Two thousand eighteen will go down in the record books as one of seemingly incessant political acrimony as T&T enters the season of elections, local and national.
For many policymakers and their contenders, the turn of the calendar offers brief respite—a moment to clear one’s head and take stock of the most salient challenges on the horizon.
What core problems need to be solved amid fast-shifting strategic alliances and the cacophony of public debates?
Those debates will be intensified as evidenced by the first campaign salvo fired by the main opposition in a full-page advertisement in this newspaper.
Ultimately, our society is grappling with a common triple task, even if manifestations differ.
The first big task confronting our country is to merge overall economic progress with gains in living standards. Twenty years ago, it was a basic tenet that if the T&T economy was growing, then most people’s life outcomes were improving. Ongoing economic progress remains crucial for our society and is undoubtedly helping to expand the middle class.
But today there is declining faith, especially in advanced economies, that higher gross domestic product (GDP) translates to better lives for regular families.
As just one stark illustration of the need to recouple economic and social progress, even in the traditionally high-income economies, the US has recently seen its average life expectancy decline two years in a row, while average incomes continued to grow, however modestly.
The ruling party and the main opposition must convince the electorates in local and national elections that they have the experience and the expertise to meet the challenges that confront the economy and the overall well-being and development of this society.
The second big task is to recognise that economic progress can be slowed by environmental degradation. In short, every new unit of economic gain is still cranking out a corresponding unit of ecological pain. Climate change presents the starkest form of the problem.
The third major task is to end marginalisation so that absolutely no one gets left behind. We all need to feel part of society’s forward movement together.
In every community, groups are tired of feeling marginalised due to some aspect of their identity—whether gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous status, class, religious beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, language, geography, age, or something else. All human beings need to be actively included in progress. It is no longer good enough for societies to succeed on average; they need to succeed for everyone.
Of course, this triple frame only describes what problems need to be solved, leaving arguments open on how best to solve them.
Individual leaders across society need to hold themselves to a similar standard too. Anyone trying to stand on a one or two-legged stool of ideas will inevitably succumb to the forces of imbalance. In 2019 and beyond, these tasks will be fundamental to every society’s long-term stability and success.