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Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Home Features Barons and Captains of Industry – Covid-19 and the political economy of...

Barons and Captains of Industry – Covid-19 and the political economy of Belize

Analyzing the historic significance of the State-led formation of the  Economic Recovery Commission is a study in the phenomenon of the symbiotic fusion of ‘old’ and ‘new’ money now converging to bolster Belize’s lagging capitalist economy. Capital accumulation and domestic investment channeled towards innovation and enterprise by our Barons and Captains of industry, now has a strategic framework through which to protect and enhance this symbiotic infusion of domestic capital amassed by the formal sector, and the substantial parallel invisible economy, melded through the national banking system.

Another phenomenon is the recent consolidation of commercial banking sector ownership, which increases the leverage of the key player in this sector on monetary policy decisions and, more importantly, his control over the allocation and disbursement of domestic investment financing.

Whether the two phenomena create the necessary conditions for accelerated, export-driven, and climate resilient economic growth relies on the product of the strategic thinking and agreement of the players involved in formulating a viable way forward.

Notably absent from the banking sector cluster is the Central Bank of Belize, though this omission is not fatal and is easily remedied through policy adjustments by the Central Bank Board of Directors, where the credit unions and commercial banks are represented.

The strategic culture of Belize originates in its economic history of indigenous capital formation founded on the retained proceeds of slavery, indenture, chattel labor, and illicit flows of goods and services into North America — arms for the Confederacy, Prohibition liquor smuggling, diesel for German U-boats, and human and narcotics trafficking. Good research will enable a better understanding of how all these contributed to the formation of an influential lumpen capitalist class in Belize.

Capital accumulation by the well-insulated mercantilist sector can be said to contribute little to national wealth and represents a net drain on Belize’s foreign exchange reserves, now sorely impacted by the COVID-19-induced contraction of the national economy. This sector is notably absent from the Commission.

In all this the managers of the global financial system are now fully engaged in its reengineering, which contemplates substantial boosts and concessions to stimulate private sector economic survival and expansion. In Central America there is quiet enthusiasm for the $10 billion economic support package mooted by the incoming Biden administration, access to which Belize should position itself.

The central question seems to be, Economic Recovery for whom? Is this the historic moment when the  alliance now formalized between the  national economic elite and the element of the political class now in control of the state organs can achieve the necessary critical mass to construct a vibrant Belizean economy that is less dependent on low-return foreign direct investment?

The inclusion of Labor at the head table provides a lens to see how this materialist fusion generates new surplus-value-derived wealth, and could influence whether this disposable surplus is equitably distributed. There is no place for unbridled capitalism, and Labor cannot be a witting participant in legitimizing the usual trickle down of crumbs from the table, now so well embedded by the institutions of political socialization in the Belizean psyche. If the new formula works, don’t fix it¯for now. What seems to be a process of economic restructuring and indigenization may be already underway and gathering momentum.

The establishment of a majority Belizean-owned National Gas Company tells the story of a struggle between local and international capital over national ‘rights’. It appears safely anchored by the 25% shareholding by the Government of Belize, but national ownership is not enough. Replacing one set of capitalists with another set is wholly unsatisfactory, as is the argument of the increased foreign exchange savings derived from full control of the supply and distribution chain. The fundamental issue is whether Belizeans are benefitting from sustained lower pricing for LPG.

A port expansion project which projects itself as a Belize City Marshall Plan is a reminder that capital will adapt its tune to strident public notes calling for adjustment and rightsizing. This is an instructive event for Belizeans in influencing policy and containing what is best for Belize.

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