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Short-term Thinking Leads to Long-Term Failure

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” ~ Alan Lakein
A colleague of mine recently made the observation that our economic history is based on short-term unsustainable activity rather than on long-term efforts. Instead of the agriculture most of our Caribbean brethren developed, we began by cutting down our logwood, and then moved to cutting down our mahogany. Neither thing being quickly renewable, my colleague contends that this was the beginning of a culture of short-term thinking.
Besides that grab-and-go history of plundering our natural resources, more recently we’ve grown up with a political culture wherein each party is legendary for throwing out the previous guy’s ideas whether those ideas are good or bad. This is, of course, after the quinquennial bidding for votes, which becomes more costly and less sustainable with each election. All of this is evidence that our culture has not yet fully embraced long-term thinking and planning, and that is unfortunate.
Of course, this isn’t to say that no one in either the public or private sector has embraced long-term development thinking, but it needs to become a much more pervasive part of our culture. The electrician who thinks long-term for his business and wishes to grow will charge reasonably, offer a service warranty and will make every effort humanly possible to please and retain his customer. The taxi driver who thinks long-term will charge fairly, play music that his customer wants to hear, and keep a clean, well-maintained taxi in order to develop a good and loyal customer base.
Likewise, the dedicated public servant who is concerned with advancement in the long term will treat the public well, adhere to the rules, and do her best to serve efficiently and well. The politician who has an eye toward what history will say works to grow the economy, secure the safety, health and education of her people, and generally makes visible efforts to improve upon the current situation. There are people like that throughout our population, but such thinking is far from universal, and sometimes is even subjected to mockery.
In beginning the switch to long-term thinking, one point we need to agree on is that ‘business as usual’ will only deliver the usual results. If we want to grow our businesses and our economy, we have to move beyond what we’re doing today. We need to review our activities from a different angle and ask ourselves how we can do better. Similarly, in order to grow our economy beyond the usual one or two percent, we need to embrace new ideas, and support each other. This weekend we saw many exciting new business activities at the Fisheries, Forestry and Finance Fair. The seaweed smoothies were refreshing, the conch soup was delicious, and the cohune oil cooperative was a pleasant surprise, as were the bamboo carvings and beautiful furniture. Unfortunately only 500 people saw these wonderful developments.
The fact is, in order for our economy to grow we all must pitch in, support each other and work together. If politicians make policies geared towards encouraging and facilitating sustainable long-term growth and development; if the public service resolves to be as efficient as possible in its service delivery, even pitching in ideas to eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and cost, this is enabling. As the private sector, if we all work to deliver quality goods and services at reasonable prices, if we follow principles of good customer service and focus on growth and innovation, this is success.
No economy can grow if only one group is expected to do all the heavy lifting or if we continue to act impulsively. The government cannot provide the jobs needed to reduce unemployment -that would mean doubling the size of the public service, which Belize cannot afford. The private sector cannot provide economic growth if the cost of doing business is too high to allow it to be competitive. If as Belizeans we can all begin to plan and find ways to look beyond the immediate, if we resolve to help each other to grow, we can travel the road to national success much more smoothly.

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