Dr Carla Barnett, CARICOM Secretary-General and distinguished alumna of The University of the West Indies (The UWI) was the featured speaker at the recently held Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Economic and Social Studies (SALISES) Distinguished Lecture themed Sustained Economic Recovery Post Pandemic – The Lewis Model. The lecture, held on April 26, broadcast live via UWItv, was a part of The UWI Vice-Chancellor’s Forum series. It facilitated dialogue and offered answers to critical questions of Caribbean economic recovery as the region navigates the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian war.
In his opening remarks, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles highlighted the need for the region to look to post-COVID economic development within the framework of regional integration, sustained resilience for existing sectors, new economic sectors, and drivers, and the current digital economy. Positioning The UWI in the recovery efforts, Vice-Chancellor Beckles suggested that the current era requires the knowledge economy to move to the forefront of contemplations about the Caribbean. He said, “This is the digital moment, a special moment in which the university sector as the driver of the knowledge economy must rise and shine. We know this to be true because having looked at the Caribbean economy in the last 20-30 years, there is more of a shortage of critical skills than a shortage of capital that is holding back economic transformation.” Vice-Chancellor Beckles also acknowledged Secretary-General Barnett’s role as the leader of an integrated Caribbean strategy and highly commended SALISES, under the leadership of University Director Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee for fostering the necessary conversations on economic strategy and transformation.
Dr Carla Barnett was an undergraduate student reading Lewis’ seminal contribution at The UWI Mona Campus when he was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1979. She recalled the deep sense of pride that “a great economist, a black man and fellow Caribbean national” was so recognised. While many acknowledged and applauded his scholarship, Lewis was also severely critiqued for his prescriptions for developing economies with many debates about the relevance of his policy prescriptions for the crises of that time. Today, the Caribbean and the world again face a crisis and are preoccupied with building a post-pandemic economic recovery approach. The Lewis Model, which proposes a dual-sector economy and suggests that there is a complementary relationship between agriculture and industry, continues to have real relevance.
Reflecting on the current state of CARICOM, Dr Barnett positioned our economies as not yet recovered from the 2008 global financial crisis, overwhelmingly susceptible to natural disasters and climate change impacts, and grappling with inherent vulnerabilities amplified by the pandemic which curtailed economic activity. “With the exception of Guyana, CARICOM states experienced significant GDP losses in 2020 and 2021 that were much higher than in other parts of the world” she said, also adding – “The Russian Ukrainian war has further amplified the prevailing economic risks and uncertainty confronting small states.”
Turning to the Lewis model for solutions, Dr Barnett proposed that it offers insight relevant to the CARICOM development process. She presented six specific areas for strategic consideration: the proactive role of regional integration in building self-sufficiency and resilience; harnessing technology to modernise the agriculture sector and the scaling up of agri-food production for food security; the critical role of foreign and domestic capital in driving growth and structural transformation; domestic savings to finance investment with enhanced regional resource mobilisation; the state as a direct participant and facilitator in economic activity; and lastly, creating a highly skilled labour force to drive productivity.
In closing, Dr. Barnett issued a challenge to The UWI, SALISES, and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). She suggests that while good work is being done around Lewis’ contributions, it is not enough. “…It is time that the Institute that bears his name focuses specifically on the intellectual contributions of Sir Arthur Lewis…I would like to encourage a further study and interrogation specifically of Lewis’ ideas within the context of Caribbean societies via the establishment of a Chair here at The UWI to advance the multi-dimensional approach that Lewis brought to bear on the study of economic growth and development of small states. I do think it is high time, quite deliberately and in keeping with Lewis’ vision, that the Charter of the CDB where Lewis was the first president, includes a provision to promote regional economic integration. It is my view, therefore, that it will be fit and proper for CDB to memorialise its founding President and our Nobel Laureate in Economics by financing the Lewis Chair in Caribbean Development Economics at The UWI, where Lewis was the first Vice-Chancellor.”
The 2022 annual SALISES Distinguished Lecture was moderated by Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee with contributions from Professor Don Marshall, Director, SALISES Cave Hill Campus, and Dr Godfrey St. Bernard, Director (Ag.), SALISES St. Augustine Campus. In the spirit of integration, students at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, Saint Lucia – Estelle Albertie, Kiana Justin, and Jelani Justin made a presentation on the life and work of Sir Arthur Lewis titled Industrialisation of the British West Indies – 1950 in honour of his theoretical contribution to the field of Economics. The lecture closed with an engaging Q&A with the online audience.
Continuing the necessary conversations, SALISES will host its annual Conference themed Caribbean Lives, Disruptions, Resilience and the way Forward on May 3-4 2022. Interested persons can visit www.salisesregional.com for more information.