of crisis.
    T&T has to put its tail between its leg and go begging to the developed nations for aid of any kind, like many of its Caricom neighbors are accustomed to doing.

    1. I observe from a distance the social and economic disposition of many developing countries and during my last visit to the country of my birth I notice material progress but the rhetoric remains the same as I left it 60 years ago!
      This impression was displayed by the working class with the exact mentality of sexual and cultural sophistication as they see it!
      I was not concerned because I will be away within the next week and have completely erased my identity of being a Trinidadian!
      When I existed in poverty on the island the realities of my future did not exist because poverty kept me in the present and basic survival kept me fully occupied!
      I share some interest in the future of this country and having access to different cultural perspective my interest in Trinidad&Tobago is based on curiosity and not patriotism!
      My loyalty or patriotic fervour was destroyed when my neighbour Mr Mike said to me as a young man! “ I doh want no Coolie to tell me good morning” and at the Community Centre Mr Guisippi said no Coolie allowed in the community workshop.
      I read with interest the impressive grammar by the intellectual class and to conclude I am not impressed by words since I find deeds much more effective and demands respect!
      The days of the easy life y it s ending and the 1% may inherit the country they built with fast boats and great intellect contributions!

      1. Yoruba,
        Behold “Hindu” and indian nationalist ‘reverse’ psychology in action.This poster is an embodiment of how indians mobilise themselves politically in trinidad, guyana, suriname etc. Naming himself this way is supposed to shame africans (not whites, syrians etc) into submission to phantom guilt. These immature, despicably crass lies are told to even indian children, to get them in the ‘right’ frame of mind towards african people (foaming at the mouth).
        Let’s look at another example of the shameless morality of indian/hindutva politics in the caribbean… look at what has been doctored into (by whom?) Basdeo Panday’s Wikipedia page as “history”. According to that page, :


        Read paragraph starting “In 1984…”
        NAR was racist to indians(too little divali nagar land perhaps?)
        Panday was a ‘victim’ of “racist” calypsoes as PM
        *WHO fractured NAR on racial lines?*

        Interestingly, ANR Robinson’s autobiography “In the midst of it”, allegedly accuses (Guess Who, i won’t say) of:

        *Using state power from 1986 onwards (NAR), to orchestrate mass indian guyanese immigration into T&T (70 per DAY).
        *Asking then PM robbie, to cleanse entire state entities of african employment.

        What i like about the page is, it puts the indian mindset on exhibition…the sole picture entered on the page from panday’s entire political career of meeting diplomats and receiving ceremonial gifts, was brushed aside like moses and the red sea to show panday and a european. “A picture tells…”

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