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I write this column against the backdrop of the current PPP’s attitude to economic development that appears to embrace thesis that economic downturn can be arrested by giving large chunks of concessions to big businesses while giving a pittance to the working people. I have no problem with government helping businesses, especially small businesses, to help salvage the current situation. But I feel that there should be equal relief for the working people. The small “cash grants” to the poor do not suffice. The PPP’s thinking flows from the belief that government must help the rich and not the poor. They want to use this philosophy to steer the country’s resources to those who helped them to seize power in 2020.
The working people of Guyana face high levels of unemployment and poverty. You cannot be an oil-rich country and have those impediments. You cannot be a caring government and leave working people to the whims and fancies of the market. I hold firmly to the belief that one of the biggest roles of government in contemporary Guyana is to directly and indirectly provide employment for citizens. I advance this position against the backdrop of four universally accepted functions of government First, government must provide for the welfare of citizens. Second, government must do for citizens what they cannot do for themselves. Third, government must promote equality, including protecting the weak from the strong. Fourth, it is government that must determine who gets what, when and how.
I have been alarmed at the thinking of some commentators and politicians who feel it is not the role of government to create jobs for citizens. This is a new thinking that is out of place in a country like Guyana. It is a borrowed thinking that was introduced by the IMF three decades ago that does not take into consideration the political and economic realities of Guyana. It is an economic theory and ideology that has failed to put an end to the structural socio-economic problems which we inherited from almost four centuries of economic and political bondage. It is a thinking that has led and would continue to lead to the worst anti-people policies. It is a thinking that would in the final analysis alienate important segments of the poor and the powerless. It was not the thinking of Jagan’s PPP, Burnham’s PNC and Rodney’s WPA—they all embraced a thinking and practice that saw government as a vehicle for uplifting the poor in all areas of life,
To begin with, it is absurd for persons to ask citizens to vote them into government and then turn around and tell the very voters that it is not the role of government to provide for them. Second, it is nonsensical to look at a post-plantation society with a mini-private sector that is mostly engaged in “ buying and selling” and then tell people that it is not the government’s role to provide jobs for them. I ask—if not the government, then who? Third, it is equally foolish to suggest to people to create jobs for themselves in the absence of an overarching policy aimed at producing and sustaining new entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs do not produce themselves—they are produced by intentional government policies including government subsidies.
Of course, this minimalist role of government is part of conservative orthodoxy in First World capitalist countries where the government is expected to stay out of the economic sector. The private sector is seen as the engine of economic growth. But, if one follows what happens in those countries, there is a role for government in the economic sector—when the private sector messes up, the government steps in to bail them out. Further, when the private sector cannot provide jobs, the government steps in with unemployment relief for workers and assistance to businesses to help them generate jobs.
So, in these big capitalist countries, there are big private sectors that generate jobs for the people. The government helps to create and subsidise the private sector. Government does provide jobs in the government sector such as the public service, but that sector is not as big as the private sector. In other words, there is some justification for the politician in these countries to say that it is not the role of government to create jobs. The government gives the resources to the private sector in the form of tax breaks and other subsidies with the hope that the latter creates employment to citizens.
Those conditions do not exist in Guyana—our country has developed differently. Guyana and our Caribbean cousins are particular types of societies with histories that are different from the First World countries. We do not have thriving and diverse private sectors. It is therefore the government’s role to provide employment for citizens until they can do so for themselves. Guyana’s private sector can only provide jobs which pay a livable wage for a small fraction of the population. The small “roadside businesses” that poor people engage in do not and cannot provide most of them with a livable wage much more create jobs for others. There are many farmers who produce food for which they cannot find adequate markets.
Yes, the government does not own 80 percent of the economy as it did back in the early decades of independence. But Guyana’s economy is still not driven by the private sector. So, government still has to play an active role in directly and semi-directly creating jobs. Oil and Gas are here, but they will produce very few direct jobs. Government has to figure out how to use the revenue from the oil and gas to create employment.
It is frustrating to hear some leaders blame widespread unemployment on some cultural defect on the part of the unemployed—that they don’t want to work. This class-denigration on the part of the privileged and semi-privileged in our society is dangerous because it informs policy. For example, some leaders are opposed to cash transfers to poor people, because they feel they will spend the money on unimportant things, or it would encourage them not to work. That economic thinking is grounded in a socio-racial view of the world that has its origins in slavery.
Our leaders must stop that wrong talk. The WPA has come out for cash transfers. Cash transfers can be used by people to create employment for themselves. Poverty, unemployment and under-employment are a scourge in Guyana. They are at the root of many social evils. I, therefore. urge the poor and working people to put your economic interests at the center of the popular agenda. Demand bigger Cash Transfers—Grants. The pittances of $19, 000 and $25,00 cannot work when Big Business is getting billions. Demand that the government spend money to buy vaccines which you are comfortable taking. It is crazy to ask unemployed people for their vote and then tell them it’s not your job to find work for them. I am not into that nonsense.
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.