Thursday, October 17, 2013


Jack Warner's call for a minimum wage of $20 per hour has largely gone unnoticed amidst all the hype and hyperbole of the election campaign. The fact that his call has been ignored either means that persons who should understand economics clearly don't, or that they have an agenda which effectively prohibits a discussion of what ought to be important economic issues except for those which those "experts" deem to be important. I will readily admit that there may be a third or even a fourth reason for the deafening silence, but for the life of me I can't think of one.

Mr. Warner's call for a higher minimum wage was/is a recognition that there is what might be called a "fairness deficit" in our society where the rich are getting richer and where more and more people ... especially the young ... are slipping backwards into poverty. Certainly, inflation has seen to it that in real terms most incomes ... especially at the lower end of the scale ... are effectively lower than they were a short ten or fifteen years ago. Most young people cannot afford the lifestyle that their parents had when they were their age.

Social mobility, which progressed in leaps and bounds in the sixties and seventies and even into the eighties is now "flat lining" and is in serious danger of going into reverse. Why are we so surprised at the rising rates in crime when we are effectively throwing so many young people on to the rubbish heap of life by failing to provide them with a good education, good job opportunities and the hope of a better and improved life style.

UWI, UTT and the employer class must all do more to help end long term youth unemployment by increasing learning and earning opportunities. No Government can do it alone. That is the reality. But a Government can and should provide the right business climate where these things happen. Employers, for example, can and should provide better pay, better opportunities, better training and career development. The universities should provide increased higher quality learning and earning opportunities for the young who should be expected to take up those opportunities or face the tough consequences.

The education system needs to be revised where the brighter children are helped and encouraged to do better. There should be a system of reward for those better teachers as well as consequences for those inefficient or incompetent teachers who for whatever reason simply aren't teaching their charges.

Upward social mobility ought to be our mantra. Mr. Warner's call for a higher minimum wage was an implicit recognition that poverty is becoming entrenched into our society. It was a recognition that there is a growing insecurity and a stalling mobility in our society that is far more widespread than has been recognized by our politicians and business leaders. The reality is that there are too many children in our society that are growing up who will have a lower living standard than that enjoyed by their parents. The nature of poverty has changed, and we as a society have failed to understand this.

We are not a fair society. We need to redouble our efforts to reduce our country's "fairness deficit". We are rapidly slipping back into becoming the kind of society we were before 1956 where one's birth determined one's fate. Mr. Warner's call for a $20 per hour minimum wage is an effort to try and create a more level playing field of opportunity. This lies at the core of what our nation's business ought to be. And instead of shooting the messenger it would be really nice if we started to pay attention to the message.