In a recent issue of Connect, the alumni magazine of the London School of Economics and Political Science (the LSE), there is a review of a new book by two leading LSE economists, Professors Timothy Besley and Torsten Persson, which examines what are the pillars of prosperity in a modern state.
An examination of the reasons why countries have taken such divergent paths in development is currently a hot topic among scholars. About a month ago my attention became riveted in the course of an interview on the BBC with Professor James Robinson, professor of government at Harvard. He has also recently published a work on the subject of divergent development. It is entitled "Why Nations Fail?"
Many other scholars have published on this subject and joined the debate. It is accepted that prosperity is not referable to economic development alone. Attainment of prosperity must include a good quality of life and equal opportunity. It is also accepted that there are important individual or regional differences in the circumstances of countries. Accordingly, in examining each case, location, terrain, natural resources and cultural characteristics have an important bearing on outcomes.
There is nevertheless general consensus that cohesive and inclusive political institutions are a primary key to sustainable prosperity and a good quality of life in those states which reflect the ideal of the greatest good for the greatest number.
Here, in Trinidad and Tobago, in the Manning era, we had many critical comments about the imbalance between economic development reflected in tall buildings and a quality of life marred by violent crime committed with large scale impunity, unequal access to the use of the country's resources and political dysfunction. Nothing much has changed despite the advent of different governors. Arguably the political dysfunction is worse.
The LSE economists emphasise that political institutions must be both cohesive and inclusive because it is, of course, possible to have a well-oiled, centralised political machine which operates exclusively to please a relatively narrow band of rulers and their cliques. When political institutions are inclusive as well as cohesive, they better serve common interests and restrain the abuse of power and the channelling of resources to serve the private interests of the rulers. These authors consider that to be "a common interest state" is the most desirable condition and is conducive to peace and prosperity.
Although it might seem a relatively modest example of how our political institutions are unresponsive and divisive, I would like to return to the current experimental traffic management in the Woodbrook and St James areas of Port of Spain. It is a practical example of the inadequacy of our method of governance.
I support the success in moving motor vehicular traffic more smoothly. However the new one way systems are a significant change in the lives of those who populate Woodbrook and St James, who now have a highway passing through their communities. Placement of a highway in the middle of busy neighbourhoods is an unusual step. To dismiss the reaction of those affected by saying they are not "planners" is a plain and simple insult. If any one is not a planner it is he who imposed the highways thinking only of the effect on motor vehicles and not on people.
It is similarly irrelevant to compare the placement of the St Ann's roundabout to the placement of the highways in order to make some partisan political point about PNM v. UNC. The MP for the area was doing her duty when she collected petition signatures from her constituents and changes in the arrangements in St James have been conceded.
Nevertheless insufficient good-faith, common-interest consultation has taken place. The danger of crossing the highway on foot does not materialise dependent on whether the pedestrian is PNM or UNC. Good-faith consultation in the common interest requires self disciplined containment of partisan political thrusting and willingness to co-ordinate efforts to reach a balanced goal.
With the approach of the 50th anniversary of our political and constitutional independence I am sure that I am not the only commentator contemplating whether I should run a balance sheet of our country's successes and failures. Should I attempt to satisfy that expectation on or around August 31, 2012? Regrettably it seems to me that, as we approach our fiftieth anniversary, increased political dysfunction is taking us towards possible political meltdown as a result of significant failures of our political institutions.
The effect of this relentless dysfunction is a distortion on the liability side of the balance sheet. Anniversary celebrations may be used to mask the meltdown but it will not cease. We will start the next decade moving from a golden to a diamond jubilee with serious distortions on the liability side of the Independence balance sheet, which have the capacity to undermine further the value of our assets.
Some further reflections on these flaws will follow.
Meanwhile, congratulations Keshorn.