Recently I participated in a discussion on the role Caribbean governments should play in the economic empowerment of young people and where the line should be drawn.
A friend suggested that young people tend to expect too much from their governments. He said not only do they want scholarships to leave the islands to study, they also expect a job on their return home.
After suggesting that governments should do more to give young people a leg up, I was struggling with what I thought was a contradiction in my belief system, for I fancy myself somewhat of a libertarian.
From the latin word liber meaning free, libertarians believe in personal freedoms and are generally skeptical of governmental authority. Libertarians believe that every time the state passes a new law, it leaves us with a little less freedom, and so government should be confined to doing only what is absolutely necessary for the society: like building roads and employing a police force and justice system.
As such, I am philosophically opposed to over-dependence on governments for sustenance. I do not believe that young people should expect government to house, clothe, feed and educate them. And once educated I do not believe that young people should expect the state to give them a job, or funding for their business idea.
However, what I thought was hypocrisy on my end turned out, on deeper reflection, not to be. The problem is that all my libertarian ideals are fine in theory, but philosophy and reality often times do not align.
The reality is that government has to do some of those things that I am philosophically opposed to in order to level a playing field that is often times stacked against the youth.
We should not be fooled. Many of the “successful” businessmen that we observe in the region today, for example, did not pull themselves up by the bootstraps armed only with their innovative ideas and good business sense.
In fact, some of the most successful in our societies received significant help from the same government. Whether through nepotism, cronyism, bribes, kickbacks, or corruption, the playing field is not level and it never has been.
CARICOM governments are currently seeking reparatory justice from former colonial heads for the negative impact slavery has had on our development and the economic boost it gave to Europe.
Well right here in our own backyards young entrepreneurs should be seeking a sort of reparatory justice for their inability to break into a business sector, built up in many cases by ill-gotten monopolies, that is trying to lock them out.
Those in the private sector who built their empires on government contracts received without going through a bidding process, also need to make amends.
So you see, one cannot blame young people for seeking a leg up from government when the system has been stacked against them. Neither can one force this generation to live by libertarian ideals of self-dependence when the last generation observed no such boundaries.
Many young people, fresh out of secondary school or college with their bright ideas, only want an opportunity, a fair shot at making a decent life for themselves.
To begin leveling the playing field for entrepreneurs small business loan guarantees offered by some governments do not go far enough. We need innovative ideas like policies that require a fixed percentage of government contracts go to small businesses owned by those under 35 (where they are qualified to perform the job of course).
Corporation tax breaks could be given to those businesses who hire inexperienced youth into entry level positions.
Good corporate citizenship also dictates that those who have built up wealth in the days when the Caribbean was less of a free market need to make amends as well.
Internships and management trainee programmes or scholarships for youth studying for degrees in fields related to the business would be a good first step.
These measures should not be viewed through lenses of over-dependency on government but rather as steps that will in the long-run make our economies fairer, stronger and more competitive.
Kyle Christian is a journalist at Observer Media Group in Antigua. He joined the company in 2012 after working there in 2008 and during the summers while at University. Kyle has a bachelor’s in Economics and Finance from the Midwestern State University.