Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Editorial | Think deeply about Howard Mitchell's new capitalism

Published:Tuesday | September 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Speaking to the Rotary Club of New Kingston on September 7, the forthright president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Howard Mitchell, bemoaned a "loss of confidence" by the Jamaican private sector. He went on to lament Jamaica's difficult struggle with growth and development under the current economic arrangements. The low GDP growth rate experienced by Jamaica for many years appears to weigh heavily on his mind.

Looking to the future, Mr Mitchell outlined, in rather vague terms, elements of what he calls a "new capitalism", which, he said, "must espouse corporate social responsibility, participative democracy and leadership that believes in development that is broad-based and not top-down".

While we await his fleshing out of these rather weighty matters, his seeming disenchantment with the status quo deserves attention and analysis. If the elements of society the PSOJ represents are losing confidence with the present economic arrangements, there is likely to be some degree of despair among less-privileged groups.

Mr Mitchell is a thinker, and he might be drawing attention to a deeper malaise that is besetting liberal democracies, including Jamaica.

The Economist magazine of September 13, 2018, pointed out that "Europe and America are in the throes of a popular rebellion against liberal elites who are seen as self-serving and unable, or unwilling, to solve the problems of ordinary people". The list of problems ordinary people want action on across the globe include, inter alia, poverty, cost and quality of healthcare, stagnant real wages, environmental pollution, migration, security and inequality.

 

UNSPOKEN SOCIAL CONTRACT

 

It appears that the unspoken social contract of the post-war era, where the political elite delivered social-welfare benefits and higher living standards in return for social peace and stability from workers, has broken down.

As a result, the liberal model is losing support and new extremist parties are on the rise, particularly in Europe. While we have not witnessed such a development in Jamaica, there is little doubt that the local political apparatus needs renewal.

Ironically, the PSOJ president's loss-of-confidence comments come at a time when external rating agencies, the Government and various multilaterals are reporting that the economic reforms are successful, and that Jamaica is now "poised for significant growth". Maybe Mr Mitchell, like others, is a bit wary, having heard similar claims in the past.

But it may not just be elements of the private sector that are having a crisis of confidence. The swagger that Caribbean intellectual giants showed in the 1950s to 1970s in researching, writing and advocating for the building of a new, inclusive and productive society seems largely absent in the present era. There is little published academic critique of current policy orthodoxy, and few credible policy alternatives are being proposed by our academics and thinkers.

 

IDEOLOGICALLY EMPTY UNIVERSITIES

 

The universities across the region have become largely ideologically empty and silent as students pursue grades and certification and faculty members mostly pursue research linked more to consultancies rather than scholarship. One of the major problems for the region appears to be the absence of deep and profound thinking about solutions to our most pressing problems.

With the reliance on multilateral and bilateral institutions for policymaking since the advent of the Washington Consensus and structural adjustment policies in the 1980s, the region seems to be losing the zest for independent thinking about development. It is time that Caribbean intellectuals, particularly those in our publicly funded institutions, ignite critical debate on some of the pressing development issues at hand.

We need them to help Mr Mitchell put flesh on the bones of his "new capitalism" by applying scholarship linking the sciences, technology and the best traditions of the humanities, and the social sciences.

It is in this context that we also applaud the recent memorandum of understanding between the vice-chancellor of the University of the West Indies and the president of the PSOJ, which we hope will see the emergence of big, transformative ideas that will help to solve real problems for ordinary people.