Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy,My first encounter with the West Indies was in the Christmas vacation 1960, when my Toronto professor B.S. Keirstead was at Mona at the invitation of Arthur Lewis. I was asked to help with the completion of a study for the (then) Government of the West Indies on Inter-Territorial Freight Rates and the Federal Shipping Service (ISER, Jamaica 1963). This assignment took me to Trinidad, and then back to Jamaica. I renewed acquaintance with student friends from England including Lloyd Braithwaite, Gladstone (Charlie) Mills, and many others. I also met a number of (then) young West Indian economists including Alister McIntyre, Lloyd Best and William Demas. I was attracted by their brilliance and enthusiasm and their intellectual efforts to break out of colonial modes of thinking and to construct new paradigms suited to the development of the Caribbean. I concluded that these were my kind of people and that I would use my position at McGill to assist in training young West Indian economists to contribute to such a project.
Shortly after the foundation of the Centre For Developing Area Studies at McGill in 1963, I invited William Demas to spend a year at McGill as the first visiting Research Fellow of the Center. The result was The Economics of Development in Small Countries with Special Reference to the Caribbean (1965).
Alister McIntyre, then teaching on the Mona Campus, encouraged a strem of student to come to McGill for graduate studies. Among them Edwin Carrington, Ainsworth Harewood and Adlith Brown. We formed a Montreal Group of the New World Movement and in 1967 I co-authored a book on Canada West Indies Economic Relations with Alister McIntyre with assistance of West Indian graduate students. .
As early as 1962, I began to collaborate with Lloyd Best and in 1966 we obtained a grant to enable Best to join me at McGill in the production of research on ‘Externally Propelled Growth and Industrialization in the Caribbean’, in which we developed the “Plantation Economy” paradigm. The work remained unpublished, although four volumes of mimeograph text were produced in 1969. At the insistence of Lloyd Best in 1968, the New World Quarterly published my essay on ‘Economic Dependence and Political Disintegration: The Case of Canada’. This relatively obscure Caribbean publication circulated widely among Canadian students, and I was encouraged to elaborate the text which was published as Silent Surrender: The Multinational Corporation in Canada in 1970.
On the occasion of a visit to the St. Augustine campus of UWI in 1964, Lloyd Best spoke with the greatest admiration of George Beckford, who had recently arrived on the St. Augustine campus as a lecturer in agricultural economics in the Faculty of Agriculture. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet him on that occasion, but met him later at Mona. Concerned that the Best-Levitt work remained unpublished, Beckford insisted that I prepare a summary published as “Characteristics of Plantation Economy” in Beckford (ed) Caribbean Economy (1975).
On the basis of my experience in multi-sectoral economic accounting, and my knowledge of Caribbean economies, I was employed as national income advisor on the construction of a system of National Accounts for Trinidad and Tobago (1969 to 1973). In 1974 I served as Professor at the Institute of International Relations at St. Augustine, UWI. In 1978 I accepted an invitation as Visiting Professor at the Department of Economics, Mona 1978 – 1980. From 1989-1995, I taught a course on Theories of Economic Development at the Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences at Mona. In 1995, I was appointed first George Beckford Professor in Caribbean Political Economy, and produced, with Michael Witter, an edited volume entitled Critical Thought in Caribbean Political Economy: The Legacy of George Beckford, (1996). At this time I also collected and edited George Beckford’s work, published as The George Beckford Papers, (2000). In 2005 a collection of my Caribbean work was published as: Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community, by Ian Randle Publishers. The book was formally launched on July 5, 2006 at an event hosted by the Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. On the following day a Roundtable was organized at the Institute of International Relations by the Critical Perspectives Group and Dennis Pantin, Chair of the Department of Economics on the St. Augustine Campus. The book was also launched at the Mona Campus under the auspices of the Center for Caribbean Thought and the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies in July 2006. Another book, Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy,was published in 2009. In 2008 I received an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.
Speech at the UWI St. Augustine Conference on the Economy, 2010. Professor Polanyi Levitt pays tribute to the Economics department at the University of the West Indies.
Books on the Caribbeans by Kari Polanyi Levitt
The Critical Tradition of Caribbean Political Economy: The Legacy of George Beckford. 1996.
Edited by Kari Levitt and Michael Witter
Colleagues and former students of George Beckford continue critical essays on the plantation paradigm which still has relevance in the Caribbean. The volume not only celebrates the work of Beckford but also proposes an agenda of research in order to reintroduce some of the central themes of the critical tradition to which Beckford made seminal contributions on the socio-economic development of the region.
Reviewed in the New West Indian Guide, Vol. 73.
The George Beckford Papers. 2000.
Selected and Introduced by Kari Levitt
“George Beckford’s work is characterized by a remarkable consistency of purpose and vision…This collection presents the unfolding of George Beckford’s work from agricultural economics to political economy, to the social economy of ‘man space’, to the cultural roots of Caribbean creativity and a vision of one independent, sovereign and self-reliant Caribbean nation…His purpose was to reveal the legacy of dispossession orginating in the slave plantation experience of African people in the New World; to ‘free the mind’ from the internalization of attitudes of inferiority and ‘Afro-Saxon’ mimicry. His vision was the affirmation of the culture of ‘overcoming’ rooted in the Caribbean ‘peasantry’ and the land.” From the Introduction of The George Beckford Papers Professor Kari Levitt.
Reclaiming Development: Independent Thought and Caribbean Community. 2005.
For over 20 years, the developing world has been adjusting to the agendas of the IMF and the World Bank. In the 1990s Structural Adjustment Programmes were repackaged and marketed as the coming of the golden age of globalisation, promising benefits to countries that adopt neo-liberal policies. Whether by conviction or apparent absence of viable alternatives, Caribbean governments have been quick to implement policies of Deregulation, Liberalisation and Privatisation. In this they have been supported by Caribbean intellectuals who have been equally quick in embracing globalisation and too ready to concede the end of national sovereignty.
In this collection of 15 papers prepared and presented in a variety of fora and spanning a period of 30 years, Kari Levitt argues that it is time to reclaim the right to development and the right of nations to engage in the international economy on their own terms. She advocates an international rules-based order which permits space for member countries to follow different and divergent paths to development according to their own philosophies, institutions, cultures and societal priorities. This collection represents a historic sweep of Caribbean thought and personalities over the past 30 years drawn against the background of the changes in the international political economy. Whether in her collaboration with Lloyd Best on the Plantation Economy model, her analyses of Debt and Adjustment, or her insistence on the right of sovereign nations to pursue their own development path, Kari Levitt remains consistent in her conviction that development, whether of individuals or nations, must be rooted in time and place and cannot be imposed by external proscription.
“There is a crying need for creative thinking and new initiatives to protect the gains of development from devastation by financial hurricanes fed by institutional investors who freely move funds in and out of countries at the tap of a keyboard with no responsibility for the impact of their operations on host countries.”
Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy. 2009.
This publication serves as a testament to the foundations of an evolving Caribbean paradigm, and is an appropriate tribute to the memory of the late Doctor Best – and shall perpetuate the legacy of independent Caribbean thought which he embodied. It is fascinating to consider the state of mind of the authors some odd decades ago, when it was declared necessary to develop a body of inherently Caribbean-centric economic theory. This approach is what gives the Plantation Economy Theory its ideological significance, serving as a case in point for Caribbean empowerment and a source of inspiration for generations of intellectuals to come.
Photos from the launch of Essays on the Theory of the Plantation Economy, co-authored by Kari Polanyi Levitt and Lloyd Best. The launch was hosted by the Office of the Campus Principal at the University of the West Indies on February 25th, 2010. For the full set of photos visit the University’s Flickr account. All photos by Aneel Karim, copyright University of the West Indies.