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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Balanced not always fair

Clyde Mascoll

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Balanced not always fair

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In the absence of putting context to any situation, it is very easy to confuse being balanced with fairness in offering an opinion. If the initial situation was created on a foundation of imbalance, then thinking fairly can create balance.
But thinking alone cannot create balance, a deliberate strategy of reallocating resources would have to be pursued. This reallocation cannot be balanced to redress the initial imbalance but it would be fair. Thus being balanced is not necessarily fair.
Those who want to offer a fair assessment of Barbados today must therefore not confuse being balanced with fairness. The Government has used every conceivable technique to gain a political advantage at the expense of the economy.
This is apparently acceptable in politics. What is not acceptable is for the Government to bring the country to its knees and then not expect to be criticised for doing so.
Apart from pursuing policies that cannot be justified on conventional public policy principles, it is the convenient timing of the policies that is most difficult to digest.
No Government of the past was perfect but none has been as indifferent about the limits of the country’s resources, especially those of the Government. 
The greatest injustice ever committed was slavery. It created an imbalanced status quo, therefore a fair redressing of slavery cannot be done in a balanced way.
This does not mean that the reasoning required to correct the injustice has to be less than balanced; it is the persistent unequal distribution of resources that has to correct the imbalance.
Persistent is preferred to radical in this instance because of the need to maintain stability while gradually changing the imbalanced status quo.
An act of fairness does not demand a balanced outcome. Indeed, tax systems around the world are designed on two concepts of equity which do not require balance to be fair.
Vertical equity is the unequal treatment of “unequals”; while horizontal equity is the equal treatment of equals.
These concepts allow policymakers to give tax deductions and allowances to income earners in such a way that different income earners may pay the same effective tax rate.
The intent of the policymaker may be to achieve a particular objective in allocating the country’s scarce resources.
Even distribution of taxes does not have to mean fairness, especially when the ability to pay is a much respected principle of taxation. In essence, those who can afford to pay simply pay more. This is not necessarily balanced but it is fair.  
It is precisely because of our foundation of injustice that every effort has to be made in our political system to provide resources in an unbalanced way to create some semblance of balance for the poor and vulnerable in the creation of a just society.
An application of such thinking is evident in the need for any caring and understanding government to make education and health accessible and available to all.
Apart from securing its people, a Government of Barbados is best placed to redress the historical imbalance by providing an environment that permits upward social mobility for all its citizens.
This is only possible if there is an unfair allocation of resources that seeks to permanently redress the historical imbalance.
When a Government fails to appreciate the limits of our country’s resources and in doing so compromises the ongoing permanent mission to empower the poor and the vulnerable, it is difficult for any reasonable person to remain silent.
It must also be difficult for any reasonable person who speaks to confuse being balanced with fairness.
It may not be obvious, but Barbados’ mission to uplift its most vulnerable has been set back by decades. On less resources in the past, this country made education accessible and available to all.
This country also made health care accessible and available to its citizens to the envy of large countries. Both of these social provisions are being compromised on the altar of economic madness.
The compromise has come not because of lack of resources; it has come because of very poor management of our limited resources in recent years.
There is absolutely no excuse for Barbados to be in its current fiscal crisis. The discretion that was needed in prudently allocating the country’s limited financial resources was simply not forthcoming in the post 2008 period.
Those who continue to confuse being balanced with fairness may one day coming soon wake up to the realities confronting Barbados.
Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email [email protected]