The New Barbarians

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 25, 2012

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeDr. Karl Case, a dear friend and one of the most eminent economists in the United States, has always pointed out to me that part of the greatness of the United States lies in innovative scientific research that takes place at its MITs (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and its California Techs; in its Silicone Valleys and Route 128 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Case should know. He is one of the founders of the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index, the leading indicator for the US housing market; a member of the Standards and Poors Index Advisory Committee and the Academic Advisory Board of the Federal Reserve Board of Boston; the co-author of Principles of Economics that is used in over 300 colleges and universities in the United States. Not only is he knowledgeable but he has proved his mettle in the hard, cold world of United States capitalist market.

I say all of these things to underline that no country becomes prosperous without a fundamental understanding of economic and scientific knowledge and technical know-how; the careful nurturing of its talent; and investing in the future. It also needs managers of the highest caliber; men and women who reverence achievements in various fields of endeavor; and those who think arduously about the future development of one’s country. None of these attributes are capricious. They are arrived at after robust preparation and a commitment to hard work, both mental and manual.

This is why I am so disgusted by the nonsense that passes for understating in our society and the thin filament of stupidity passes as wisdom personified. In any serious country persons who are placed in positions of responsibility act with discretion and wisdom. Where there are gaps in knowledge and know-how, they recruit persons who can help them to achieve national objectives.

I am not unaware that in parliamentary democracies election to political power gives one the divine right to chose whoever one wishes to act as ministers to conduct the nation’s business. Generally, excesses of political power are safeguarded by an array of public servants and permanent secretaries who collectively possess the institutional knowledge and the requisite training that allow them to guard the public purse. This is why there is always a tense relationship between these public servants and ministers who necessarily cannot know that to which they have not been exposed.

The wealth the nation accumulated over the years did not come just so. It was the product of the prudent management of our nation’s resources over the many years and the careful planning and strategic decisions that were made by previous administrations and the conscientious work of many persons who gave their lives for their countries.

This is why I was so appalled when Devant Maharaj, a political appointee with no serious track record in anything, save and except, a stint as a corporative and public relations officer at the NLCB and the president of GOPIO, says so many silly things. His latest offering is that so long as a person is endowed with a “degree of common sense” he is qualified to be chairman of Caribbean Airlines (CAL).

Not content with such nonsense, he continued: “Aviation experience has never been the pre-order [strange word] of the day” and that Rabindra Moonan, chairman of CAL was “immediately tasked [again strange verb] by Maharaj to source a chief executive of the airline” (Express, April 20).

Even if we accept the clumsiness of the language (which indicates clumsiness in his way of thinking) how does someone, at a time when the airline industry is under such international assault, has the gall to tell us that all the chairman of such an industry needs is commonsense?

But what exactly is commonsense?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines common sense as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts” which suggests that before one can make a judgment one must know the facts. This is why serious countries places such a premium on the education and the acquisition of an in-depth knowledge of any field that is crucial to its development. This is why MIT and Silicon Valley are so important to the US economy. They allow for the match between knowledge and experience; research and development; prudent management and creative applications.

So that when one says that commonsense is all that one needs, we presume an a-priori knowledge of that field which one wishes to plunge into. So that common sense cannot be the central pre-requisite for an undertaking as large as that which Moonan has been assigned. This is one reason which my childhood friend, Rory Evelyn used to say that commonsense isn’t really that common after and why Albert Einstein once quipped that “common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

Commonsense cannot be the primary criterion for any job although it helps if one displays a good analytic sense of his surroundings and a propensity to learn. Nor for that matter should we be deluded by the dangerous doctrine that proclaims experience, education, and technical know-how irrelevant to the task at hand. If this is so, why do so many of us strive to go to school; become proficient in our fields; and work hard to know everything about tasks we undertake?

We must combat this falsity about the virtues of commonsense before it infests our population with a miasma that begins to poison the social fabric. We, in Trinidad and Tobago, have no time for such high-fluting stupidity. We reject any attempt to deaden our sensibilities and suffocate our drive towards excellence. We will not be deluded by Maharaj’s nonsense.

In any other country such barbarians would be banished to the wilderness but alas, we in Trinidad and Tobago, have enormous tolerance for misfits and miscreants. Perhaps the time has come to stop such foolishness and say, “Get, thee, behind me Satan….Yours is but a noxious air that bloweth no one any good. The sooner you leave us, the better.”

4 thoughts on “The New Barbarians”

  1. Surely, Bolan Amar, Motilal Moonan, and many more did not have the qualifications to be the head or manage scientific institutions as quoted above but certainly had the commonsense to build empires locally. Bill Gates, Job and others were dropouts from colleges and built empires in the US. The basis for their success was commonsense. Once you have the drive and desire fuelled by effort, energy and enterprise you can achieve possibly any thing. Let Mr. Moonan and Devant Maharaj prove themselves and give them some breathing space to be patriotic citizens of T&T.

  2. “The wealth the nation accumulated over the years did not come just so. It was the product of the prudent management of our nation’s resources over the many years and the careful planning and strategic decisions” (CUDJOE)

    Where have you been for the last fifty years? CAL and its predecessor BWIA have never been independently profitable. They were continuously subsidised by the government of T&T.The previously highly qualified CEOs all failed to make the airline profitable.And I also doubt that Devant and Moonilal could turn the airline into an independent, profitable venture.
    Sounds like Cudjoe is upset that he lost his free flying pass!

  3. Prof Cudjoe is right in that it takes more than mere commonsense. He however is incorrect when he speaks in such a way as to suggest that the person to bring the airline to profitability has to be an airline expert. We have seen persons like Glen Tilton See the following quote from Wikipedia “In September 2002, Tilton was recruited by the Board of Directors of the struggling UAL Corporation to be Chairman, President, and CEO, replacing John W. Creighton, Jr. as Chairman and CEO, and Rono Dutta as President. The board believed that an airline outsider such as Tilton could turnaround the struggling carrier. UAL Corporation and its subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in December, 2002, three months into Tilton’s tenure.” What is really required is someone with a sound understanding of business fundamentals and someone who possesses the competeencies of – team leadership, strategic orientation, results orientation and collaboration and communication. The basics of running any business are the same – increase revenues and reduce costs. A savvy CEO and Chairman will then be able to explore and implement strategies to do both. yes, there are times when a deep industry expert might be required to provide some expertise btu then a savvy CEO knows where t osource those capabilities and will do so as appropriate. The model of having a degree in a field, workign in that field then managign enterprises only in that field is outmoded and I thought at least professor Cudjoe would have understood that. In many cases it is an advantage for someone from outside an industry to come in and make right an organization – the ybring some fresh perspective – that is what United did with Glen Tilton. This not an argument for or against any of the men in question but simply a rebuttal of Cudjoe’s central premise. The PNM whom he supported had appointed Arthur Lok Jack (NO expertise in the area) as Chairman. Lok Jack’s strong business acumen turned the airline around – what did he say then. memories, including that of Prof Cudjoe are short.

  4. brent Henry, your analysis, like Dr. Cudjoe’s is not ‘run of the mill’ … but nonetheless off kilter, because the ‘commonsense’ of which individuals like Motilal Moonan speak so glibly and unwisely, ‘in an uncommon amount is wisdom’.

    Therefore, ‘Strategic Orientation’ etc., apart, TnT is in the ironic position of being a country formerly an UNWILLING COLONY of the British Empire, that is now, for racial reasons, becoming a WILLING COLONY of India; itself a former colony of the same British Empire, and itself now importing and exporting the same gross ‘Colonial’ inequalities.

    The point is that in the same way the British were once a failed state that overcame and became a dominant one, but then is back to failing, so too, will India.

    TnT, unlike Britain and India never experienced the positive growth patterns seen in predictable formats like that of a Sigmoid Curve, but went directly from undignified poverty to dry-rot decline in every field: sports, culture …

    Examples of this decline is most noticeable, for example, on the streets with carnival; a cultural historic response to imperialism, but which, now a mere commodity is pop culture morphing into porn culture.

    Decline is also seen in the Parliament where politicians are not only ignorant of reasoned speech–using gerunds and present participles as if these performed the same functions–but are also ignorant of the elemental rules that govern the uses of logic.

    Thus, individuals like Moonilal, ranking among the country’s leadership resort to cliche, mauvais langue, and jaded phrases, for example ‘farse an’ outa place’, ‘frivolous and vexatious’ to decry opponents.

    Have these people read any of the classics, or even standard three textbooks? Or done any courses on ethics, and on the necessity to practise and encourage in others, morality in public affairs?

    Today, the political pattern followed by succeeding governments is based on institutions that have been unable to pivot to meet the new circumstances that face the country: financial, political, social, racial, but most of all ethical and honourable.

Comments are closed.