With the emergence of a consensus that the economic crisis facing Barbados is structural and not episodic, and therefore necessitates restructuring, the ideological machinery of the ruling forces have been fully engaged in advancing a narrow, unidimensional and class-based understanding of “adjustment”.
According to the dominant narrative, Barbados’ problems reside around shortfalls in Government’s current account, that is, its expenditure exceeds its revenue. From this perspective, the solutions appear “easy”. Thus, restructuring simply means expenditure reduction by reducing the public service and cutting social services, and revenue generation by raising taxes.
From this narrowly defined problem-solution matrix springs all the ideological shibboleths dominating recent national discussion: the civil service is too large; public servants are lazy; people must learn to pay their way; the middle class can take care of itself.
As is customary in the construction of ideology, half-truths and surface appearances are mixed up in a frenzied potpourri of commonsensical notions all with the singular aim of transforming specific ruling-class interests into the common interests of all. Sadly, our unions have drunk the joy juice.
Since all ideas are “class ideas”, it is unsurprising that alternative understandings of restructuring have been denied. Indeed, if it is agreed that Barbados has reached a stage where restructuring is inevitable, it follows logically that all the interests wrapped up in the old order, and their ways of doing things, account for the current crisis.
Just as the end of slavery meant that the old slave ruling classes were responsible for the “crisis of the slave order”, due particularly to their inability to transition to the new industrial order which their own slave economies financed (200 years later, they still have not), then similarly, present ruling classes must acknowledge their inefficiencies, their historical deficiencies and and their imperviousness to transformation.
This is the real meaning of restructuring. Thus far, the entire discussion hinges on blaming the poor (workers), the education system (University of the West Indies, graduates), the civil service and government, when none of these entities represents a “ruling class” in a strict sense. We are thus faced with the rather comical reality of acknowledging a crisis of tourism since 2008, yet we are “restructuring” our economies with tourism development as the central focus. All of this is done with agriculturalists complaining about tourism’s anti-local bias, and the papers highlighting “work permit” discrimination against locals.
True restructuring always results in the death of moribund ruling classes and orders and the emergence of new ones. New classes, new industries and new ways of doing things must emerge. However, as in the end of slavery and in the 1930s, this comes after protracted periods of struggle when a general consensus that qualitatively improves the lives of the historically marginalised population is able to emerge.
We are still in the infant stages of such a process.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]