Is the business class taking over Caribbean politics?


Head of the Political Science Department at UWI Cave Hill, Dr Tennyson Joseph. (Photo source: barbadostoday.bb)

Leaders with business expertise, rather than political experience are becoming more accepted as heads of government, according to Dr Tennyson Joseph, Head of the Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill.

The lecture entitled “Any Cook Can Govern: Plato, Donald Trump, and the rise of Caribbean Businessmen Politicians” was presented by Dr Joseph at the UWI Open Campus in St Vincent on Thursday.

“Can you imagine a billionaire is speaking for unemployed people?” asked Dr Joseph. “Neoliberalism is doing that, because the business class is the ruling class in the 21st century.”

United States President Donald Trump, St Lucian Prime Minister Allen Chastanet and even Prime Minister Gaston Browne are examples of how businessmen have become the faces of political leadership.

Neo-liberalism involves the private sector controlling economic factors, rather than the public sector and this has sparked the new trend of persons electing businessmen, rather than political professionals.

“Business success is now equated with political wisdom and greatness,” said Dr Joseph as he referenced the philosopher, Plato and Trinidadian historian, Cyril James.

According to the professor, the Caribbean is now seeing the total opposite of what Plato and James believed, which is that “public participation should be a sacrifice and not for personal gain.”

It is no doubt that wealthy businessmen have become more acquainted with political leadership, as Prime Minister Browne has said that he was worth $30 million dollars before he became Antigua’s leader.

Dr Joseph also used St Lucian Prime Minister Chastanet as an example of how business acumen has become part of the criteria for political leadership and how this may be detrimental to government. He revealed that Chastanet’s election to office inspired the lecture, specifically a video where he was shown struggling to follow parliamentary procedures while piloting a Bill. The Prime Minister was seen continuously apologizing for mistakes during the first reading of a Bill.

“Far more troubling for the question of governance has been Chastanet’s decision to contract the private accounting firm, Ernst & Young to prepare St Lucia’s 2017 budget,” said Dr Joseph.

He said that this application of business practices to politics was a clear example of neoliberalism ideals taking over the political sphere.

“Neoliberalism has caused that trend of political rulers focusing on getting economy right,” said Dr Joseph as he said that “getting the economy right” is being seen as legitimate in governmental leadership.

Democracy provides the electorate with the freedom to vote as they please; however, Dr Joseph’s lecture begs the question: Given leaders like Trump and Chastanet, are wealthy businessmen detrimental or helpful to politics and democracy

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