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WHAT MATTERS MOST: Our duty to tune in to big picture

Clyde Mascoll

WHAT MATTERS MOST: Our duty to tune in to big picture

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When the minister of finance delivered his speech on the Budget for 2014/15 in the Estimates Debate on Monday, the impression was conveyed that the Government won an election in January of this year and not in 2008. It is known, however, that this is the seventh year in which the current Government has been in charge of Barbados’ finances.
It is also known that the deterioration in this country’s finances can be associated with the current administration’s ascension to Government. All previous governments of Barbados adhered to the most fundamental fiscal principle of covering current expenditure with total Government revenue.
Ironically, this principle was carefully outlined in 1973 by the then Prime Minister Errol Barrow who applied basic home economics to the governance of this country.
Every government that followed up to 2008 appreciated the principle, notwithstanding the five-year digression that coincided with the political cycle in search of some advantage at the polls.
While such digression was accepted and even tolerated, no government, not even the Sandiford administration of the early 1990s, strayed from the principle to the detriment of the economy.
What was more problematic in that period was the absence of foreign exchange.
Furthermore, the thing that triggered the political reaction to the measures of the Sandiford administration was the impact of the eight per cent wage cut on all civil servants’ salaries and not just the 3 000 civil servants who were sent home.
In essence, the political impact of cutting the salaries of almost 30 000 civil servants is far different to sending home 3 000 workers.  
Contrary to what the current minister of finance is insinuating, if he had the option to cut civil servants’ salaries in this environment, the political fall-out would have been amplified by the noise from WIIFM.
It is time that we stop being fooled by the noise on the airwaves and listen more intently to the substance.
Psychological effect
Even though the economic effect of no salary increase since 2008/09 and rising retail prices of almost 40 per cent over the six-year period would have been more than the eight per cent salary cut on civil servants in the early 1990s, it does not carry the same psychological effect as a pay cut. The soundings of the minister of finance can once again be ignored.  
This writer knows only too well that most people are not interested in the bigger picture confronting Barbados. Instead, the interest is in ‘What’s In It For Me’, otherwise known as WIIFM.
Until the news on this station directly affects the individual, especially his/her pocket, there is tendency to tune out.
This disinterest is not because of indifference, it is simply that the human condition is not wired to easily receive bad news or to want to solve other people’s problems. That’s just the way it is.
Some otherwise very intelligent people are inclined to tune out of reasonable discourse, when the frequency is either too high or too low or simply not impacting on their space.
There is a hierarchy of man’s desire to tune in based on what is being impacted that is his body, mind or soul. Of these, the body is physical and so is most affected by deprivation.
As this relates to Barbados’ current economic circumstances, there is a level of deprivation that will trigger an individual’s desire to tune in. The level of deprivation will vary across and among income classes.
People who can least afford to be deprived will be more willing to tune in.  This assigns greater value to the immediacy of the problem to those who feel most deprived and less value to those who can resist deprivation.
Wealth concern
Ironically, while those who are more resilient to deprivation now may be inclined to tune out, the future does not bode well for them when seen in the context of their wealth.
The latter tends to carry more value in terms of what it can realise in the future and in this regard, failure to tune in now can have detrimental effects down the road.  
It is one thing for a government to be broke, but when the threat of the entire country becoming broke is real and not imagined, the responsibility is on the shoulders of the people to tune in.
It may be okay to listen to the noise of the minister of finance for entertainment, but the substance is more important if the mind and soul of this nation are to be restored.        
 Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy.