Interview with Jeremy Stephen, New President of the Barbados Economics Society

Jeremy Stephen, President of the Barbados Economics Society

At 29 years old, Jeremy Stephen is perhaps the youngest President of the Barbados Economics Society since it was formed in 1983. That does not mean, however, that he lacks experience. Jeremy is a frequent guest speaker on the popular morning talk show, Good Morning Barbados; owns his own consulting firm; has worked as an advisor with the Barbados Entrepreneurs’ Venture Capital Fund; is on the board of a number of Barbadian organisations, including the Barbados Agricultural and Development Marketing Company (BADMC); and, is a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

He took a few minutes out of his hectic schedule to share his thoughts on the future of the BES, the Barbados economy and the role of economists.

On the Barbados Economics Society

Thank you for agreeing to chat with us, and congratulations on your successful bid to be the new President of the Barbados Economics Society (BES). Tell us more about the role of the BES.

Our motto is “to Educate, Inform and Build”. We see ourselves as a society whose mandate is to ensure that:

  • the pubic at large is educated about basic economic issues and how they impact on their personal and professional lives
  • they are also informed about economic activity in a non-partisan and professional manner
  • we work along with prominent public and private stakeholders in building coherent policies. On this point we wish to ensure that proposals are sound and represent the best interests of the public

What do you hope to achieve in your presidency?

I see my role in a slightly different light from my predecessors. Whereas they were chiefly responsible for public relations and driving the research produced by the society, I have chosen to include those responsibilities as part of my agenda, but not necessarily spearhead them. I wish to introduce a new structure and methodology behind getting things done. We will resume the economists’ survey and have put measures in place to have that in place very soon. In my mind, our organisation has enough social capital and influence where it should be structured similar to ICAB (Institute of Chartered Accountants of Barbados) for example. They have a major advantage over us in numbers. Therefore, we will be continuing to focus on increasing membership within and throughout different professional disciplines. We have come up with the right benefits to encourage such.

On the economics profession in Barbados

Since the global financial crisis, the economics profession has taken a beating internationally, with many critics questioning the role economists played in the lead up to the crisis. Here in Barbados, do you think that the profession has lost some of its respect?

The local profession has been called into question. There’s enough of a media trail to show. Ironically, this profession is also being held responsible for driving us out of the economic slump. We are being asked constantly to bring new ideas to the table. So, inasmuch as the local profession has lost some of its respect in the public’s eye, we still have a major opportunity to prove our value.

I believe that there is a general acceptance of the need for economists in macroeconomic decision-making, but it is less clear whether corporate Barbados also sees a need for economists. Do you think that the BES and economists in general currently play a pivotal role in corporate decision-making in Barbados?

Yes, we sure do. You only have to look at how larger organisations operate when there is a competitive environment versus a more monopolistic/oligopolistic environment. I personally find that when such organisations become price-takers as opposed to their original price-maker role, they have a more difficult time understanding the dynamics of the marketplace and the macroeconomy. The market, as it stands now, is one where customers of such companies are deferring many decisions that they previously made without much hesitation. Most of our larger local corporations, as a result, are finding it difficult to deal with this new customer activity and they no longer are sure how to get customers to spend or where new customers are, for that matter. In my view, this is the perfect timing and opportunity for economists to prove their worth to said organisations.

What value do you think economists could offer corporate decision-makers?

The list is long, but, we as economists can analyse and interpret how the economy will affect their corporate strategy, no matter the duration of their horizon. We are, after all, the best trained to use quantitative techniques – econometrics, for example – that makes sense of all the noise produced by an economy on a monthly basis. Also, if the client is a large corporate body, I am sure that an economist could best assist in the creation of strategy. Here, the large client does have the potential to significantly impact economic activity based on its chosen strategy. An economist should surely provide informed impact analysis along with the long-term repercussions on the company’s customer base, if that is the wider society.

Do you think the economics profession in Barbados needs to evolve? If so, how?

We all have been told and taught about the different fields of economics, such as Transport Economics and Industrial Economics. I wish for the profession here in Barbados to embark down a road where there’s just not more pertinent research in these areas, but active practitioners. At that point, I think we, as economists, will be leading Barbados in the right direction.

I also wish for economists to see ourselves as more than public servants and academics. We can be entrepreneurs and pretty strong strategy and economics advisers to the private sector.

On the Barbados economy

We all recognise that the Barbados economy is in a slump. Our own work here at Antilles Economics suggests that it may be another 2-3 years before the country resumes growth above 2%. What is your view on the future trajectory of the economy?

We believe that the economy will take some years to resume positive growth, but that depends very heavily on recovery in our source tourist markets. These are expected to recover in line with your analysis. In the meantime, we would wish to encourage the private sector to continue exploring new markets where growth could bring about a faster, balanced and more sustainable recovery.

What is your view of the recent budget presented by the Minister of Finance? Will it put the fiscal accounts on the right track? And, what do you believe will be the impact on the economy?

We believe that the budget can achieve its intended purpose, which was to bring the fiscal deficit under some measure of control. Considering the size of the deficit, we do understand why the government saw it necessary to make those rapid changes. We expect that government’s finances should fall in line with expectations in the medium term. But the problem can persist if the larger issue at hand is not dealt with, and that has to do with the recovery in economic activity as a whole. The measures proposed in the budget will temporarily dampen activity once the timing of government’s expenditure cuts come just before the anticipated recovery in some of our source markets. The slowdown can be protracted, however, if government gets the timing wrong.

There have been a number of calls for the private sector to play a greater role in driving the growth and evolution of the Barbados economy. Do you think that the country is well positioned for private sector-led growth?

We believe that private sector-led growth is the only way out of this slump, and the drive towards encouraging entrepreneurship in Barbados is a step in the right direction. We have heard some major successes in the small business sector. There are persons who have found new export and services markets. Moreover, there are new industries, once thought to be either impossible to access within a small island state, that are slowly becoming convention. Access to technology has provided the means through which we are able to explore these avenues. So, to answer your question more specifically, we currently might not have the systems in place for explosive private sector-led growth, but the evidence is showing that we are heading towards that.

What advice would you like to leave with companies on decision-making in the current economic environment?

I would encourage them to engage economic specialists where applicable and the BES is always willing to assist.

Thank you Jeremy and all the best as the new BES President.

You can find Jeremy on Linkedin.

To learn more about the BES, click here to follow their blog.

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