I had the great fortune of attending the annual David Morrison lecture given by Professor Manfred Bienefeld. It was truly time well spent. I had never heard of Professor Bienefeld before the lecture, but I know from experience that the Morrison lectures generally are worth attending. David Morrison is a long time supporter of the work of Jamaican Self Help and sat on our Board for a while.
Professor Bienefeld is an eminent scholar has taught in universities around the globe, and has clearly studied economic and political development through many lenses. I was suitably refreshed to hear someone who was not saluting the neoliberal flag as I’m frankly tired of being told that free markets are the panacea for all development woes. His agenda was original and well substantiated as he traversed topics such as why globalization has not had the positive results that were anticipated for the majority of the world. He also argued that Democracy is the ultimate goal (in his opinion the best model without question), however it cannot be forced by outside entities unless a country/society has the structural, political and societal will to encourage its success.
Professor Bienefeld’s central thesis appeared to surround the importance of bedding development and economic growth within a reasonable government scaffold that would ensure that growth when it happens does not benefit only a few, or worse yet, destroy one market/environment/culture to replace it with another. It all seems so very logical. Ultimately each society must be allowed to determine the path and the goal for itself, as long as the interests of all its members are addressed. And that’s where and why the role of government is central.
And of course walking home my mind turns to Jamaica: a country with such enormous potential in terms of human capacity, resources, and cultural dynamism, but such little forward movement in terms of the quality of life for the majority of its people. One of the things that the country actually has going for it is sincere political will to improve the lives of the citizens of the country – that’s what government is supposed to do. And it has over time attempted to provide the scaffold for development of which Professor Bienefeld speaks. But there are a number of roadblocks standing in the way of that scaffold. One of the key ones is of course the reliance on foreign financial creditors such as the IMF, whose primary mandate is not as much about improving quality of life for the citizens as it is about getting its money back. If supranational organizations are telling the country what to do, how can it move in the direction that it sets out? The other of course is the waste of resources by two primary political parties whose ideological differences are surprisingly small, but who divide the country’s human and physical resources in a way that has created a wall that the scaffold is incapable of bridging. The commonality of the goal is lost when anyone has to take sides to fight for power and resources.
After WWII the UK managed to put aside party lines to design a state that had the good of all of its citizens in mind, at least for a short time. I dream of a day when political parties, communities, and countries work together to set and realize common goals. Just imagine. I believe it can happen. Professor Bienefeld admitted that at times he is losing hope. I just don’t think we can afford that luxury.
– Tucker Barton, President, Jamaican Self-Help