THERE is no doubt that the Caribbean is in crisis and the 50th anniversary of political independence of Jamaica in August and Trinidad and Tobago in September 2012 is an appropriate time for intellectual stocktaking.
The Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Jamaica under the dynamic leadership of Professor Brian Meeks has mounted such an exercise in the form of a conference entitled "Critical Reflections in a Time of Uncertainty". The conference which started Monday and runs until Friday, was launched by Minister of Finance, Planning and the Public Service Dr Peter Phillips at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in New Kingston.
We are pleased to acknowledge that the conference is truly an intellectual feast, with 67 panels of four speakers and several plenary sessions featuring among others Sir George Alleyne and Professor Emeritus Selwyn Ryan. Panelists include academic luminaries Professor Verene Shepherd, Bobby Hill, Rupert Lewis, Sir Alister McIntyre. Sir Kenneth Hall, Erna Broder, Haveloch Brewster and Trevor Munroe. Politicians attending from near and far include Jamaican-born British Member of Parliament Dianne Abbot; Prime Minister Ralph Gonzales of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Jamaica's Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. There are policy-makers such as Dr Carlton Davis, NGO activists such as Horace Levy, and from the church heavyweights such as Rev Dr Garnet Roper. All told, there are some 200 scholars and practitioners.
The objective of the conference is to extract from all of this "talk" the lessons from the past 50 years and some pragmatic suggestions for the future. After all, Karl Marx was right when he said the point is not to understand the world but to change the world. This task is made more urgent than usual by the crisis of the Caribbean, crisis being a situation which cannot continue.
In our view, the topic which is missing from the agenda but which is at the root of our regional problems is the crisis of Caribbean thought. There is an inextricable link between thought and public policy and the state of the Caribbean. If the Caribbean is in crisis it is due either to bad policy, e.g. excessive external borrowing or poor implementation of otherwise good policy, e.g. regional economic integration. If policy is bad, it is the direct result of bad ideas, e.g. nationalisation of foreign companies or the absence of ideas, e.g. economic growth strategies.
Caribbean thought is in crisis because it has not produced an indigenous paradigm by the Caribbean and for the Caribbean. The big ideas have been political independence in the 1950s, regional economic integration in the 1960s and statist economic models in the 1970s.
Since then the quest for intellectual independence has mutated into intellectual dependence. The region imported neo-liberal economics in the 1980s, anti-globalisation in the 1990s, and in the first decade of this century climate change.
We are excited by the Fifty-Fifty project spearheaded by SALISES because we have an intrinsic belief in the genius of the Caribbean people. There are intellectual equivalents of Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Trinidad's Keshorn Walcott who can inspire the region to aspire for only its best.
The Caribbean people need their scholars now more than ever. Would that the Pegasus Conference be the beginning of a new era of Caribbean thought.