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An angry society constrains economic prosperity

By Dr Marlene Attzs, Economist

Email: marlene.attzs@gmail.com


I am not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist nor a behavioural specialist. I am an economist, one with a passion for economic development–particularly the development of my country and my people.

The distinctions are important. Truth be told, I sometimes feel we live in a society where one is expected to stay in a professional box–and only focused on one’s core discipline.

I have a different view. It is becoming increasingly evident that the solutions to many of our ills necessitates interdisciplinary research for more holistic policy making and actions.

Back to the issue at hand.

In T&T, we have watched our country and society descend into an abyss of anger and violence. What worries me about this trajectory is that everyone seems to be angry–the old, the not-so-old and the young.

Our men are angry at each other and at our women; similarly, our teenaged girls and boys are angry at each other with hair pulling, fist fights and classroom bacchanal regularly captured and circulated on social media.

Perhaps our psychologists and social workers can help us better understand what is fuelling this intergenerational anger?

Trinidad and Tobago has become more polarised and emotionally charged. One simply has to hear the utterances from our politicians and look at the types of crimes being committed daily–all are heavily laced with vitriol, anger and sometimes even violence as the crime statistics will support.

Why is an economist writing about this? Plain talk—an angry, divided society is detrimental to economic health and growth. When a populace is gripped by anger, violence, resentment, and a general lack of civility, it creates an environment that is antithetical to the conditions needed for a thriving economy. And yes, we are becoming more and more uncivil! A strong economy needs, among other things, consumer confidence, business investment, political and social stability. An angry society undermines each of these critical elements.

Consumers who are angry, anxious, cynical, and uncertain about the future are less likely to make big purchases or take financial risks. Businesses hesitate to invest in expansion and innovation when they face the prospect of crime and violence and a fractured customer base.

Foreign investors are wary of making investments in countries where there is crime, violence, and the potential for unrest.

Look at the economic consequences of political polarisation and social upheaval in countries around the world to see the detrimental impact. In the United States, there is the ongoing saga of a President who incited riots in the Capitol. Heated debates in the USA over issues like taxes, immigration, and climate change have on occasions paralysed policymaking and made long-term economic planning extremely difficult. These all have impacted in one way or another on the business environment and economic growth.

In the United Kingdom political decisions around anti-immigrant sentiment and policy will no doubt feature in their upcoming elections.

Closer to home, our neighbour Haiti is a stark, albeit extreme example of what polarisation, an angry society and a breakdown of social cohesion has done. Haiti has become a country with little to no prospects of economic prosperity on the horizon.

The fundamental reason an angry society is bad for the economy is that it breeds uncertainty, volatility and erodes confidence—all of which are anathema to the stability required for economic prosperity.

When citizens are consumed by anger, resentment, and an ‘us versus them’ mentality, it becomes extremely difficult for governments to make the tough, sometimes unpopular decisions needed to promote long-term economic health.

Additionally, an angry, divided society tends to be less productive and innovative. When people are preoccupied with violence, crime, and insecurity, it diverts energy and resources away from the kind of constructive economic activities that drive growth—things like education, infrastructure, research, and entrepreneurship.

Ultimately, an angry, divided society is a recipe for economic stagnation and decline. For countries to achieve economic prosperity and sustainable development, they must find ways to cultivate greater social cohesion and a spirit of shared progress.

Interestingly the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presupposes that countries have the necessary preconditions—civility, law and order and social cohesion—to reach the 17 goals earmarked for achievement by 2030.

Economic prosperity, manifested as greater social cohesion and a spirit of shared progress, calls for many key elements including leaders (in both private and public spheres) who can rise above their egos and partisan rancour, citizens who are willing to engage in good-faith debate, and social institutions–including our churches—that reinforce common values and trust.

Only then can we create in Trinidad and Tobago the stable environment needed for economic dynamism and shared well-being, where no one gets left behind.

That’s just my point of view.