The development paradox Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
December 8, 2001

IS THE process of a country’s economic development one continuous sequence of positive improvements, or is it a period of considerable advancement followed by stuttering starts and stops and then another meaningful stretch of progress? We are constrained to posit this question now because a quick glance at some aspects of Guyana’s recent history reveals that there were some commendable levels of progress in this nation’s agro-industry three and four decades ago. For instance, Guyana’s coffee beans were exported for processing and packaging and then re-imported. And many middle-aged citizens would no doubt recall that the Guyana processed coffee was excellent. GUYCAN orange juice, produced by the Guyana Marketing Corporation, was thought then to be the best orange juice sold here. Housewives would ignore the Trinidad-made product and reach for the local juice because the children loved it. There were also pineapple slices, pineapple chunks and pineapple juice all locally produced by GUYCAN.

The announcement this week that pasteurised milk will once again be produced in Guyana triggered another mental excursion down memory lane. The bottled pasteurised milk produced by the Kingston milk plant in the 1960s was known by every schoolchild in the city. The milk came in several delicious flavours, cost only a few cents per bottle, and was therefore a boon to those harried mothers on the days they could not readily prepare a cooked meal for their school-age children. We can only speculate that if Guyana had moved to expand the milk pasteurisation manufacturing operations over the last three decades, the relevant authorities might have been exporting containers of this product to the Caribbean and beyond instead of importing milk and milk products from other countries.

In the decades when socialism was a popular doctrine among anti-establishment and progressive thinkers, it was believed that human development evolved in a prescribed way. The first stage was thought to be primitivism and the second communalism, in which members of society lived in groups and clans; the third stage was said to be serfdom in which the people, who attained wealth presided over the production processes virtually enslaving the poorer members of the community as units of free or cheap labour. This period, of course, witnessed the rise of capitalism, which exploited the poor working-class for the enrichment of the landed gentry. The protagonists of socialism confidently predicted that the working-class would rise up and throw off the shackles of this system and then establish the fundamentals of socialism. Thereafter, the state would ‘wither away’ and man would at last exist in a kind of Utopia, in which exploitation and injustice and all the other evils of modern society would be redressed. Citizens would live in near-perfect harmony with one another and with the environment.

Of course, this idealist concept of existence never came about because the Berlin Wall, one of the most tragic symbols of the Cold War era, came tumbling down in 1989, dramatically dismantling the system of socialism.

Ideology aside, however, the development question is riddled with inconsistencies and paradoxes. How come some countries never got beyond a certain rudimentary development in spite of their adherence to capitalism or socialism? Why is it that nations like Guyana appear to hit roadblock after roadblock in spite of their abundance of natural resources? And, conversely, why is it that some countries with few natural resources are able to create wealth by dint of innovative genius? Israel has been able to transform arid land into fertile soil, where tons of produce are exported daily. Perhaps sometime in the future, when the Middle East and Southern Asia are out of war mode, Guyana could seek the assistance of the Israelis in developing her agro-industry.