ALL AH WE IS ONE: The economic debate
IT IS NO ACCIDENT that the general election in Barbados has now turned into a debate on economic policy. In a context where the main opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP)?has deliberately painted itself and its leader as possessing the track records of sound and successful economic management, the suggestion has always been that the BLP would contest the election as a debate on the economy.
In addition, the reality of the global economic challenge, the indefinite expectation of its continued negative performance, and its impact on the fortunes of the ruling Democratic Labour Party have placed the economy at the centre.
Given this overwhelming weight of things economic on the pre-election national consciousness, it is indeed not surprising that the main response on the part of the Government has been to widen the discussion beyond or away from the economy.
This has been the main ideological and tactical intent of the mantra: “Barbados is not just an economy, it is a society”. This approach has continued in practical form with, for example, the introduction of nationalism (Barbados first) into a discourse on privatization.
The BLP, perhaps naively, had assumed that it could discuss privatization as an economic question alone, and might have been caught by surprise by the entry of “politics” into what they assume is simply a question of “economic fundamentals”.
This is an error often committed by “specialists” who often mistake the narrow reality of their specialized discipline to be the total and actual reality. This is why, for example, lawyers tend to treat the Constitution as life itself.
It is ironic therefore that whilst it has always been the BLP’s political objective to make the election a debate on the economy, now that such a debate has commenced the BLP appears to be losing a handle on the discourse.
When it is considered that before the BLP’s announced economic policies a more organic debate on the leadership of Freundel Stuart had already presented an adequate and ready-made narrative for a re-election bid, perhaps it was in the BLP’s interest to leave well enough alone.
In addition, the BLP might have underestimated the extent to which ideological positions have been hardened on economic policy options.
On one hand, since the onslaught of the so-called Washington consensus, an entire generation of post-1980 economists and accountants has been trained to instinctively oppose state intervention.
On the other hand, the traditional trade unions have not budged in their blanket opposition to privatization. Hence in one week, both the BLP’s tax ease and privatization proposals met with opposition from these polarized quarters.
What appeared to be “objective” discussion on the BLP’s proposals was actually ideology masked as technical discourse.
All old economic approaches have failed. Whatever the electoral outcome, we cannot escape the necessity of thinking anew. Forward Ever!
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.