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The decline of the West
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011

By Derren Joseph
September 28, 2011

The title "decline of the West" works on two levels—domestically and globally. Let me explain. I had an interesting email exchange recently that got me thinking. In terms of Trinidad specifically, for a long time it could be credibly argued that the centre of politics, wealth, entertainment and so on lay in the North Western peninsula. The "best" so-called prestige secondary schools were those in Port-of-Spain. Real estate prices reflected the desire of "everyone" to live there.

Even those from different parts of the island moved to Port-of-Spain to prove themselves and "make it." I remember in the 1980s, when I attended both primary (Rosary Boys RC) and secondary school (St Mary's College) in Port-of-Spain, there was always friendly banter between those students who lived in the "West" and those that did not. My secondary school looked forward to national scholarship results every year to find out how many more scholarships we won than the second-placed boys school.

Fast forward to 2011, and things now seem to have changed. My friend who went to secondary school in Chaguanas, believes that there has traditionally been a Port-of-Spain-based elite that was part of an old boys' network (no, not freemasons which is a topic for another time) that exercised considerable influence over life in Trinidad. He went on to speculate that aside from the Syrian-Lebanese community, the influence of this Port-of-Spain-based elite is definitely on the decline. Among the main reasons for the decline in influence would be the social mobility afforded by the expansion of education opportunities.

Over time, the best and the brightest no longer had to make a pilgrimage to a Port-of-Spain school, as so-called prestige schools emerged in central and south Trinidad. Furthermore, more easily accessible tertiary education opportunities (including distance learning courses) have allowed many others to move up the career ladder in professions like banking, law and accounting. As I thought long and hard, I began to see my friend's point. Yes, there was once a time when I would not venture east of the Light House in Port-of-Spain or south of Grand Bazaar but this is definitely no longer the case.

Price Plaza in Chaguanas is quite a hub for entertainment in Central as I found out in July when Woodford Café, Chaguanas had a special performance from my favourite artiste, Machel Montano. Now there is no need to come into Port-of-Spain for that weekend lime. In fact, there is now good reason to leave Port-of-Spain to lime in Central. If you're looking for the top scholarship winner among the boys schools, one needs to look down south to Presentation College, San Fernando these days. Perhaps this is due to their principal being a St Mary's College old boy (sorry, but I could not resist).

At the same time, the balancing effect or perhaps the geographical power shift is not only visible in tiny Trinidad but also on the global stage. There was once a time when the world's resources flowed from former colonies on the economic periphery to North America and Western Europe in the centre. Now the biggest year on year increases in demand for raw materials is being seen among the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China)—with a particular focus on India and China. As someone involved in the travel and tourism sector, I am amazed at how powerful an economic force the Asian region already is. They generate huge orders for new aircraft and are the fastest growing market for leisure travellers. I guess my point is that while we feel as if T&T is going through some sort of transition, it cannot be forgotten that we are not alone.

There is a transition taking place at a global level. It seems like almost everyday we read about the economic woes of the mighty Americans and Europeans versus the exploding growth in Asia. Looking at the mighty US buckle under a debt burden that is near impossible to repay, I was amazed to see Robert Kiyosaki (best selling author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad) on a Fox News programme say that it is not a matter of "if" but "when" some sort of economic collapse takes place. Hopefully as a new order creates itself out of the present global chaos, it would be one based on stronger social welfare principles than that which characterised this previous economic age. Time will tell.

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