Sep 08, 2019
Since Clive Thomas and the WPA announced their policy proposal for direct disbursement of a tiny fraction of the coming oil resources to the citizens of Guyana in the form of annual Cash Transfers, some members of the ruling class and others in the chattering classes have gone berserk.
Some immediately reached for their economic textbooks while others grabbed their Capitalism Handbook and other Anti-Socialist literature. Then there have been those who climbed into the dustbin of history and resuscitated the narrative of the “lazy African” and to some extent the “lazy Indian and Amerindian” whose purpose in life is to “sport, drink and smoke.”
They have responded to the proposal as if someone has committed heresy. Clive Thomas has been portrayed as a mad man. Some in the APNU leadership instantly dismissed it as an alien policy that is not even worth considering. The outcome is that they are all opposed to giving cash to the people. For them, it is a combination of bad economics and bad practice to give poor people money.
This almost instinctive reaction from the privileged sections of the society tells us a great deal about the extent to which social-class prejudices still haunt our country. They are always there. But given the salience of our ethnic problems, they have been hidden. These prejudices are partly traditional insofar as they come from the old Black and Brown middle classes from the colonial times—the Afro and Indo Saxons. It is also partly a function of the very uplifting of poor people—a case of those who made it believing that they are better than those left behind.
I grew up in a largely poor village. I know the pangs of poverty, but above all I know the social stigma that accompanies poverty. I know what better-off people think about the capacity of poor people. I know how they laugh at the way poor people talk, walk, dress and eat. I know how some of them feel pity for the poor. I know how they see poor people as merely voters to be used to get them into power. I know how they believe that all you have to do is ring the bell of ethnic fear and poor people will fall in line. So, no matter how they wrap their opposition to cash-transfers in economic theory, at the core of it are conscious and unconscious class-prejudice. I can smell it from afar.
The contempt for poor people by even some “better-off poor people” is alive and well in Guyana. This aspect of class prejudice arises partly out of the limited opportunities for social mobility that have been made available to poor people—only a small fraction of us have made it out of that dread situation.
So, we have come to believe that our upward mobility resulted from some special individual talent on our part. We made it because we worked hard and those who remain at the social bottom are there because they didn’t work hard. In other words, we have come to believe that poor people are poor because they choose to be poor. So, if the government gives them money, they would squander it on foolishness—the poor have no sense of how to spend money properly.
Only the government and other social and political elites can spend money properly. So, let the government spend the money for them on education, roads, health care and other necessities. They, the poor, are children who cannot take care of themselves. If we give them the money, they will not work—they would throwback and wait for the cash-transfers. The fact that they are currently unemployed is because they choose to — work is available, but they don’t want to work. I know this is so because I asked this young man to come and clean my mess for a thousand dollars and he refused.
That is the nonsense that is implied by some of our elites and even some who are themselves poor. When people get drunk by their success, they forget that it was government policy that lifted them from the bottom and not a thousand dollars to clean somebody’s mess. They forget that those policies could only lift a few of us at any given time–only a few of us could make it to Bishops’ and Queen’s and UG. Only a few of us could get the scholarships to study abroad.
Imagine if Burnham had listened to those who had said don’t let poor people’s children into UG and Bishops’ and Queen’s because they would skip school and gamble. Where would many of us be today?
So, don’t matter how they dress it up, the stiff opposition to the WPA’s Cash-Transfer proposal is directly and indirectly grounded in social prejudice. The danger of this is that many of those who are poised to take power after the next election are steeped in this prejudice. In other words, they can turn their prejudice into policy or use it to oppose policy—they will have the power to do so. And they would be presiding over a lot of money.
Clive Thomas and the WPA have put this policy on the table as one approach on a menu of approaches. We support spending on social services, public infrastructure and other necessities. We support saving some of the money for rainy days, but caution that saving for the future without taking care of the current structural problems may in the long run be counterproductive. But we feel that there are aspects of people’s day to day miseries that government’s indirect spending cannot effectively address — Stone deh a bottom river, he nah know how sun hot.
We are a party that feels very strongly about the condition of the poor and the powerless in the society. But above all, we respect poor people as equal human beings with the same human capacity as other social classes. We continue to believe that the collective problems of the poor are structural in nature and are a function of the historical evolution of the country’s political economy. We believe that government policy is key to unlocking the potential of the poor and helping them to break out of their socio-economic prisons. WPA still believes that government must be a vehicle for uplifting the poor.
It is from that perspective that the Cash Transfer proposal comes. To all those who say it is bad economics, I say Clive Thomas read the same Economics books which you read and maybe some more. I’d rather Clive Thomas’ economics than economics that is grounded in social prejudice. I also trust the judgement of the people on this policy.
I have been going from village to village with the WPA and this subject has been part of the discussion. We are learning from the people about what they want—they want Cash Transfer among other things. They know what they would do with the money. If the people can trust political parties not to squander their votes, then the parties must similarly trust the people not to squander the Cash Transfers.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
More of Dr. Hinds’ writings and commentaries can be found on his YouTube Channel Hinds’ Sight: Dr. David Hinds’ Guyana-Caribbean Politics and on his website www.guyanacaribbeanpolitics.news. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org