WHAT MATTERS MOST: A reasoning deficit
Barbados is known to be in the throes of a severe fiscal deficit crisis, but there is an even bigger deficit with greater long-term implications confronting the country, which may be labelled a reasoning deficit.
In the facing of the most compelling evidence, Barbadians are currently inclined to reach amazing conclusions on the back of very questionable reasoning.
In recent times, given the fate of the economy, Barbadians are asking questions about the turn of events. For sure, the turn could not have been sudden. Sufficient evidence was out there to inform the reasoning, yet there is an amazement to why and how we got here as a country.
In a quest to understand where we are as a nation, it became necessary to give meaning and context to our journey thus far. Finding a simple framework to do so has been indeed challenging, but in a recent conversation with two friends, we stumbled on the view that the journey may be framed as the move from a philosophy to pragmatism.
This may seem esoteric and perhaps it is. But the selfishness of the new Barbadian may be seen in the embrace of the “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) mentality, which is the pragmatism that has taken root as opposed to the brother’s keeper mentality, which is more associated with a philosophy.
The Government of Barbados has embraced the WIIFM mentality to such an extent that it has eroded the gains of the past, especially in the areas of universal access to education and health services. The gains of the past were not achieved because of this country’s access to extraordinary financial sources, but rather to an understanding that fiscal prudence was necessary in ensuring that we were our brother’s keeper.
This philosophy gave rise to the most needed among us being able to go to the institutions of higher learning. It was never the case that Barbados was a rich country which could afford to provide for its most vulnerable without being prudent and prioritising; it achieved these bewildering heights on the back of able leadership. This has been reversed in less than six years.
The change from embracing a philosophy to one of raw pragmatism based on the fatted-calf syndrome is now so widespread that it has to be explained by something bigger than selfishness.
It has invaded the nation state from the governed to those who govern.
This new-found pragmatism based on the WIIFM mentality helps to explain the election-day expectations of the governed; to explain the unwarranted taxing of people’s assets by those who govern and the manoeuvrability of the moneyed class in influencing public opinion.
Buying into a philosophy first demands that there is one and that it can be easily recognised and articulated. Then someone or institution must lead in selling the philosophy for its broad-based acceptance. Ultimately, it must be believable and achievable.
In recent weeks, I have argued that Barbados had an economic model that became the basis of its envied growth and social development. The pillars of the model were the pursuit of economic growth and current account surpluses for the Government. These two pillars were later anchored on a fixed exchange rate.
The model had its beginnings in the post-Independence era and was followed and built on by successive governments. It is not surprising, because of the leader’s training, that the Owen Arthur administration added an element of stability to the model with the imposition of a limit to the country’s fiscal deficit.
There are two questions to answer: Why was the model followed? And why has it been abandoned? The answers to these questions are not to be found in the economics alone but in the move from embracing a philosophy to one of raw pragmatism. The former is able to withstand testing moments of difficulty, while the latter takes on a form of convenience, that is, whatever is convenient at the time is embraced.
A country must have self-belief. Ultimately life is about self; but belief cannot be selfish, it must be a shared experience. Therefore a country’s self-belief could be tricky, since it requires finding space for oneself in a country’s collective journey.
When the Government ignores the journey and becomes a collective individual, the country is compromised. Barbados has been compromised.
The people have been forced to focus on self and in so doing, have fallen into a reasoning deficit that is an obstacle to progress.
• Dr Clyde Mascoll is an economist and Opposition Barbados Labour Party adviser on the economy. Email email@example.com