The celebration of the fifty years of independence of Mauritius has provided an opportunity for the media to look back at what has been achieved from where we started. This is a good initiative that will inform the younger generation about the path travelled. However, it is unfortunate that most “experts” are perpetuating a fallacy – “fake” news in today’s parlance – about Meade: namely that the Nobel prize winner was a prophet of doom who got it all wrong about Mauritius. Over the years this fallacy has found its way even in writings of World Bank experts like Arvind Subramaniam! We should set the record straight: the Meade Report laid the foundation for modern Mauritius.
I have the feeling that most people have only retrieved that one paragraph where Meade is warning about the dangers of population explosion to conclude that he got it wrong. But, as any economic student knows, the economist proceeds by assumptions, first looking at what is, then assuming what would happen if all things are kept equal. If no action had been taken we would have been a dismal Malthusian basket case. Those who have read “The Economic and Social Structure of Mauritius” would have noticed that this is a 246-page report that lists 129 policy recommendations which were implemented over the years to transform Mauritius.
Many would have missed the importance of paragraphs 6.56 to 6.58 which enabled the creation of the export processing zone. He refers to a proposal made to him by José Poncini in 1961 to import rough ruby and finish it here for re-export to Europe. He recommended that the promoter be aided to carry out this study. Effectively, José Poncini’s promoting the concept of delocalization in the late 1950s and the institutional endorsement provided by Meade made of them the true pioneers of the EPZ in Mauritius. José Poncini has explained in his forthcoming autobiography how he was challenged by Meade to make his dream come true – Micro Jewels was created before the EPZ scheme existed but he received the support of the Development bank thanks to Meade’s recommendation.
A final point: the Development strategy 1970-1980 encompasses all the issues raised in the Meade report. And it must be pointed out that one of the members of Meade’s team, Percy Selwyn, was economic adviser in the ministry of Finance post-1968. So, please, as we celebrate our 50 years of independence, let us give due recognition to the person who provided the economic foundation for political independence to become sustainable.