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The spirit of elitism

Published: 
Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lord Roseberry in 1884 described the British Empire as a ‘Commonwealth of Nations.’ Unlike the United Nations, however, it cannot impose sanctions on members since they all have an equal say, regardless of size or economic stature.

This affords the members a voice in international politics and influence in diplomatic circles which they might not otherwise have. Elizabeth II is the head of this loose alliance of commonwealth states with a market size of 2.4 billion people.

Distilling the key ingredients of elite societies like the EU is critical to unravelling club operations. First, goods and services are ‘excludable’. Only members can hope to drink the best vintage claret at a non-vintage price. Members of the EU have a single market and only members can be part of the single currency. Goods and services are ‘congestible’. That is, each member imposes some kind of externality on other club members to guarantee that measures agreed upon do not become counterproductive.

Increasing membership can reduce agreement on common policies and this produces disgruntlements like Brexit. Finally, the goods and services provided are ‘divisible’. That is, if the club becomes overcrowded, similar upper-crust citadels can be formed along roughly the same principles. Thus along London’s Pall Mall one can find a string of clubs including the ‘Reform’. The lavish have more in common regardless of their respective national, religious or racial identities and are vividly aware that, along with happiness, money also buys power. The well-heeled maintain their members’ clubs to keep all things in their proper places. At the Athenaeum in London membership is inherited. People belonging to the much venerated Windrush generation therefore have slim hopes of ever becoming members. White’s on St James’s Street is secreted away in Piccadilly.

The club remains of the male-only persuasion and a plethora of royals are presently members. It remains an enclave of tradition nestled in the bosom of modern London. A laudable collection of private societies full of retired politicians and captains of industry grace London’s Pall Mall and St James’s, through to, for example, the IMF, the OECD, and the EU. The EU is not the only free trade club in history.

The CSME, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and President Xi Jinping’s vast “Belt and Road” infrastructure project are similar clubs. In 1941 the Chaguaramas Convention Centre was constructed for army personnel of the United States arriving to build the OMEGA Tracking Station, a hospital, a degaussing range, a Submarine Base in Macqueripe, and Air Force bases in Trinidad. On July 4, 1973, the Treaty of Chaguaramas was signed at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre—the exact date on which the United States of America celebrates its independence. The statesmanship and brinkmanship of Dr Eric Williams positioned the West Indies between history and hope, as on that day a Caribbean Single Market ‘Members’ Club’ was established within the UK’s greater Commonwealth of Nations.

Prior to this treaty, The Federation of the West Indies (FWI) was established. It was a short-lived political union that aimed to create ‘One Dominion’ among the Caribbean islands similar to the Canadian Confederation, the Australian Commonwealth, or the dissolved Central African Federation; however, before that could happen, it collapsed. The federal capital of the club was to be located in T&T. Federation Park—a residential neighbourhood—was built to house delegates of the Federal Parliament of the West Indies Federation. The streets of the Park were named for the various territories which made up the Federation.

The Federal government was to be headed by an Executive Governor-General, a Prime Minister, a Cabinet, a Council of State that included the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet, as well as three senators and three civil servants, a 45-member House of Representatives, with members elected from among the territories, and a 19-member Senate. On its agenda were matters pertaining to taxation, central planning for development, the establishment of a Regional Customs Union, a Federal Civil Service and West Indies Shipping. It had embarked on negotiations to acquire the subsidiary of the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), namely British West Indies Airways (BWIA), and tertiary education was consolidated and expanded. The then University College of the West Indies (UCWI), which was established in 1948 with one campus in Jamaica, opened its second campus at St Augustine, T&T, in 1960. Within this grand narrative, the Chaguaramas Convention Centre could have easily evolved into the Berlaymont of the West Indies.

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