“A just weight and balance are the LORD’s: all the weights of the bag are his work” – Proverbs 16:11

Two weeks ago the Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr. Marion Williams, in her address at the opening of the newest Scotia Bank Branch at Coconut Walk, Rockley, commented that the record retreat in oil prices should augur for lower costs in future, particularly if the decline continues. She also reminded us of the openness of the Barbadian economy and, therefore, noted: “We cannot totally insulate ourselves from global developments. Hence, we must ensure that our responses take into account likely future trends and try to mitigate any adverse impact of global developments”. She advised that vigilance should be one of the important platforms for this economy. “We need to remain vigilant. Our vision for an effective, efficient and resilient financial sector requires the unified efforts of all the stakeholders in the financial system”.

Only a few days ago in a business shepherding session with three young entrepreneurs, I recalled attending a meeting at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, it must have been two to three years ago, where we discussed the conversion of the topics of the many mathematical, computer science and natural science MSc and PhD theses into commercial realities. Indeed, we concluded that a partnership between the talent of the students producing these theses and the acumen of business shepherds was paramount to achieving this objective which could contribute to the growth of the Barbados economy, in particular.

At the session I recalled that there has never been a serious attempt, as far as I am aware, to convert the topic of my own PhD thesis, defended over forty years ago, into a commercial reality. The purpose of my thesis was to develop and discuss automatic procedures for finding optimum conditions when the measureable factors in the environment cannot be estimated with certainty.

An application of this is in the field of design and analysis of agricultural experiments where the problem is to determine the set of treatments (e.g. variety, fertiliser regime, soil type, planting density) which will result in an optimal yield of carrots, say, in terms of weight per unit cost. The measurement of yield for each treatment combination is, of course, subject to random variation due to the factors which are beyond our control such as the microclimate (humidity, temperature) and level of rainfall. The challenge addressed in the thesis is how to select the set of treatments to give you the best yield.

In the context of managing the Barbados economy the challenge is to select the best set of treatments (tourism and its linkages, indigenous services, agriculture, financial services, renewable energy, value-added manufacturing from an indigenous raw material base, waste management) to optimise macro-economic factors such as foreign exchange earnings, employment, use of natural resources and food and energy security. The measurement of these macro-economic factors is subject to random variation because of factors beyond our control such as oil prices, food prices, climate change and other global developments.   My fantasy is that the “automatic procedures for finding optimum conditions” thesis may yet be applied to assist with the management of the Barbados economy. Time will tell.

Of more immediate interest is the current Wall St. crisis and the observation that the oil price actually reached below US$ 100 per barrel for a short period last week. The recent hike in oil prices and the subsequent fall would suggest that these prices are artificially manipulated by the interests of the powers that be.

It may be opined that divine powers are controlling the situation, one action gives rise to other actions which might be least expected, which have forced the powers that be to abandon the greed since it has come back to haunt them in some uncomfortable way. For example, what does it profit individuals or a company to pursue wealth as an end in itself without paying attention to the equitable distribution of wealth in the community?   We now live in well burglar proofed houses as a security measure to keep those who may have no alternative than to steal from those who have in order to stay alive. This level of security was not in vogue when I was a child.

The integrated planning process in management is designed to ensure that visioning permits many people to contribute to the specific vision of an opportunity followed by a plan for its execution. Where we have fallen short is in the lack of diligence in pursuing the third component of the integrated planning process, that of monitoring progress. Any enterprise, large or small, must be continually monitored and controlled to avoid disastrous consequences.

As a colleague of mine has expressed it, we are playing a global zero-sum game which is a situation or interaction in which one participant’s gains result only from another’s equivalent losses. The resulting imbalance in resources results in instability in the system with sometimes disastrous effects on everybody and hence it is sensible to strive for balance at all times as we seek to achieve sustainable development.

Garner the keys of the Lord and they will open the doors to success.