BitDepth 812 - December 13

How Friedman and Mandelbaum's new book That used to be us, offers insights of value to Trinidad and Tobago's development.
Remember when?
Friedman and Mandelbaum’s book That used to be us, image courtesy Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Over the last few days I’ve been deeply involved with the new book by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum,
That used to be us. The subtitle of the book pretty much explains the content, “How America fell behind in the world it invented and how we can come back.”

I have to confess to not caring as much about the problems of America as I do about the quite disturbing challenges prevalent here in Trinidad and Tobago, but there’s also no arguing that the problems facing America inexorably both become problems for us and, in a particularly vicious bit of pincering, affect us directly as well.

I’m reading this book in the midst of the uproar surrounding the end of the State of Emergency, an atmosphere of desperate public relations from the government, significant doubt and loss of faith by the public and absolute confusion everywhere in-between.

Trade unions are worried that they will be targeted by the Government. The Minister of National Security boldly declares the SoE and its attendant curfew a success. Everybody who has to walk the streets is nervously waiting for the next crime resurgence.

In the face of that chaos, I’d like to boldly invite the Prime Minister to scoop away all the folders and paperwork at her next Cabinet meeting and drop a copy of the book in front of each of her Ministers, demanding that they read, analyse and consider solutions for each of their areas of responsibility based on their understanding of how the issues it raises will affect Trinidad and Tobago over the next decade.
Yes, I’m serious. Yes, it’s that serious.
Sewer lines and sidewalks aren’t as sexy as skyrises and stadia, but we’ve become hopelessly confused about which should come first.
Planning for this country can’t only be about the next three months or the years until the government breaks its pace to woo the public for the next election.

That plan must be based on a serious and adaptable national plan that embraces our strengths and weaknesses and fortifies our prospects in a world that’s changing so fast that long-term planning is becoming a kind of corporate joke.

In support of this Ministerial initiative, I’m going to turn my book report in first.
Any plan for our future will have to acknowledge who we are, what makes us special and how we can leverage that to our advantage. 
Trinidad and Tobago won the notice in the world for two things more than a century ago. We were a source of oil and a source of creativity. That used to be us.

Through a providence so bountiful that it must be divine, that’s still what we’re known for and what we rely on, but we can no longer treat it as infinitely falling manna. There must be a fresh national thrust to marshall these resources with careful forethought and strategically leverage them into our future.
It’s worth noting that Professor Ken Julien did this for the oil and gas resource with admirable prescience in the 1970’s at Point Lisas and again at the turn of the century with UTT, but otherwise, there has been a marked lack of that kind of forward thinking. There’s been no NGC for soca and steelband, only an NCC.

The good fortunes of natural gas and music can only take us only so far on the world stage, and sustaining a significant presence in the world markets for consumable goods at Henry Hub and on iTunes will take more than we have been willing to give so far.

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