As citizens, we may have different aspirations and goals, but we do share commonalities – the desire for our hard work to be valued, the ability to care for our families and raise our children in a safe environment, and the ability to thrive in an economic system that is equitable. That’s what economic dignity is about and that’s what we should aspire to as a nation.
Over the last four years though, those in power have lost sight of what economic policy is all about – creating space for people to live with dignity. Now that elections are coming, we will witness a wave of promises, from new economic miracle to transforming Phoenix into New York. It would have been a spicy comedy, all set to provide a good dose of laughter, had it not been for the daily tragedy that’s hitting people, from the victims of floods, to the victims of wastewater. An electoral campaign should be a battle of ideas and policies. That’s not what we see coming. Few months ahead of the national election in our country, a foul smell of harassment and personal attacks is already lingering. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, “If they attack you personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” In the absence of concrete outcomes after nearly five years in power, combined with the plethora of scandals that have shaken the government, it is not a surprise to see fear bubbling in the form of increased repression and arbitrary arrests. It is a shame that this is what politics has been reduced to. If there is to be any change, it will come from the people, who have to ask one fundamental question to those who knock their doors for votes – “what is in your policy toolbox for us?”
Our kids, our elderly, the people who make up our working force, deserve better than unregulated capitalist driven politics. The challenges that we face as a nation are numerous – a shrinking working force left to cater for an aging population, increasing inequality, structural poverty, snowballing economic insecurity with a national debt that comprises nearly 70% of our GDP, growing food insecurity, dwindling health care, an elitist system of education that does not work for kids who are late learners and kids who come from disadvantaged families, a degrading environment exposing us to the worst crises we have ever faced, a comatose offshore sector, a tourism industry that’s stuck in status quo, and the list goes on. We are far from the promised 8% growth. But then again, even the 3.9% growth is not indicative enough of the extent to which the standard of living has declined over the last four years. What this 3.9% growth is not telling us is that most, if not all gains, went to the richest economic elite, while the rest of the population has not only suffered a loss in purchasing power, but the poor of our society have been pushed deeper into poverty. The closure of textile factories, the latest being Future Textiles Ltd, has become a weekly thing now, leaving 200 more workers in economic desperation. In short, we have a failing economy; an economy that is not working for the people. The quicker we realize it, the better.
We have reached a point of no return with the present government. This is what happens when economic targets are unrealistic, when political strategies are centered around political vendetta that disrupts economic flow, and when political leaders silently watch the economic elite pull the strings of decision-making. The economy has been sacrificed at the altar of dirty politics. Sadly, our decision makers have not realized that the economy of a country is not an intangible, abstract notion. Healthcare is the economy; education is the economy, environment is the economy. And when healthcare, education, and the environment die, so does the economy. The worst part of it is that those who are governing this country show no humility at all in their decision-making. They consciously wear blinkers through which they miraculously see everything working well; they see a prospering nation; happy people. There are ways for sure to cure a failing economy, but there is no cure for intentional delusion.
What this country needs is people who are willing to do the hard thing, even if it seems impossible, because it is the right thing to do. The values that our political leaders stand by will determine the economic transformation that our country is crying for. Workers should not have to be at the mercy of big businesses and our laws should not allow for exploitation. Equitable access to economic resources is a right that each citizen should be able to exercise, as opposed to being a luxury reserved for a few, who by accident of birth, enjoy privilege. Yes, economic dignity for all is a possibility if we are willing to look in that direction.