The time for a national think tank has come.
In Grenada everybody is an authority on everything. Wannabees masquerading dubious credentials pontificate over the national airwaves like pundits and gurus.
Moreover, talk show hosts and journalists cannot ask intelligent questions without professional acumen acquired through individual study and indepth research analysis of topic areas.
And without serious fact check mechanisms to challenge the credibility of fly-by-night experts, the media is a free-for-all, photogenic showcase for the dissemination of misinformation, half truths, and often downright lies. The public interest is not served.
In this scenario politics and economics are the usual suspects singled out for the most “licks”. Here objectivity takes a back seat and subjective value judgment and feelings are the norm. Yet science is positive, not normative, and both disciplines are behavioural sciences based on hard facts, statistics, and empirical analysis whereby man uses his social engineering skills to change the environment in which he lives.
Economics is a highly volatile, unpredictable, and controversial area of human endeavour with variables constantly changing the dynamics. And economists hardly ever agree on anything. Hence, any attempt to postulate on economic issues should be the reserve of astute analytical minds with specialist training and expertise in the field.
Information is a product and in a market economy a missing market for that product creates a vacuum that economists call market failure. It is not a level playing field when an elite intellectual class monopolises information that should be a public good for universal consumption.
A system of asymmetric information puts a large segment of the population at a disadvantage. Our value system of social goals is compromised and left wanting.
Two compelling reasons underscore the whole rationale for an economic think tank at this time.
First, the current administration has just been given what is virtually “totalitarian” power to rule the country with a symbolic “lame duck” opposition that cannot oppose. A trusted, respected, and reliable nonpartisan and pluralist institution of intellectual thinkers would bring a measure of sobriety and balance to the lopsided equation that obtains.
Second, with “New Economy” as the national mantra it is timely and fitting that this think tank should focus on economics.
There is another important consideration.
In May 2011 the World Economic Association (WEA) launched its umbrella organisation to fill the gap in the international community of professional economists. With a growing membership of 11, 000 economic scholars, the organisation is rapidly establishing national chapters in all countries. By proactively organising a think tank now we will be ready when the WEA comes to town.
An Association of Economists would be the national think tank. It would promote professional integrity, mandate high standards of ethical behaviour, safeguard the interest of the public, disseminate factual, accurate, and up-to-date information through rigorous research, and represent the legitimate benchmark of economic thought in the nation and beyond.
Membership of the association would be selective based on economic credentials while inclusive of economic-related aspirants and practitioners such as statisticians and accountants. It would comprise a team of technical experts, academics, and intellectuals representing the brightest and the best minds that would transcend the ideological spectrum.
The association would do cutting-edge research analysis on a range of economic issues, assess the impact of policy measures on stakeholders, propose strategies to resolve problems, conduct public opinion polls on national issues, and sponsor public debates that empower citizens in making informed decisions.
In addition, there would be peer-review publication of research papers, policy briefs at all government levels, and collaboration with academia, the private sector, and worker organisations throughout Grenada and the OECS region. It would be an authoritative source of information for the mass media, progressive advocacy organisations, and research students.
Globally, capitalist economies and semi-capitalist China and Viet Nam foster numerous professional associations, all privately and independently run and self-regulated by their members. In Cuba they exist as state-sponsored social organisations responding to the exigencies of socialist morale.
In Grenada, most professionals see the need to establish representative bodies. Examples are the law society, the medical association, the builders’ guild, and the society of chartered accountants. Conspicuously missing is a professional body representing the economists of this country.
So let the real economists stand up.