It is indeed rather fascinating that this week the George Brizan Legacy Committee is hosting a set of activities in honour of a man who dedicated his entire life to the education of the people of Grenada and the entire world through his formal engagements as a teacher and author as well as his public service in the political arena.
To me, the celebration of the life and significant contribution of this great son of the soil and, rightfully so, truly Caribbean man is a worthy phenomenon given the huge role Mr. Brizan played in influencing the minds of so many young men and women.
The thing that stands out mostly in my mind is that several of his students either wanted to become or became economists and can be found in high-level positions right here in Grenada, in the region and throughout the world. Mr. Brizan, therefore, must have done something of note in his teachings to have stimulated such astonishing interest in economics that so many of those who fell under his “spell” wanted to make that discipline their career path. And many did!
But what was Mr. Brizan’s main focus as an economist? Quite simply, he was very much interested in people centered development. Despite his unquestionable passion for agriculture as an area of economic activity, he understood that without the empowerment of people, there can be no real development here in Grenada or elsewhere. Let us examine why this statement makes good sense.
Conceived broadly, economic development may be thought of as “the process whereby countries attain a rise in their per capita income, achieve a diversification of their production and employment structures, and secure an improvement in the standard of living of their population.” Clearly, then, economic development involves quantitative growth, qualitative transformation, and economic welfare. That is indeed one of the many definitions that can be found in the economics literature of a concept that is multi-dimensional and hence rather controversial.
Hence, therefore, in order to make sense of this concept of economic development, one has to design and implement a strategy that embraces as many of the critical issues that can result in real changes within an economy – changes that redound to the benefit of the people. That strategy must be communicated in a manner that is clear and simple so the ordinary man or woman would understand and appreciate.
Case in point: On that splendid and historic day in the life of all Grenadians, March 13, 1979, Maurice Bishop, in his foundational address to the nation on Radio Free Grenada, said this: “Brothers and Sisters, this is Maurice Bishop speaking. At 4.15 a.m. this morning, the People’s Revolutionary Army seized control of the army barracks at True Blue. The barracks were burned to the ground. After half-an-hour struggle, the forces of Gairy’s army were completely defeated and surrendered…In closing, let me assure the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including freedom of elections, religious and political opinion, will be fully restored to the people. The personal safety and property of individuals will be protected…People of Grenada, this revolution is for work, for food, for decent housing and health services, and for a bright future for our children and great grand-children…The benefits of the revolution will be given to everyone regardless of political opinion or which political party they support. Let us all unite as one.” Amazing stuff! Why?
Without doubt, what Maurice Bishop was advocating on the very first day of the Revolution was development with people at the center. That conceptualisation of this important matter is now fully documented and known in the literature as Seers’ approach to economic development.
Dudley Seers considers the use of increases in per capita income as an index of economic development to be outrageous. In fact, he sees this as a misconception of economic development as economic growth.
Seers considers economic development as a means of creating the conditions for the “realisation of the human personality.” These conditions or necessity, Seers notes, are food, a job and equality. With these conditions in mind, Seers’ approach to economic development is summarised as follows: “The question to ask about a country’s development are therefore: what has been happening to poverty? What has been happening to unemployment? What has been happening to inequality?
If all three of these have become less severe, then beyond doubt this has been a period of development for the country concerned. If one or two of these central problems have been growing worse, especially if all three have, it would be strange to call the results development, even if per capita income had soared.”
Clearly, then, for Seers, the primary objectives of economic development are to reduce poverty, unemployment, and income inequality. Increases in real per capita income are secondary or sub-goals.
Of great significance, Seers also identified a number of sub-goals of economic development; namely, adequate educational and literacy levels (especially tertiary); improved health conditions; social freedom, including the right to free speech and to participate in government; nation that is truly independent, both economically and politically; freedom from repressive sexual codes; freedom from noise and other forms of pollution; and protection of the environment.
Can you see now why Maurice Bishop was on the right development path? Can you appreciate why the Grenada Revolution embarked on a developmental agenda that was people centered? And of equal importance, can you now accept that given Mr. Brizan’s immense contribution to the empowerment of young men and women through his teaching of economics that he too was very much interested in people centered development?
If only Grenada and other countries in the region would return to those glorious days when we the people mattered most as reflected in the socio-economic policies crafted and implemented by our governments in our name and on our behalf!
(Dr. Brian Francis, a former Permanent Secretary in the local Ministry of Finance, is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies)