The engine of growth

Stabroek News
February 24, 2000

It is a pity Karl Marx never ran a business, though his friend, supporter and frequent co-author Frederick Engels certainly did. He might still have written Capital, much of it based on insights devised from the suffering and poverty of the working class in early English industrial capitalism, but the concept of surplus value, for example, might have been somewhat modified.

Except perhaps in a business civilisation like America the problems of running a business are enormously underrated by the public. The general impression is that businessmen do well, make a lot of money, have a lot of leisure time and generally live the good life. That is far from being the truth in most cases. In the first place, a large number of businessmen fail, that is they close down or go bankrupt because they cannot pay the bills or make a profit. This can happen within six months or after ten years. They can be ruined by new competition, new technology, new patterns of consumption or even, in some cases, by burnout or personal collapse. Secondly, the hours of work are open ended, there is always more to be learnt and more to be done. If the business is not doing well, more work has to be put in, new markets or new ideas have to be sought, overdrafts have to be increased. If it is doing well, expansion can be even more stressful, equity capital has to be raised or borrowing increased, more people employed (a specialised job in itself), new structures of management learnt. The transition from small to medium/small or medium size has proved too much for many a small business which has succumbed. Thirdly, in the typical case the owners derive no substantial benefits for a long time. Whatever they make is re-invested in an effort to make the business more efficient and more competitive. Finally, if they do survive and prosper, the enormous effort expended in developing the business often damages their health, their marriage, their family life with their children and their leisure activities.

So much for the myths. A business civilisation, capitalism, creates enormous economic development but it is not generally acknowledged how much of this is due to the amount of commitment, anxiety, energy and hope invested in it by the entrepreneur. It is, in some cases, a life's work, depending on the scale and the heights achieved. Monuments are not built without enormous sacrifice, not only by the workers but by the designers and the builders.

When we say that the private sector is to be the engine of economic growth in Guyana we must recognise that this is more than just a pretty slogan. It means that real men and real women have to be prepared to make a huge investment of their future in specific enterprises. This may require two or three decades of unremitting toil accompanied by an awareness of technology, marketing, personnel management, production techniques and so on. The business civilisation that we say we want to create will require education, intelligence, commitment and confidence in the future. Only the bravest or the most foolhardy will put down their bucket here if they see ahead a future of uncertainty and fear.