12 December 2012

Mauritius: Where Do the Kids Play?


The days when Gross Domestic Production (GDP) constituted the beall and end-all of a country's development are mercifully nearing an end. Indeed, that a nation's progress can be gauged by an arbitrary one-size-fi ts-all economic measurement is increasingly being shown up for the inanity that it is. Human development and environmental health are but two of the emerging parameters challenging the received wisdom of GDP. The tiny mountain state of Bhutan has gone so far as to introduce a Gross National Happiness index to better determine whether its development is in line with the aspirations of its citizens. In Mauritius however, we continue to worship at the altar of economic growth. We deserve better.

"Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass/For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas/And you make them long, and you make them tough/But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can't get off/ Oh, I know we've come a long way/We're changing day to day/But tell me, where do the children play?". I've always been impressed by the prescience of the lyrics of Cat Stevens' 1970 tune "Where Do the Children Play?" Indeed, they succeeded wonderfully in distilling some of the glaring contradictions of the Western development model.

Sadly, despite his timely warning, countless developing countries proceeded to mimic this highly reductive worldview, not least because institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund went out of their way to present it as the sole viable path to prosperity. With the West coming apart at the seams, we know now how deluded they were.

It's never too late to make amends though. And the stirring message of "Where Do the Children Play?" offers as good a guide as any as to where our priorities should lie. To be sure, we're constantly told that it's our duty to preserve the planet for future generations, that our prosperity should not impinge on the capacity of those coming after us to enjoy the same privileges. And yet we invariably do the complete opposite by willfully jeopardizing the chances of the children of tomorrow to lead safe and healthy lives.

This is all the more true here where economic policy is largely predicated upon obscenely myopic political decisions. Two million tourists anyone? Thankfully, this needn't be a fatality. And we could do far worse than establishing a Where Do the Children Play? indicator to guide future decisions.

By learning to act as stewards of the nation rather than just pillagers we'll be able to not only survive our current economic travails but to actually emerge stronger on the other side. Just imagine: by taking the wellbeing of those who will inherit the country into account in the decision-making process, we'll have to radically redefine how we see everything, from education to energy, foreign policy to food security. Tellingly, the only children having a ball at the moment are our politicians.

And by constantly indulging these spoilt brats, we've only helped create immature adults. No wonder they don't want playtime to end.

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