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Belize – Failure, Ambition and Self Esteem

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Posted: Thursday, June 1, 2017. 8:07 am CST.

By Richard Harrison:

fail•ure

  1. The condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends: the failure of an experiment.
    2. One that fails: a failure at one’s career.
    3. The condition or fact of being insufficient or falling short: a crop failure.
    4. The act or fact of becoming bankrupt or insolvent.

ambition
1. strong desire for success, achievement, or distinction
2. something so desired; goal; aim

self-esteem
1. respect for or a favourable opinion of oneself

suc•cess
1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted: attributed their success in business to hard work.

I can set for myself different levels of ambition.

For example, I can aim for a senior government job, with its relatively good salary, working 9-4, job security, pension scheme, job benefits (vehicle with fuel, telephone subsidy, frequent foreign travel, entertainment budget, training abroad, long vacations, sick leave allowance, etc), build myself a four bedroom, three bathroom luxurious dwelling, have three cars in the garage, take annual vacations, educate my children to university level in good schools, eat at nice restaurants whenever I want, employ a live-in nanny, celebrate birthdays and occasions with big parties and even give a little to charity….with no mortgage to pay after am 50.

Or, I can aim for developing a business with ambition for export, with potential to employ hundreds of people directly and indirectly, 16-hour work days, occasional two-day weekend “vacations”, no sick leave, modest dwelling, occasional parties, with large debt obligations to meet on a monthly basis, exposed to the risk of changing government regulations, economic conditions, consumer preferences, cultural practices, trading practices….and running significant obligations for capital and operational liabilities well into senior years.

With a lower ambition…the pendulum for success and failure become narrow. Higher ambition allow for a wider pendulum between success and failure. Higher ambition requires a higher propensity to take bigger risks. If my ambition is to climb on a chair, the likelihood that I will fall and break my bones is rather low. However, if my ambition is to climb a tall tree, the likelihood that I will fall and break bones, and even die, is much higher.

Self-esteem plays a big role in decisions related to setting ambitions. A person with higher self-esteem is more likely to set a higher ambition, and be willing and able to take bigger risks.

Pure capitalism (usually linked to democratic governments) touts the principle that higher risks should bring higher rewards for those so willing and able to choose that route. Pure socialism (usually linked to autocratic governments) touts the principle that risks and rewards should be shared equally among all in a society.

In the past 30 years, the pendulum of ruling ideology has moved from extremes of capitalism and socialism, towards various forms of mixed ideology in between these extremes.

On the capitalist side, societies have moved to create policies that reduces the likelihood of high-risk takers to fail, and then to create a “softer landing” for those who do “fail”. One of these concepts is the Limited Liability Company, which allows individuals to take business risk without the risk of losing their basic needs of shelter, clothing and food. Social Security for those who get sick, injured or die.

On the socialist side, societies have moved to create policies that increases the likelihood of high-risk takers to succeed, and then to create “more opportunity” for individuals who succeed to reap their just rewards. It is the taming of the extremes, the actualizing of the human….so gifted with weaknesses and strengths.

There is no doubt that the great advances in society have been created out of the minds of entrepreneurs and high-risk takers who dared to question a “known fact”, to “research and develop”, to “invent”, to “adventure or explore” or to challenge a “status quo”, i.e. to thread the unbeaten path.

The more high-risk takers a country cultivates, the higher the likelihood that country will obtain high rewards for its efforts.

Belize, as with any other country, like to identify itself with success, to gloat in the presence of success and to enjoy the rewards for success.

Belize’s “success” thus far…..is based on riding a tide created by its forefathers in traditional industries….by the adventurous high-risk-taking culture of mostly US citizens in tourism….success created by chance/luck in petroleum….and concessionary debt by Venezuela or debt relief by bond holders.

At the time of Independence in 1981…Belize already had the sugar, banana and citrus industries at mature levels built up by our fore-fathers….with relatively low levels of national debt. Our leaders back then prepared for, invited, encouraged and facilitated the investments made in the tourism industry, papaya industry and shrimp industries, based on a USAID economic development plan for Belize, prepared for us around the time of Independence.

This plan was not all poetry and prose as the ones I have seen lately. It was laden with market data and analysis for specific target industries, sectors and sub-sectors, with forecasts for backward, forward, horizontal and vertical integration opportunities…taking into account our human and resource potential. These are the only struggling industries of any scale that have seen major development in Belize after Independence, mostly started with US government support and/or US investments. The USAID document is laden with many, many more opportunities for Belize, and is still largely relevant….but it is not a manual that can be found in any government department in Belmopan, except for in the Belize Archives perhaps!?

By chance of luck….petroleum was discovered in Belize in 2005, and through 2013, earned more than half of our export revenues.

Mother earth saw our plight and decided to buy us some time.

Other than these, since Independence, Belize has not been very “successful” at creating new industries, at creating new jobs for its fast growing young population…and is now boasting unemployment over 16% and poverty over 40%…swimming in an ocean of debt. More recently the economic and financial gurus of the current government went head over heels for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) such as call centers, and clandestine financial services that facilitate money laundering, tax evasion and other dubious transactions….claiming it would cure all our unemployment ills….completely turning a blind eye to our mining, agro-forestry, fisheries, industrial, trading and bonafide financial services opportunities. They were serving their own special interests…not those of Belize.

New immigrants that come here look down on Belizeans as fools and charlatans, as we rapidly make way for them to succeed (even illegally), while we keep making it more difficult for our own to succeed.

Belize does a lot to soften the landing for failure of low-risk takers…salary increments are standard and unrelated to performance for low-risk jobs, increase social security benefits, increase minimum wage, gang-truce payouts, mortgage write offs, school feeding programs, direct economic support to “poor” families, free tuition, student grants, electoral division funds for support to poor, sick and diseased, free land titles, financial support for legalizing immigrant status, improved living conditions for prisoners and homeless, market protection for a few, accommodation agreements for a few, development concessions for a few, high regulatory favors for a few, etc. etc.

Yet its financial institutions are forcing more and more investors to make “personal guarantees” and eliminating the “safety net” of the limited liability clause. The banks are allowed to do everything to lower capital valuations and collateral value, and to lower their lending as a percentage of collateral value, thus lowering the VALUE OF BELIZE, and its investment capacity and capability.

With these kinds of laws, the banks in Belize can literally take the shirt off your back if you “fail”.

The purchasing of insurance is highly regulated (In Belize, by law, you can be immediately sent to JAIL without a court hearing, if you are caught without certain types of insurance) and thus allowing them to raise their oligopoly selling price and make super-normal profits on the heads of high-risk taking entrepreneurs, while the Warren Buffets of Belize raise “free capital” which they can and do use for their own wheeling and dealing…and for buying up at give away prices the “junk” assets expropriated from entrepreneurs and piling up in the commercial banks and so-called development bank. There are many other things that Belize does to stifle entrepreneurship and risk-taking.

As a country…Belize needs to build greater self-esteem…this will allow its people to raise their level of ambition…also to implement policies that increase the chances for those who take big risks to succeed and reap rewards commensurate with their efforts…and to take measures to soften the fall of ALL those who try hard and “fail”….not only for the low-risk takers.

Imagine the possibility… of all of us choosing to pursue 9-4 jobs…and setting up a game where low-risk takers reap great rewards (whether legally or by growing a culture of graft), and high-risk takers are castigated for even thinking about trying.

Self-esteem is something that is affected by personal, family, community and national leadership decisions. For some, it just needs a spark to open this flower…for others it will take a couple more generations to push its bud from darkness into light…which is when it will have a chance to burst open and become a beautiful flower.

I wrote this ….hoping it will be accepted as a gift of hope, guidance and protection….for the children of Belize.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.

 

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