By KES Lewis
Every society needs social commentators, those who can observe, summarize and articulate what is happening around them, bringing it to the attention of the public. The biblical prophets regularly called the nation of Israel to change their exploitative ways and show compassion and justice to those on the periphery of society.
While prophets are scarce, and poetry no longer moves the overly stimulated modern senses, musicians have taken up the baton, delivering thoughtful, incisive analyses of societal ills and abuses. The Caribbean especially owes a debt to its musicians for courageous, and clear-eyed commentary. Who could forget Trinidadian “kaiso prophet” Weston Rawlins (Cro Cro) foretelling the demise of the political alliance between ANR Robinson and Basdeo Panday in his prescient “Three Bo Rats” or exposing the prejudice of secondary school placements in his explosive “Corruption in Common Entrance”. (circa 1988)
Speaking on the economic downturn of the Vincentian economy, Kemuel Stapleton’s “Hard Times” continues the tradition of social commentary. Purists may argue that the lyrics could have been filled out a bit more, and more nuance added to the composition, but its message is clear, the Vincentian economy is in the doldrums and those on the lower socio-economic rung are feeling it the most.
What then can the average Vincentian do in the face of this economic calamity?
I am going to suggest a few things everyone can do.
However, let me say what this list is not about. It’s not a get-rich scheme. It’s not a do-this-because-millionaires-are-doing-this and most certainly it is not about how you can retire before your fiftieth birthday. So, here goes.
First thing, Change Your Mindset. In Carol Dweck’s seminal research on the power of mindsets, two contrasting mindsets, fixed and growth, are presented. In the fixed mindset people do not believe things can change. They believe they are given a specific fate at birth and no matter what happens it would never deviate. The fixed mindset, for this conversation, sees the world through the lens of lack. They believe that there aren’t enough resources to go around because only a few people have the skill or luck to have enough for their needs and since they are not in that category their situation in life would never change.
On the other hand, those who have a growth mindset believe that things can change. Abilities and talents can be developed over time through work and effort. Those with a growth mindset see the world through the lens of abundance. There is enough for everyone, and though some hoard and steal and exploit, there is enough to go around. More importantly, they believe that through learning and effort, someone born into economic poverty can rise above their situation and move into a better financial situation.
Let me encourage you to believe that your current economic state is malleable. Have the mindset that you can have enough for your needs and a bit more to spread around. By gaining the right knowledge, doing the right actions, and having a generous mindset, you can be elevated above poverty.
Mindset change is important, but it must be accompanied by some proactive and doable behaviours. Here is the second thing Vincentians can do, SET GOALS. Goal setting in general is important because it helps with direction, decision making, prioritization, and visualizing what success looks like. Just as important, but less emphasized, is the sense of agency created in setting a goal.
A worthy goal includes getting out of debt. A lot has been written by very qualified persons on how to go about getting free from the burden of debt. There is a wealth of information online, and a conversation with your bank or credit union can yield quality counsel.
Another goal worth considering is staying out of debt. Let me say that not all debt is bad, some may even be necessary because of the rewards attached to it. But for most things and for most of the time, set a goal for staying out of debt.
Other goals can be aimed at house ownership, purchases, generosity, and schooling.
Our third and final point (for this article, there will be more in another article) is SAVE AND INVEST. I have cheated a bit with this one, this point can be divided into two separate ones, but I decided to go with it this way.
The Urban Institute and the Corporation for Enterprise Development after numerous research discovered that low and moderate-income households that saved a portion of their income were able to build enough wealth to escape poverty after 12 years of consistent saving. No matter what you are making now, put aside a specific amount, either weekly or monthly or, if you do not have a regular income, whenever you get some.
Besides saving, invest a portion of your monetary resources. Lower-income workers often think investing is for the rich only, it is not. Anybody can do it and the quicker you start the better. One of my friends invested in a case of wine. She loves drinking wine, but she loves her daughter even more, so when her daughter was born she bought a bottle of wine which then turned into a case that she is putting aside until her daughter reaches 18. A bottle of wine bought for under $250 USD can fetch you an increase of 500 % in 20 years.
Ok, I used that example of wine to show how many options you have when it comes to investing. It does not have to be real estate, which is good if you can get it, there are so many other possibilities out there.
So that is it for now. St Vincent is in an economically devastated state right now. But if you change your mindset, set a goal, and save and invest, you and your generations after you can escape dire poverty and have some form of asset wealth.