When I was a first year university student many, many moons ago, there was an academic book that was popular all over the world, but especially so in the Third World where many states have small square miles and small populations.
‘Small Is Beautiful’ , written by Ernst Schumacher, remains one of the great books of the past 100 years. But its virtues hid one terrible fact too horrible to contemplate. Schumacher was an economist not a philosopher or one schooled in studying political theory. So he wrote about the pitfalls of economics of large, industrial capitalist societies which place emphasis on “bigger is better.”
Schumacher also tackled pollution and the danger to the eco-system in his book. He warned against large-scale technology, large-scale anything, and advised that technology must be appropriate rather than be seen as the panacea for the prolongation of the planet. In simple terms, Schumacher lectured the world in the use of appropriate technology and economics.
Small-sized countries found Schumacher’s work persuasively and pressingly relevant. Their leaders, scientists and academics argued that large nations with large populations are destroying the eco-system by the introduction of agricultural techniques that are designed to feed hundreds of millions.
What Schumacher overlooked in his great text, and what his converts missed in this seminal work, was the role of power in small societies. Five years before Schumacher wrote his magnum opus, a West Indian scholar did warn the world that small can be deadly. Archie Singham wrote, “The Hero and the Crowd” about Eric Gairy, in one of the smallest independent territories in the map with a tiny population – our own Caribbean sister country, Grenada.
Singham’s trenchant work did not achieve the international fame Schumacher’s work got. In fact, the book had just a small circulation, confined to West Indian academics. But Singham’s thesis was powerful and haunting. Singham showed that everywhere Gairy went in Grenada, he was greeted as ‘Papa Gairy’ by the population – everyone in Grenada knew Gairy; Gairy knew everyone in Grenada. So you want a work, Papa Gairy will get it for you. You violate the law, and Papa Gairy knows you, things will work out because Papa Gairy also knows at a personal level, the police officers.
Both ‘Small Is Beautiful’ and ‘The Hero and The Crowd’ had an immense influence on me, but I would say I embraced Singham more, because his descriptions I saw for myself in my own country. I went away and studied and never forgot the lessons Singham warned us about small countries with tiny populations, when I was a UG undergraduate.
In lands where the population is a few hundreds of thousands of folks, the wealthy or the moneyed class virtually owns the society. Here is where small loses its beauty and becomes deformed and caricatured. In Guyana, small is tragically grotesque. A group can be charged with possessing hundreds of pounds of cocaine, and the rich boy in the group will certainly get acquitted while the messenger and the labourer arrested with him are going to jail. Money talks and money buys people; all kinds of humans – judicial people, military people, police personnel, public service officers, people in the corridors of power, etc.
In one of my columns last week, I brought to readers’ attention, how Guyana functions. A bar owner last week is given fifteen years by Magistrate Ann McLennan for trafficking in persons. The very magistrate on the very charge found a woman guilty on identical circumstances and instead of imposing the mandatory prison term, McLennan put a fine on her. The Guyana Government itself issued a no-nonsense press release condemning the magistrate’s decision.
Based on who you are, you can go to jail for death caused by dangerous driving if found guilty. Based on who you are, you can get a fine or walk free on the charge of death by dangerous driving. It comes down to who knows who and who has what to pay.
Files disappear from the shelves of tightly padlocked cabinets in police stations. Your construction application can take years gathering dust on the desk of certain officers at Central Housing and Planning Authority and the City Engineer. But then again, you can secure your permit within a week’s time.
It all depends on the class structure of Guyanese society.
The poor lady goes to the bank with $10,000 in her hand that she earned over the year selling sugar cake. It is refused because she cannot supply proof of her earning. But big money laundering schemes go on in the very banks that turn away small income earners. Who says small is beautiful. In Guyana, it is ugly.
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