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Volume 55 / Social Sciences


RANSFORD W. PALMER, Professor of Economics, Howard University

MANY OF THE STUDIES ANNOTATED BELOW provide a comprehensive assessment of the economic performance of individual Caribbean countries over the past 30 years - a period during which most of them experienced relative economic decline (items bi 93021216, bi 94006266, bi 90000490, and bi 93021194). Much of the analysis in these assessments reflects a sense of despair about such intractable issues as the excessive debt burden, the external imbalance, declining currency values, and high unemployment rates (items bi 93021189 and bi 93021223). A dominant theme running through these studies is the social dislocation caused by structural adjustment programs required by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for receiving balance-of-payments assistance. The IMF is criticized for using a structural adjustment template which is unable to take account of national peculiarities (item bi 93021212). Many authors argue that the elimination of subsidies and the reduction of government spending have imposed a disproportionate burden on the poorest people (items bi 93021134 and bi 93021195). It is also argued that the structural adjustment programs are geared more toward improving the ability of these debtor countries to pay their external debt than toward improving the standard of living of their populations (item bi 93003829).

While none of the studies lays out a clear vision of the future, many authors recognize that such a future must be one in which the Caribbean is able to compete in a global economy where traditional trade concessions will ultimately be replaced by competition. The foundation of Caribbean competitiveness is seen to rest on a more skilled labor force producing high value added products for export. Some see economic integration, especially within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), as a necessary step toward this greater competitiveness (see items bi 93004478, bi 93003679, bi 93003827, and bi 93006138).

The assessments of the past three decades of Caribbean economic performance clearly suggest that the literature has arrived at some kind of watershed. As Caribbean countries restructure their economies to embrace a greater role for the private sector, the focus of research is expected to shift away from the role of the public sector and public institutions to the role of the private sector and private institutions. The impact of a more competitive Caribbean on the region's environment will also demand greater research attention than in the past. This means that the relevance of economic research on the Caribbean in the future will increasingly require a focus on those microeconomic issues affecting production efficiency and the environment.

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