Much has been opined these past few weeks on the issue of this country’s track record with respect to the diversification of the economy.
As with so many other issues of national prominence, the majority perspective appears to be that the Government must take the lead in the area of economic diversification. To this, I say poppycock!
Did Bill Gates seek the approval of the US government before he started Microsoft? Was the US Department of Commerce an active player with Steve Jobs in the creation of Apple? Did Jeff Bezos first look for grant and subsidy support before setting out in the creation of Amazon?
The resounding response to all of the above questions is ‘No!’
Truth be told, whether we refer to it as entrepreneurship, capitalism or free enterprise, new business development, in the US and elsewhere around the world, has mostly originated and thrived in the hands of private individuals.
From Whitney and Slater, to Ford and Edison, to Jobs and Gates, to Bezos and Musk-captains of new industry have benefited most from the passive nature of their respective governments. And their success has come largely without the benefit of a government-sponsored safety net.
The question for Trinbagonians therefore to reflect upon is not what should the Government be doing in order to effect diversification, but where is our cohort of home-grown entrepreneurs?
The cold, hard truth is that in spite of the fact that we have had many successful businessmen in our pre- and post-colonial history, many (if not most) of the fortunes that have been created are the result of trading, rather than the fruits of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Even today, in spite of healthy balance sheets and the nuisance of billions in cash on deposit, privately owned and controlled businesses continue to look to the Government for a sense of direction on one hand, and tax breaks, subsidies, loan guarantees and incentives on the other.
If we are ever truly to diversifynot only from being an energy based economy but a centrally directed one as well-the effort, and the capital, must come from our private sector.
The dominant culture of being ‘risk-averse’ must be brought to an end. Now, before it is too late.