Features — 18 November 2017 — by Colin Hyde
Some things must remain in our control

(a commentary on Neri Briceño’s letters to the Amandala, Nov 10)

The Soviet Union wasn’t the same after Kennedy stared down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Ronald Reagan didn’t have to push down the Berlin Wall: that was so ready to fall he just had to lean on it. This move by the British to exit the EU, that is so they can move further to the Right, become more capitalist. After over fifty years of US embargo, a weary Cuba is drifting very slowly to the Right. Hopefully our great friends have the resilience to hold off Trump, or they’ll once again become a playground for American playboys and gangsters. Our very helpful neighbours, the Venezuelans, it will take some mighty prayers for the Bolivarian machine to keep turning.

It’s consolidation. Right is righter, Right is mightier, all over the world. They are on the move. In Belize, the Right did not believe that it made good economic sense for BTL to be owned by the public. So the Right (represented by the PUP at the time) sold it to private interests, Ashcroft. After a short period, the Right decided that Ashcroft was not delivering the goods, so they went out and set up a private competitor, INTELCO. This did not work out, so the Right pressured Ashcroft to sell BTL to another private interest, Prosser. But Prosser couldn’t or wouldn’t pay, so the government asked Ashcroft to buy back BTL, and the assets of INTELCO, which had gone under. It was sure amazing, all these intrigues over our BTL. We knew what the solution was.

We got the new solution when a new government (UDP) came into power in 2008. That government wasn’t so Left, but it listened to the people on this matter. Getting back BTL wasn’t cheap. We are astounded by the price we had to pay to get back the company that we built. BTL wasn’t a business created by private enterprise. BTL was a public company, built by a system that believed in social justice, a system that did not believe that the rich should have less but that the poor should have more. We absolutely need to know why we paid so much to get it back.

But, we can be thankful for the little mercy of once again owning our BTL. We can breathe a sigh of relief. We would, if the Right would only let us alone for a little while. I thought Neri Briceño’s letters to the Amandala, they weren’t comforting.

There are people in Belize who believe that the public sector is too incompetent, too laid back, too corrupt, to run essential businesses like telecommunications, electricity, and water. Mr. Briceño is one of those people. It’s important to understand who this gentleman is, so we can understand his way of thinking. We’ll have to get a little personal here. Oh, just before that, let me say this. I admire Neri. He comes over as one of those guys who make you proud that he is from your country. Now, to the breach.

Mr. Briceño writes that he is a believer in pure capitalism. To get the full sense of that, to understand exactly what that means, I went to thelawdictinoary.org. According to the law dictionary, pure capitalism is an economic system that shows little interference from a government body. The system is run by big business and revolves around money and capital assets.

I’ll tell you a perfect reason why a person like Mr. Briceño would subscribe wholesale to such a system. I read most everything that he writes in the newspapers. I learned that this is a brother from the mighty PG who went out into the world and made himself First World competitive. He is excellently trained, in a field that pays big bucks per hour. The man is an international citizen. We rank and file, we have to beg for a visa. They, they are recruited by governments all over the world.

Capitalism is Darwin’s world of dog-eat-dog and survival of the fittest. Neri comes over as a man with a heart, a brother who cares for people. How does a man with a heart endorse such a system? The truth to that may be in his faith. I haven’t read any discussion from him about that, but from the outside I would bet that he is sympathetic toward people in the United States who call themselves Republicans. I have a pretty good grasp of that crowd. They are believers in the old-time-religion, the one that you find in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament endorses pure capitalism. These people believe that in the creation of wealth, there is trickle down. Oh, they don’t hate charity. Almost all wealthy Republicans throw a little something for the starving masses. They aren’t likely to kill you if they catch you gleaning the field.

Of course, trickle down and charity are not socialist ideals. We socialists believe in the dignity of work. We want jobs! Capitalism does not care about jobs. Capitalism believes that jobs will take care of themselves, so to speak.

Neri writes: “I could remember as if it was yesterday when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher started divesting state-owned companies, a decision that was initially unpopular with the public but that in the long-term created immense wealth for the nation.”

The UK Guardian (from theguardian.com) has some ideas about the Thatcher lady and her laissez faire. These are some thoughts expressed in their story titled, “Privatization: the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

The good: Although many of the now-privatised companies are part or fully owned by foreign companies, they have proved to be lucrative investments…A £100 investment in (British Gas) 1986 would have gone up by £821…since the privatisation of the 10 state-owned regional water authorities in 1989, the number of customers at risk of low water pressure has fallen by 99%…there was a six-month wait for the installation of a new BT line…before telecommunications were privatised. New BT lines are today installed within 15 days, according to BT’s website.

The bad: Since the privatisation (of British Rail) the amount of government subsidies to the rail industry has risen…from just over £1bn in the late 1980s…to a high of more than £6bn in 2006-2007, according to a public spending report from the House of Commons.

The ugly: The most damaging legacy has been job losses. In the decade after the miners’ strike of 1985, more than 200,000 jobs were lost as a result of coal privatisation…more than 100,000 jobs have been lost at BT…the restructuring of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) led to the loss of 15,000 jobs.
I ask, what is the point of immense wealth if the people aren’t getting any? It, capitalism, doesn’t work for the masses. Capitalism works for the few, the aggressive, the insiders.

It is true that big business is more efficient. But there is much cruelty in the cutting edge. Private industry has no interest in creating jobs. In one of his last speeches, President Obama mas o menos told American people who were phobic about immigrants, that the greatest fear of labour wasn’t people, but robots.

There is great use for people who are driven to succeed for themselves. Their wish that their great success somehow yields “trickle down” enough to quench the thirst and sate the hunger of the masses, is laudable. But that doesn’t work, especially in countries like ours. Private enterprise must build its own businesses. The public sector must create and keep its share.

But, it is true that far too often the public sector lets down. There are cases aplenty to make us cringe. Neri writes: as we are speaking, plans are being made about who will get the choice jobs in these companies regardless if they have the capacity to do it…nationalized companies will end up being a source for jobs and contracts for political supporters and cronies.

If we cannot produce political leaders and public officials who are interested in the greater good, above self and party, maybe we have to quit. If we cannot produce public leaders who will put in the systems that will cut waste and increase competence in the management of public companies, then we are without hope.

Mr. Briceño makes the point that privatization is especially not for countries like ours. He writes: we have neither the resources, wealth nor clout in the international community to sit much less stand on our own two feet. While countries like Mexico and Venezuela had the capacity for nationalization, we don’t. We are still dependent on international investment and that is something that we are all failing or don’t want to see.

Well, some people need to be reminded that we didn’t NEED to nationalize anything. Water, electricity, and telecommunications were OURS—OURS. We made a mistake to sell them. We had to get them back. There are some things to be said about how we went about it.

It is true that if Belize will live a “First World” dream, it absolutely needs international investment. It does appear that that “First World” dream is the intention here. If we will live that First World dream, there is something else we need. To that end we are very dependent on people with the capacity of Neri. They are the ones who will lead us to a better economy. But that pure capitalist model, it cannot serve us.

Our hope for the future does not reside in a model from big countries. Capitalists don’t give a daam about how the masses eat. A government can’t protect the masses solely through taxes. A government in a country like ours absolutely needs to control some businesses. So, we must keep the ones that we built. And build some to feed off our gambling habits too.

We need to have majority control of our utilities. Our task is to make sure they are run in the best way possible. That is possible, if we can convince people with capacity to move away from the far Right, convince them to embrace a model a little to the Left. We need people like Neri to be Right, when they are working abroad, and be Left when they are working at home.

Our educated, talented people, they are people who are international citizens. Their great talent insulates them from the petty, vindictive local politicians. They can insist that the systems be put in place so that horrible human weakness does not corrupt and defeat public businesses.

Our talented, educated people can’t be nurturing these pure capitalist ideas here. There is a place, an important place, for pure capitalism in our little country. But some things must remain under the control of the people. Or we will live in a country where the rich have more, and the poor have less, and less, and less.

For love of country some things must remain in our control.

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Eden Cruz

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