Economy vs Society?

Brian FrancisAn important issue that emerged in economic discussions in Barbados in the past few years is whether as a Government one ought to focus on the economy or society. The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) has been advancing the argument that it is interested in building a sound Barbadian society as opposed to simply paying particular attention to the economy.

Furthermore, the DLP has asserted that the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has, for most of its thirteen years in office; and, may I suggest, even in the current environment, always emphasised the maintenance of a vibrant economy, overlooking in the process, the broader and more important goal of creating a just society in which all can live and work comfortably.

Admittedly, this debate comes as no surprise to me. However, I have to confess that the pronouncements that I am familiar with do make for interesting deliberations. What is even more alarming is the notion that somehow there is a separable and distinct parallel that can be drawn between the economy and society.

Put differently, if one follows closely the inferences drawn and the ideas as presented by both sides, he or she may very well come to the realisation that there is, after all, a clear distinction between the economy and society that merits significant attention and illumination. Is that so? What about other Caribbean countries?

I would be amazed if anyone in Grenada actually believes that a debate that is based on the “economy versus society” is really meritorious at this critical juncture in our country’s financial and economic history.

To put it mildly, there is no real or practical distinction between the economy and society. In other words, to think of the economy and society as being separable is to be living like the proverbial ostrich and bury one’s head in the sand.

The reason I suggest that there is no practical dichotomy in the conceptualisation of the economy versus society is because the achievement of societal goals – whether those goals relate to the creation of social safety nets to protect the poor and vulnerable among us or to the provision of good education and health – does require a solid economic foundation. Social engineering cannot be accomplished without getting economic fundamentals right!

But what phenomenon consents to inseparability between the economy and society? The answer is quite simple: economic growth and development. Therefore, whether as a Government its developmental targets remain the reduction or elimination of poverty; the enlargement of the country’s human resources; improvements in life expectancy, infant or adult mortality, and nutrition; or even diminutions in income and wealth inequality across society; only a sustained strategy to grow and develop the economy will allow for the accomplishment of these broad socio-economic goals.

In essence, then, the moral of the story is that a Government cannot focus on building a strong society without a solid economic platform!

On the other hand, one can ask: Why would a Government seek to get the economic fundamentals right if it is not interested in creating a society that brings justice and equity to all and sundry?

To conclude, therefore, there is no meaningful distinction between the economy and society. Hence, any debate that can be categorised as “economy versus society” has to be misguided and adds no value in terms of altering the status quo vis-a-vis the current and/or future state of the country’s financial and economic health.

If you do not believe me, then, just wait to see what measures the Keith Mitchell-led Government eventually implements as part of the impending home-grown structural adjustment programme and the consequent effects on the Grenadian economy and society!


Dr. Brian Francis, the former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Bridgetown, Barbados of the University of the West Indies).

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