Economic Empowerment – Part One of Two

First Published: 2001-07-01

Speech delivered at Roosie Finlayson-s Vision 2020 Youth Leadership Forum, Saturday September 26, 1998, Bahamas Tourism Training Centre, Nassau N.P. Bahamas.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It is really a pleasure to be here with you and an honour to have an opportunity to share some of my thoughts and readings on Economic Empowerment.

I can finish my presentation with just ten words from John Pierpont Morgan, who said – "You can-t pick cherries with your back to the tree", but I won-t end there. I think we must use these opportunities to share our deepest thoughts to attempt an honest dialogue for the way forward with regard to economic empowerment.

In preparing this discussion I spent some time asking a few of my co-workers and friends what they thought economic empowerment was. The overwhelming response was "a fair piece of the economic pie". But just how do we go about getting our fair share? I hope to suggest some ways.

In my view, economic growth depends on a free market. For far too long we have been indoctrinated to believe that the government, or the politician will provide for us. It is actually us who provide for them by paying the taxes that we pay.

Let-s discuss Government Dependency & Income Distribution for a moment.

In the Bahamas we sometimes confuse a piece of the economic pie for income re-distribution, but I agree with Dr. Michael A. Walker who wrote that "the power of government is used to give preferential treatment to one group over another". What difference does it make how rich the other guy is so long as he is not hurting others and we have the same opportunity to succeed if we put in the effort?

Dr. Walker took this point further with the following profound quote: "In a 1997 study Economics researcher Niclas Berggren, has found that those countries which have a considerable amount of government control and intervention into the economy – that is, those countries which are not economically free – also happen to be countries in which there are wide differences in income distribution. This problem has certainly been a characteristic of many Latin American economies for a long time and it is for this reason that countries which have been liberalising, like Chile and Argentina, have a very much better distribution of income than those countries which have retained most of the powers of government, such as Venezuela and Columbia, for example".

We have made strides in liberalisation here since 1992 with the introduction of companies like Cable Bahamas, Sun International Breezes and Sandals. But the tide seems to be turning toward dependency again. I think this is primarily because of our fear of the foreign investor.

I do not buy the argument that because we were a colony or slaves we cannot succeed. These statements produce the mind-set of dependency on the government and politicians. America was a colony for heaven sake!

However, we may have to change our minds and the way we do business. Mr. Robert Steinback recently wrote in the Miami Herald (Tuesday, September 8, 1998) that "Black Americans – culturally suspicious of an economic system that once used their ancestors… have yet to fully accept the promises of unfettered capitalism"… "As a community, we haven-t realised that all businesses – black-owned or otherwise – are springs bubbling with life, sustenance and hope"…

I will never forget my first job interview at CIBC in Toronto, Canada. I appeared in jeans and a tee shirt, with long hair and an earring. The interviewer advised that before I came back for the test and second interview I should have a hair cut, remove my earring and dress more appropriately.

Of course I was slighted because I was an adult and should be able to dress as I please as long as I got the job done. Who did these Canadians think they were talking to! But good sense prevailed; I changed my mind, did what was requested, got the job and spent ten great years with CIBC.

If we want to succeed we must be willing to adapt to the business world. Mr. Jackson Burnside once remarked that it is interesting how foreigners come here and develop hotels or stores that promote our culture and history, but for some reason we do not see the merit in this until it is too late.

To be continued…

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