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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Dissolved contract

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Dissolved contract

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The contending sides in the current debate on the decision by the Government of Barbados to terminate the policy of free tertiary education will have missed a significant development in our contemporary reality if they fail to see that there is far more at stake than the mere question of the “financing of university education”. 
Instead, what the decision signals is the process of dissolving the Independence social contract which had been established as part of the process of Barbadian and Caribbean decolonization. 
One writer, in a book co-edited by Central Bank of Barbados Governor DeLisle Worrell, describes the Caribbean post-colonial social contract as a statist bargain on behalf of democracy in which the state provides “gains for the great many, the worker and the business owner, while exporting the costs of running such states to the international community via commodity prices or foreign aid. Parties were the institutional brokers for such distributive politics; allegiances to them depended to a large degree on the expectation of particularistic benefits”.
The social benefit or right to free education had been the central pillar of the Independence social contract upon which the legitimacy of the Barbadian state had been constructed. The 2013 Budget marked its formal dissolution.
While there are many conscious and unwitting enemies of the Caribbean independence project who celebrate this development, they will, once the euphoria dies, be faced with the burning question of what will be put in its place.
In the ongoing debate on the termination of the Barrow project, no one has asked this question. It is too large a civilizational question to be answered within the limited technocratic world view which is now triumphant, and which appears to have overwhelmed the existing group of presiding politicians. 
A related question which cannot be escaped is the issue of the legitimacy of the new order which is emerging. For example, much of the legitimacy of Barbados’ high taxation tradition has been the social benefits to which the population had become accustomed.
Today, lost in the din of the obscene orgy of the rolling back of social benefits is the fact that while taxes continue to rise, the rights to social benefits are being denied. It is difficult to find a clearer example of an illegitimate political order.
Perhaps the ongoing outcry over the collapse of the Barrow project will inspire caution. 
A tremendous responsibility for preserving the Independence social contract rests with the current political directorate. It is doubtful that this generation of leaders would like to be cast by history in the role of barbarians at the gate who, having stormed the walled society, were quite adept at destroying the delicate and fine social institutions which had been constructed by past generations, but could construct nothing lasting and significant in their place. 
May wisdom prevail.
• Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs.