Recession opens new opportunities

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trini PeopleIF ever the world needed an economic recession, this is the time. Maybe there is some superior entity that is both omniscient and omnipotent, that saw the excesses man was capable of, left to his devices. And just maybe, that entity decided to call halt to the madness that gripped mankind, from Iceland to Antarctica. Almost the entire world, except for the one billion living in poverty that we can pretend do not exist, engaged in wanton, wasteful consumerism. It was as if we were re-enacting the lavishness of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, or the Court of the Roman Empire in its halcyon days.

Any ordinary but informed person could tell the good times would not last forever. Indeed, those who kept abreast of global trends, who looked at the world’s biggest economy, the USA, sinking deep into debt, knew there was big trouble ahead.

Still, the economic conmen and con-agencies that pretend they are the fountains of infinite wisdom kept fuelling a dream that was sure to turn into a nightmare. How, we may ask, “ratings” agencies like the IMF, Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s and Fitch-IBCA, to name a few, got their numbers and projections all wrong? What of the wizards of financial services-Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, not only got it all wrong, but also themselves landed in deep trouble?

The wild fluctuations of commodities’ prices that occurred between 2007 and 2008 were predictable. Oil at US$100 a barrel was not overpriced, based on adjustments for inflation. But $147? That was sheer madness. Grains that form staples for much of the world’s population rose to price levels that triggered shortages and starvation. Base metals, critical to infrastructure and other construction activities, shot into the prices-stratosphere, not to add into the bulging bank accounts of industrialists, speculators and bankers.

Here in Trinidad and Tobago, Prime Minister Patrick Manning, his Government wallowing in energy-generated billions, took on the posture of an emperor. Grandiose projects took precedence over the basic needs of a properly functioning country. Anyone who voiced disagreement with his vision of the capital city’s skyline instead of focusing on its basic amenities, was deemed a detractor. Some primary schools remain relics of our colonial past, complete with bats defecating on staff and students. Health institutions are woefully short of modern equipment, of life-saving medications, of qualified personnel and sanitary toilet facilities. I can go on about what citizens of a supposedly prosperous nation need, as distinct from what Government wants.

The global economy had to fall flat on its backside for human beings to realise we have morphed into modern day locusts, consuming everything in our paths. When, in the early days of the crisis, Americans cut their usage of oil by 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd), I applauded them.

For as long as we care to remember, that country has consumed 20 million bpd, a quarter of global production. Next in line is China, with a population four times that of America. It consumes around seven million bpd. In the wake of the mainly OECD countries’ housing crisis, while many people lost their homes, and later their jobs, spending on High Street, as they dub it, fell to their lowest levels in decades. Again, hooray for those who curbed their spending.

People across the world must learn a basic lesson Trinis of my generation did when we were children. It is this: you never spend more than you earn, or than you can afford to repay. Personal debt must be a last resort, not a first choice. True, economic activities in the modern world revolve around trade-producing goods to be sold to others, and buying what others produce. But we must never overreach ourselves in a bid to “keep up with the Joneses”, or at the global level, attain unrealistic American standards of living.

This recession will drive these values forcefully into our thick skulls. Government must rethink its notion of what really is developed country status. Let me add that while I accept we shall experience some fallout from the global economic crisis, I am not among those who swear that we shall end up the way we did after the two previous oil booms-massive job cuts, huge foreign debt, negative growth. Once Government and the people act responsibly, we can emerge with a few bruises, but ready to fight back.

For starters, with industry chugging along slowly, this is an opportunity for us to focus more on producing as much food as we can. It also challenges the Caribbean Basin to cooperate in a bid to end our dependence on OECD countries for most of our staples.

Out of the ashes of this recession, a new world economic order will emerge. We must be part of that paradigm shift. Latin America will rise as an economic powerhouse, as a major food basket. It’s where our government, our business sector and our people should focus attention even as we battle the recession.

In the meantime, people must resort to discretionary spending. And Government must match that with eliminating its unnecessary and prohibitively expensiveprojects that would lead us into the valley of debt and maybe death.

13 thoughts on “Recession opens new opportunities”

  1. Well said, but how can we change a leader who is a moron, who thinks his so-called relationship with God will fix everything. Who believes in Armageddon and must make it happen. And let’s not forgot the bunch of other ignoramus we have to put up with in government and oh, let’s not forget the Opposition led by the ever more than ambitious Basdeo Panday who has not done anything. He may be smart but his days are done.
    Trinidad & Tobago needs leadership, intelligent leadership, someone who really cares about the people, their children and the actual land.
    Am I only dreaming, is it too must to hope for????

  2. Trinidad is not good at food production, relative to other products. If it was, it would be a net exporter of food products. Any individual or country will do worse by focusing its resources on a sector that it cannot be productive in, compared to other sectors.
    It is my very strong opinion that Trinidadians believe their government is and should be responsible for almost every aspect of economic life. This belief is a total fallacy. If private businesses step in to fill the gaps in infrastucture development, cultural development, institutional development, or anything else that the government does not have enough incentive to provide, Trinidadians will be better off for it. You have a problem with vagrants with on the street? Set up an organization to take care of and manage the numbers homeless people. Too much crime? Provide activities for underprivileged youth in targeted neighborhoods. Believe that the tourism sector is underdeveloped? Open your own hotel, or jetskiing service, or tour company etc. Too many potholes on your road? Ask local quarries to deal with it in exchange for support from you own business, through advertising or what have you. There are people with financial resources, mental capacity and creativity to undertake such projects. And those people must do it all FOR PROFIT, to give them enough incentive to do it, and to increase the number of jobs intheir new businesses.
    Reduce the role and influence of your government. If citizens are taking care of themselves, the government cannot ask for as much money from you. And if they want to undertake a social project, it has to be something that no other citizens’ organizations cannot do, and therefore must undergo rigorous analysis buy citizens’ representatives. Rich, developed countries, both big and small, have already realized that smaller roles for government officials and almost perfect accountability comes about when the populace takes its destiny into own’s hands and stops whining about what the government is supposed to be doing it.

  3. Trinidad doesn’t have enough land to sustain it’s population on domestically produced agricultural products unless it continues to do little to prevent homicides. However, it should still produce what it can within reason.

    If the vagrants are mentally and physiaclly capable of taking care of themselves, then that is what they should do. Parents should be responsible for finding something for their children to do. Kids can always study if their bored. Then again, that might give them an advantage that could result in a prosporus life. Nevermind. Tourism? Why not focus on making Trinidad into a place for business and not relaxation? Just because it’s a two island country doesn’t mean that it should be heavily reliant on tourism.Government should maintain and improve the roads. They need them just as much as everyone else with their surplus in luxury vehicles. Apperently you have it backwards. The more money the people make the more money they pay in taxes. The government should be the framework from which private sector business can grow. Better beaches, roads, schools, utilities,social services, healthcare, police, and military should be handled by the government. Then private businesses can grow off of a solid foundation. Community organizations are needed, but the government is also. Other Rich and Developed countries both big and small didn’t all take the same road to where they are now and neither should Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad is unique and has to find out the best way for itself to eliminate the temptation of coporprate corruption from abroad.

  4. Mr.Raffique Shah,hats off to you.Actually it’s a long time i did not read an article from a T&T newspapers that had me glued to the monitor like this one.Well done, you did not talk there you preached.

  5. Thanks Malsie-if you are indeed genuine -for getting it when compared to many of our bloggers concerned about the void in political leadership in our beloved country, but only prepared to point a negative finger in a particular direction primarily at one group of people and its leaders that constitute one half of the racial & ethnic divide.
    One should also commend Ariel for two excellent observations that was articulated . In it he stated that government cannot be “responsible for almost every aspect of economic life.” He wisely shift some of the responsibility to our private sector -that I generously described in the past via this forum as a bunch of greedy, selfish ,leeches-by admonishing them to “step in to fill the gaps in infrastructure development, cultural development, institutional development, or anything else that the government does not have enough incentive to provide.”
    He then went on to pint point specific, common areas that they can begin to sink their collective and individual teeth into . I will add another ,security, since it is something I feel passionate about and it is the most neglected yet important . If runaway crime is the norm, and the police seem powerless to effectively handle it, then play your role by providing the logistics and other assistance .
    Instead of sending all your profits to off shore banks or in support some uncaring budding elite child to carelessly spend with friends in the University of Ottawa , Cambridge, or NYU ,set up a reward fund to encourage local citizens to give information that can lead to the arrest , and conviction of criminal miscreants across the nation- irrespective of their race or types of crimes.
    I have always said that one of the first step towards meaningful, authentic and sustainable development is security., and would not care which social scientist wishes to disagree. Should we say Queen Latifa? I notice how a few fools were breathing a sigh of relief when she went on the Jay Leno TV show in NY and spoke well about our country instead of letting them know that we were a bunch of uncaring crooks too stupid to know the devastating impact for Tobago- a tiny ,neglected island totally dependent on tourism – by such despicable actions of larceny to her property .
    Instead of going into crisis mode after the recent murders to a few unfortunate foreigners as the perennially violent Jamaican or ‘Little England’ upstart Bajans would have done- since they lack other resources to aid survival- we behave as if all is well with piccongs , usual useless Tobago elections , and ecstasy over a potential bare fist fights between acting COP Philbert and ACP Stephen Williams , his recently appointed competitor .
    We yet seem surprise or rather unconcerned by the fact that for two consecutive years that Jamaica -the country that last year had over 5000 murders as opposed to our 500 (I believe ) is considered as the leading Caribbean destination by global travel awards, while resource laden Trinidad finds it difficult to hold its head high as an economic giant in the English speaking Caribbean when compared to Barbados which is about 50 square miles bigger than Tobago our twin island.

  6. Now firstly agree with ariel Trinidadians believe their government is and should be responsible for almost every aspect of economic life. This is somewhat a true statement however rembering the mandate of govt , and especially if they have the money to carry out many initiatives

    Coorperate citizenry should do their part but while they doing that ever thought about the billions of dollars being wasted by some of these pnm leaders patrick manning and his 24 clones , we MUST lead by example you cannot seriously expect me to pay all sorts of tax when the year is up and then do my cooperate duty while they squander billions on some waste ah time stuff in d name of industrialisation , it is best as a businessman to save his money for him or her and family so that they can go west shore when they get sick becuase posgh and sando is the worse , who is d sellfish one or who promoting it ?

    Let those leaders do the right thing and set the right climate to do the right thing too much lawlessness promoted by the heads that be simply like the common bandit they know they would not get caught or have consequences for their actions , so do not expect the people of the lower strata to do any different

    I suggest some of the readers of this wiki norways economy and see how the nations wealth is suppose to be distributed , an hsf fund of over 353billion having discovered oil almost the same time with us , an employment rate of 0
    For christ sakes we have templates around d world use it nah govt

  7. A new direction and leadership will ensure that the country succeeds in the 21st century.
    Before we can improve life for all in the country we have to focus on the fundamentals: physiological and safety. There are only a few people in the country that are truly at the stage where Maslow refers to as self-actualization.

    In as much as I agree with many of the opinions on this blog, the real problem in my opinion are the social problems in the country; Trinidad’s social problem is its Achilles’ heel.

    Fixing that can lead to what, I believe, we all want. I admit some ignorance because I do not reside in Trinidad, but I am always perplexed as to why the police are so poorly paid in a country that is so rich in natural resources and has a high literacy rate.

  8. Mr. X do you really want to go there in comparing racially and ethnically divided Trinidad and Tobago and Norway? One country is comprised of descendants of illiterate tribal African slaves and low cast Hindus and Muslims indentured laborers , the other of one united race of people with the same history and distaste for anything foreign that fails to further their national interest ,and could care very little on what the immensely successful EU thinks about their foolish Viking helmets and peculiar ways of life. Both countries came into oil wealth at some stage, but irrespective of who is in power , one is ruled by a bunch of bumbling greedy , corrupt idiots that sees tribe over nation, while the other avoids such problems.
    One groups sees its best minds like yourself contributing to the brain drain by running away to foreign lands to help elevate the social and economic fortunes of more developed regions , while daily denigrating their country of birth by making stupid comparisons with Norway , an insular country that fully understands as you claim what wealth sharing is all about. The Norwegians great Mr Nobel is turning over in his grave as he saw the despicable unpatriotic behavior by one of its Literature winning recipients from one of the two countries some years ago. Care to guess who ,where , and the impact of such intolerable tomfoolery ,or perhaps you do not care and believe that this distracting issue of PM plane is of more vital importance? To think that Stokley Carmichael was banned from this country by our self righteous ,self opinionated Dr. Williams and not some of these country haters ! Lunacy of the highest order.

  9. I wish wiz would enlighten us as to how he came about to categorize Mr. Shah as a revolutionary. The former Tethron Lieutenant and Sandhurst Coup School graduate was single-handedly able to bring into political power the ‘great political maverick Basdeo Panday ‘, yet lacked the will or courage to stand up to him to curb his disastrous sectarian ambitions that is destined to destroy our wonderful nation if allowed to still florish.
    Using wiz definition of a revolutionary then , we can also call former President Robinson of “Awee boy” fame, a revolutionary for being gutless to the point of not holding Eric Williams -the self opinionated father of the nation- hands to the fire and demand that he treat Tobagonians with the respect that they deserved and foster equal treatment to its citizens in terms of development like that of big sister Trinidad through the years that he held up his jock strap. Would someone describe the gutless Pit-bull/ Rottweiler Rowley a revolutionary after he allowed a certain second rate nepotistic political leader the freedom to run roughshod over the nation , and for only now finally developing the spine to attempt to speak about perceived power abuses after he Rowley received a kick in the symbolic butt after for all his years of steadfast loyalty and commitment to the unthankful party and nation ?
    God forbid, and talk about abuse of the English language! Real revolutionaries are perhaps turning over in their graves to see what the word have been relegated to.

  10. According to Mr E Balfour,a new direction and leadership is really needed. I think some of those politicians, especially on the Government’s side are still living in denial of the possible effects of the “economic meltdown”. As we speak, there are a number of people in the United States living outdoors in tents,and these jokers are not willing to face reality? If foreclosures, job cuts and salary cuts are happening at a frighttening rate in America, the wrold’s largest economy, the supposedly richest country in the world, then who is to say that similar events can’t happen in T&T? It’s about time we pay more attention to the agriculture,transportation and health sectors, and stop trying to instill false confidence within the citizenry.

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